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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The U.S. is about to embark upon the most momentous social experiment in living memory: What happens when you take laissez-faire economic principles and apply them to public health?

Why it matters: When millions of people make their own individual risk/reward calculations, the result is superior to top-down decision-making by the government. That's the central tenet of capitalism — but you'd be hard-pressed to find any epidemiologists making the same argument.

By the numbers: America continues to see tens of thousands of new coronavirus cases every day. Very few of them result in a comprehensive contact-tracing review. Given the amount of virus in the population, there's a non-negligible probability that any of us could be unknowingly infectious today.

  • Americans react to this uncertainty in line with their own idiosyncratic risk appetite. Younger folks, in particular, tend to be happier making riskier decisions, as do people like undercover police officers.
  • As businesses reopen, decisions about things like whether to step into a crowded elevator will be made on a bottom-up rather than a top-down basis. Some people will be willing; others won't. (Both sides will view the other group as outliers.)

Between the lines: Governors can't simply decree that business is back to usual. So long as a significant proportion of society is unwilling to resume economic activity, employment and GDP will remain depressed.

The bottom line: Countries with more forceful and effective government responses have been able to bring the rate of infection down to a level at which most citizens can reasonably feel safe from the disease. That's not going to happen in the U.S. — and it's not going to happen in places like Brazil, India, or Mexico, either.

Go deeper

Updated 15 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

UN poll: Most see climate change as global emergency during pandemic

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) fronts a Fridays For Future protest at the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm in September. Photo: Jonathan Nacksrtrand/AFP via Getty Images

64% of people from around the world say climate change is a global emergency, a United Nations poll published Wednesday finds.

Why it matters: It's the biggest global survey on climate change ever conducted, with some 1.2 million participants from 50 countries — including the U.S., where 65% of those surveyed view climate change as an emergency.

Collins helps contractor before pro-Susan PAC gets donation

Sen. Susan Collins during her reelection campaign. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A PAC backing Sen. Susan Collins in her high-stakes reelection campaign received $150,000 from an entity linked to the wife of a defense contractor whose firm Collins helped land a federal contract, new public records show.

Why it matters: The executive, Martin Kao of Honolulu, leaned heavily on his political connections to boost his business, federal prosecutors say in an ongoing criminal case against him. The donation linked to Kao was veiled until last week.

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