Why We Sometimes Die When Trying To Avoid Risk
The roads were empty, yet fatal car crashes leaped last year during the pandemic. That's not as weird as it seems.
Last summer I met up with two friends for dinner at an outdoor restaurant. I hadn't seen much of them in the early months of the pandemic because they were afraid to venture out. One said meeting up felt like “we're playing Russian Roulette with our lives.”
As an economist who studies risk, this struck me as peculiar. The odds of dying from playing Russian Roulette are 1 in 6. The odds of contracting Covid-19 while outdoors and distanced — and then dying as a youngish healthy person — were far less than 1%. But what really flummoxed me is that both my friends had biked through city traffic to get to dinner. That felt safer to them than riding on the subway or taking a cab or rideshare service. It seemed more dangerous to me, and certainly more dangerous than eating a meal outside. Which was disheartening, because I'm the kind of economist who believes, despite all our biases, humans are well equipped to make sensible risk decisions.
This piece originally appeared in Bloomberg