The marshmallow test is a psychological test of our ability to defer gratification and reward to achieve a better result later. It comes from tests done years ago and works this way: children are brought into a room and tempted with a marshmallow. They are told that if they do not eat it they will get a reward later. The test giver leaves the room. The children are tracked and later it is found that those who could resist temptation and not eat the treat were more successful in school and life. The whole experiment has been challenged, but you get the point.
How does this connect to our response to the Covid19 pandemic? We had a chance to put on our big boy pants and face the thing head on the best we could. We could have done what science and the medical profession told us to do – a pretty total lockdown which would have hit our economy pretty hard. Admittedly early guidance was sketchy. This is what the Canadians, Europeans, and others did. Or we could try to ignore it and get by – thus saving the economy at the cost of an unknown benefit.
Our president took the latter course. He claims he did not want to panic us. How would you feel about a doctor who knew you had cancer, especially a kind that had a potential cure available, but decided not to tell you about it because he did not want you to panic?
But then, many of us had pretty good knowledge that things were bad and were going to get worse based on reporting from newspapers, TV, internet, and sources such as Johns Hopkins. We could see that we were being targeted by a scam artist but what could we do?
How bad could it get? What would it mean if, as has been reported, the administration thought that more ill effects from this tragedy would hit blue states than red ones?
Vox had a piece on 9/9/2020 by German Lopez. It compares the US response to Covid-19 with that of other comparable countries. Based on Our World Data the US would have had 84,000 fewer deaths out of nearly 190,000 if we had the same death rate as the EU. If we compare our rate to Canada, we could have saved 109,000 lives if we matched the Canadian performance. If we go to Australia the number is 179,000 and for Japan, it is 185,000.
You may note another difference or similarity or two in our results compared to others. The offshore markets did not tumble even under tight regulation of behavior of the local population. People in Europe and Canada are freer to travel than we are. They are more easily able to see far away children and grandchildren. They made sensible choices.
Importantly, the Europeans and Canadians did not ridicule those who chose to wear masks and take precautions. They did not have leadership which encouraged followers to “liberate” states with restrictions. They did forgo some immediate gratification in order to reap benefits down the line. They passed the marshmallow test. We have not.