No, Covid 19 is not an old person problem

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Published in
3 min readNov 29, 2021


Clearly Covid affects the old, disproportionately. But so do practically almost all other ailments. A simple fact of life, in a population, it is the old that die disproportionally of all causes.

If you look at the force of mortality of the population, you would notice that Covid reduces life expectancy across the board in proportion to people’s mortality, an effect at starts before middle age.

Fig 1- Multiplier of the Force of Mortality Across Age Groups >30, Nov. 2021, annualized. For the youth the ratio is both lower and much more unstable owing the rarity of both death and death from COVID.

Now the numbers in the graph represent the boost in mortality for all citizens over the period concerned (U.S. fatalities represents about 800K and counting, not taking into account a potential underestimation by ~200K). Now this represents the mortality boost after all mitigating measures, which includes travel restrictions, quarantines, lockdowns, vaccines, isolation, masks, etc. Nor does the graph above show the delayed effects of morbidity. Recall that only 48 million U.S. citizens have been reportedly affected so far. Should the entire population be infected (what some ignorant idiots call “herd immunity”), the effect would potentially be multiplied by >5 (or, taking into account the underestimation of cases, perhaps >3).

Now if we were to compute the effect on life expectancy, note that the effect acts across the board: a 30 year old loses more than 50 years of life, an 80 y.o. loses about a decade, etc.

Unconditional Eugenics

The inconsistency is as follows.

If Covid is an old person problem, deserving to be ignored on that account, let’s treat cardiology, oncology, urology, and most of internal medicine in the same manner.

The “old person problem” related to Covid becomes effectively an argument of unconditional eugenics, unconditional senicide/geronticide. The main trait in civilized society is to protect the weak: Ancient Mediterraneans gave a higher status to the elderly (senators). The same with almost every society that is not decaying.

The same people who advocate senicide fail to get counterfactuals right. For instance, just as one legislator one day announced that airplane checks were redundant (and costly) because there had been no recent terrorist incidents, many are arguing about mitigating measures on ground that fewer people have been dying on Covid.

1/Probability (Annual) of death across ages.

Golden Rule (Dynamic) Argument

Another problem young psychopaths don’t get is that the way society is built is via dynamic not static reasoning. As I keep writing in the Incerto, a certain class of people (usually involved in technology) affected with Black Swan blindness have a mental disorder making them ignore that things move. A 30 y.o. is not going to be frozen in complete youth and (civilized) societies have been organized around intergenerational commitments: you treat the current elderly the way you would like to be treated when you grow older. For even psychopaths will be older some day.

It is not about a single event (this pandemic) but all future pandemics, including the one that will hit when you are older. Why is it so difficult to grasp that by killing seniors, you reduce your own life expectancy ?