162 benefits of coronavirus

post by bfinn · 2020-05-11T22:36:00.105Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · EA · GW · 8 comments

Contents

    Experiment & evolve
  The benefits
    Disaster preparedness
    Government
    Health & science
    Work
    Business
    Relocation & transport
    Environment & nature
    Education
    Leisure
    Relationships
    Charity & community
    Perspective
    Miscellaneous
    Other resources
None
8 comments

[More added: now 182]

WHILE THE HUGE harms of coronavirus are well-known – death, illness, lockdowns, unemployment, recession, etc. – less attention has understandably been paid to the benefits.

Even clouds this dark have silver linings. Crises produce opportunities, innovation, and long-overdue reforms. 2020 will contain an extra year’s worth of mortality – but also a decade’s worth of progress, a leap into the future.

This post lists many benefits that could arise, so readers can consider how to maximize them, not just minimize harms. They cover a wide range of consequences. For example, lockdown has made many people (even drug gangsters) reassess their lives. Working from home has suddenly become normal, with less commuting, less cost, and more time for leisure and sleep. So people may move from cities to cheaper, more pleasant areas, or indeed countries.

Above all, coronavirus is a wake-up call - it could have been far worse. Better preparation for the next pandemic will reduce existential risk, potentially saving billions, or even trillions, of future lives.

Experiment & evolve

Lockdowns have created an experiment, making people and organisations re-think how - and why - they do things. Some activities become impossible and are abandoned, e.g. travel. For others, alternatives are tried, e.g. video calls for meetings and doctor’s appointments; or innovations, such as businesses sharing employees. This experimentation will continue well beyond lockdown, as the new reality emerges.

Many of these changes will turn out to be improvements, and will stick. Others, e.g. government-funded furloughing and virtual horse races, are temporary fixes which will go - as will changes that didn’t work. And things that were dropped as unnecessary, e.g. pointless meetings and regulations, will stay dropped.

All of this involves prioritizing: deciding what outcomes matter, and which solutions now work best. Many things will modernize, simplify, and become more efficient. Cost-effectiveness is key, as incomes will shrink for a while.

Finally, lessons will be learned from what went badly in the pandemic, and steps taken to improve resilience and prepare for future crises.

We can also view the situation in terms of evolution. The world has been struck by a metaphorical meteor, threatening not just lives, but ways of life. Those organisations, jobs, and activities that are fittest for the new environment, or can adapt, will survive. Others that are no longer useful will die out, often replaced by innovations, to produce a new normal.

The benefits

The list below contains all the potential long-term benefits of the pandemic that I could find or think of. No doubt it is somewhat focused on rich countries, though this is not the aim. Please suggest additions or changes in the comments.

Some benefits have started under lockdown, such as more volunteering. Others may come later, such as de-urbanization.

Some are mixed blessings, causing substantial harm as well; e.g. failures of non-viable businesses, charities and educational institutions. With some items it’s unclear, or a matter of opinion, whether it is a benefit or not, e.g. political changes. While many potential benefits are speculative, some are especially so - more hopes than predictions; e.g. better international cooperation, in reaction to the protectionism of the pandemic. So I’ve qualified some entries accordingly:

Disaster preparedness

Governments:

Businesses & other organisations:

Individuals:

Spare capacity & redundancy:

Government

Welfare state:

Digitization & modernization:

Trust in government in some countries: due to effective pandemic control, job retention schemes, etc.

Change of government/leader in some countries: if they did not handle pandemic well

Less avoidance of tax and regulations, as a result of re-shoring

Cost-saving efficiencies due to higher debt & lower tax revenue

?Transparency of government

?More constructive national politics

?Improved international cooperation, e.g.:

?Foreign aid:

?Ceasefires during pandemic in conflict zones, perhaps continuing afterwards

?Wellbeing/happiness economics take-up, as the pandemic highlights dilemmas between lives, livelihoods, and quality of life

Health & science

Public healthcare funding:

International collaboration on health research

Faster health research processes:

Advances in virology, epidemiology, sociology etc. from coronavirus research

Infectious disease reduction, due to long-term hygiene improvements (e.g. handwashing, ?face masks):

Telehealth, including:

Hence:

Digitization of health data:

Self-care:

Trust in science and medicine

Work

Remote work (usually office jobs):

Change in work hours to suit worker (e.g. after reflection during lockdown), as cost/job-saving measure by employer, or to enable social distancing in workplaces/transport:

Change of job/career:

±Bullshit jobs cut

±Automation of jobs: as cost-saving measure, or to reduce risk of worker absence in future lockdowns/crises

Fewer, more efficient meetings: as video conferences, or due to simplifications under lockdown

Corporate eLearning

?Better worker terms/rights:

Business

Innovation to deal with new circumstances, compete for reduced demand, or cut costs, e.g.:

Retail:

±Business failures - especially if barely viable even before the pandemic, or have crowded spaces, e.g.:

Relocation & transport

De-urbanization due to remote work (see Work):

Remote workers moving country:

±Re-shoring (see Disaster preparedness)

Less transport:

?Delivery drones, self-driving vehicles, etc. to fulfill increased online orders

Environment & nature

Pollution:

Animals:

Outdoor activities as social distancing measure (even long-term, if further pandemic waves are expected):

Education

Home schooling:

Distance learning:

Re-assessment of education & educational institutions, including:

±Bankruptcies of some educational institutions

?±More continuous assessment following exam cancellations in e.g. UK

Adult education started under lockdown, e.g. learning an instrument or language

Leisure

More leisure time if stop commuting, or work shorter hours (see Work)

Entertainment tried/increased under lockdown, e.g.:

Other pursuits & hobbies tried/increased under lockdown, e.g.

