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Conspiracy theories can cost lives

Summary:
In a recent post, I discussed the appeal of conspiracy theories. Some of these theories are probably harmless, as with the belief that the government is hiding evidence of alien contact from outer space. In other cases, however, the theories are quite costly. I’d encourage people to read this twitter thread from a nurse in Texas. He’s a brief excerpt: And a recent Yahoo article mentions a similar example from South Dakota: I don’t know how many people share this view, and indeed it is unlikely that people fall neatly into one of two camps.  Thus one poll suggested widespread skepticism about Covid was increasing: In February, a little more than a quarter of U.S. adults believed the coronavirus was being blown out of proportion. Now, that number has risen to

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In a recent post, I discussed the appeal of conspiracy theories. Some of these theories are probably harmless, as with the belief that the government is hiding evidence of alien contact from outer space. In other cases, however, the theories are quite costly.

I’d encourage people to read this twitter thread from a nurse in Texas. He’s a brief excerpt:

Conspiracy theories can cost lives

And a recent Yahoo article mentions a similar example from South Dakota:

Conspiracy theories can cost lives

I don’t know how many people share this view, and indeed it is unlikely that people fall neatly into one of two camps.  Thus one poll suggested widespread skepticism about Covid was increasing:

In February, a little more than a quarter of U.S. adults believed the coronavirus was being blown out of proportion. Now, that number has risen to nearly 40% of respondents.

However “blown out of proportion” can include both those who see a hoax, and those who correctly understand that the risk is fairly low for younger people.  There are degrees of skepticism.

Nonetheless, I’ve see quite a few press reports of people are open to some pretty extreme conspiracy theories about Covid:

The survey conducted earlier this month also asked voters how likely they are to believe that “vaccines for COVID-19 will be used to implant tracking chips in Americans,” another baseless theory that has spread on social media this year.

More than a quarter of voters in the poll, 27 percent, said they thought the statement might be true, while 73 percent said it was likely false.

(Yes, I’m just as frustrated by the vague wording as you are.  “Might be”?  “Likely”?)

I don’t have any solution to this problem, but I do believe that when issues become politicized the problem often gets worse.  On average, people will probably make better choices when we don’t protect them from the consequences of their actions.  Treat them like adults and they are more likely to act like adults.

At the same time I understand that there are “externality” issues with a pandemic, so it’s unlikely that the issue will remain completely apolitical.

HT:  Razib Khan

Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment". In May 2012, Chicago Fed President Charles L. Evans became the first sitting member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to endorse the idea.

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