(FT) Gillian Tett–Is it safe to go to the shops, see a friend or get on a plane? How to assess risk in the age of coronavirus

…our sense of risk in an epidemic is shaped by the question of who we think has the responsibility for handling it. [Anette] Mikes, for example, identifies four overlapping patterns in how different social groups handle risk. Sometimes it is considered the responsibility of individuals to manage risk (under the principle of caveat emptor). On other occasions there is a more egalitarian approach: everyone in a community voluntarily tries to protect everyone else. A third framework uses hierarchical controls: leaders manage risk by issuing orders.

Then there is a fourth option: fatalism, when nobody tries to manage risks at all.

In peaceful times, we do not often define which of these four approaches we rely on to keep us safe; or not unless we work in jobs explicitly focused on measuring or trading risk, such as finance (where the concept of caveat emptor often collides with hierarchical rules). But Covid-19 crystallises this. Some of us may want to handle the dangers of an epidemic in an individualistic way, like those Lansing protesters. Others, such as the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, who imposed the lockdown, think that hierarchical controls are needed.

Nearly all of us probably have an egalitarian instinct too: we want to avoid infecting ourselves and each other. But few citizens — let alone politicians — want to stipulate explicitly how anyone should prioritise these approaches. Nor do many want to resort to the fourth option: fatalism.

So where does that leave governments and citizens? In a state of confusing flux, it seems, in most countries….

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