More online entertainment, e.g. live events, reaching wider audiences

Relationships

Relationships improved/renewed by lockdown:

New online friendships/relationships under lockdown

More time with partner, family & friends if stop commuting, or work shorter hours (see Work)

±Divorce / break-up, brought to a head by lockdown

Charity & community

Volunteering, e.g. started under lockdown

?More charitable donations / philanthropy

Cost-saving efficiencies if donations fall due to lower incomes

Innovation to deal with new circumstances or cut costs

Support for local community & businesses: e.g. due to home workers spending more time where they live

±Charity closures - hopefully counterproductive or low effectiveness ones

Perspective

Re-evaluation of life, including:

Appreciation of:

Attitudes:

Miscellaneous

±Deaths:

?End of physical cash due to infection risk:

?Less crime, as criminals reassess their lives

?Better bank treatment of borrowers as continuation of special terms under lockdown

?Better rights for renters after evictions suspended during lockdown (e.g. in UK)

?More fact-checking on social media

Other resources

This list includes harmful consequences of coronavirus (as well as various of the above benefits).

In-depth discussion of some points is in a Politico article and FT series (paywall).


*Toby Ord's new book The Precipice estimates that the human race will only last another 600 years or so before it is wiped out, or permanently crippled, by a pandemic (probably a bioweapon) or other existential risk.

If coronavirus makes the world prepare slightly better for such disasters, thereby reducing the risk by say 1%, it would extend the human race by 600 years × 1% = 6 years. The world population is forecast to reach about 11 billion, so this would save 6 years × 11 billion = 66 billion years of life.

If coronavirus kills 10 million people worldwide, each losing 10 years of life on average, 100 million years of life will be lost. This is a minute fraction of the benefit from improved disaster preparedness.

8 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by meerpirat · 2020-05-12T22:46:47.860Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Some weeks ago I stumbled across this collaborative Google doc where people brainstorm second and third order effects of the pandemic. I didn‘t think it was especially careful, but it contains a lot of ideas and areas and might offer some further relevant effects. https://docs.google.com/document/d/17YkH4kc63t7JI7JJZR6i3-iebJd7kfRAzAK_ssl8bt4/edit

comment by bfinn · 2020-05-13T18:37:06.761Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I've just been through it all. A great resource - with harms too. Glad to see I had thought of almost all the long-term benefits (!), but have added a few more from it here, and thought of several further points too.

comment by bfinn · 2020-05-13T08:20:57.359Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great, thanks, I'll check it out.

comment by Ben_West · 2020-05-13T18:41:55.921Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Re-assessment of education & educational institutions

I'm curious to see what happens here. I know a lot of people who are saying "I'm paying $50,000 a year to watch the same lecture I could have watched on YouTube for free?" Of course, that was also true before quarantine, but somehow quarantine has made it more salient.

I'm not sure whether this salience will last and cause a switch towards nontraditional learning.

comment by bfinn · 2020-05-13T19:07:01.180Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Indeed I think it will accelerate this issue, though maybe not resolve it.

In the UK, and no doubt elsewhere, universities have cancelled courses for the rest of the year, or are making them online-only, but refusing to refund students; which will make students acutely aware of what value for money they're getting, or not.

That said I did read somewhere the observation that as degrees are as much about status & signalling as actual learning, it may make little difference. People will still prefer the prestige of an Ivy League or Oxbridge education if they can get it. That said, that prestige is rather bound up with physical attendance in grand surroundings, surrounded by top-notch professors etc.

comment by Ben_West · 2020-05-14T16:54:45.996Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, even if it just leads to acceptance that higher education is about signaling, that seems like a step in the right direction to me. It at least lays the groundwork for future innovators who can optimize for signaling as opposed to "education."

comment by Ben_West · 2020-05-13T18:38:28.629Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this thorough list! Regarding:

Change of government/leader in some countries: if they did not handle pandemic well

Do you have a sense for how well correlated public opinion and government performance is? At least in the US, my impression is that Trump's approval ratings got a slight bump but are now back to normal levels, and public opinion mostly tracks party allegiance rather than any government policy.

comment by bfinn · 2020-05-13T19:12:30.227Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Indeed, I looked at Trump's approval rating over time and it's been about average for US presidents with little pandemic effect. Possibly the US is a bit of an outlier in this regard though, or it's a bit early for an assessment.

Because the ultimate Covid death toll will be a stark, objective measure of performance relative to other countries, I suspect later in the year it will be harder for voters anywhere to maintain illusions about how well or badly their country has handled the pandemic. (That said, much is not really down to the leaders, as no-one can really be expected to have known how best to handle it, given the limited information early on and the variety of strategies that have been tried. I have little doubt though that Trump's decision-making has been particularly poor.)