“When is This a Good Idea?”

Not so long ago, Seth Godin summed up the human challenge with accurately judging short- and long-term rewards in the question, “When is this a good idea?”

The intuition is easy to grasp in daily life: this pint of ice cream, this road rage, this credit card debt … when is this a good idea?

The question has also been echoing in my head in the past week’s reading: this testing program, this quarantine, this helicopter money … when is this a good idea?

As with credit-card debt, the problem with systems with no slack built into them is that it gets harder and harder to catch up. Today’s responses are obvious and necessary (if desperately uncoordinated and lethally late), but we’ll be living with the repercussions for a very long time.

It’s much too soon to come out of quarantine. But it’s not too soon at all to think deeply about what sort of new normal we want to build.

To paraphrase Seth again, the best time to think about that was a year or a decade or two ago. But the second-best time is right now.