From reading your post—the sleepwalk bias does seem to be the mirror-image of the Morituri Nolumus Mori effect; that we tend to systematically underweight strong, late reactions. One difference is that I was thinking of both individual and policy responses whilst your post focusses on policy, but that’s in large part because most of the low-frequency high-damage risks we commonly talk[ed] about are X-risks that can be dealt with only at the level of policy. I also note that I got at a few of the same factors as you that might affect the strength of such a reaction:
The catastrophe is arriving too fast for actors to react.
It is unclear whether the catastrophe will in fact occur, or it is at least not very observable for the relevant actors (the financial crisis, possibly AGI).
The possible disaster, though observable in some sense, is not sufficiently salient (especially to voters) to override more immediate concerns (climate change).
There are conflicts (World War I) and/or free-riding problems (climate change) which are hard to overcome.
The problem is technically harder than initially thought.
The speed issue I discussed in conclusions and I obliquely referred to the salience issue in talking about ‘ability to understand consensus reality’ and that we have pre-existing instincts around purity and disgust that would help a response to something like a pandemic. The presence of free-rider problems I didn’t discuss. How the speed/level of difficulty interacts with the response I did mention—talking about the hypotheticals where R0 was 2 or 8, for example.
Those differences aside, it seems like we got at the same phenomenon independently.
I’m curious about whether you made any advance predictions about likely outcomes based on your understanding of the ‘sleepwalk bias’. I made a light suggestion that things might go better than expected in mid-March, but I can’t really call it a prediction. The first time I explicitly said ‘we were wrong’ was when a lot of evidence had already come in—in April.
An economist friend said in a discussion about sleepwalk bias 9 March:
In the case of COVID, this led me to think that there will not be that much mortality in most rich countries, but only due to drastic measures.
The rest of the discussion may also be of interest; e.g. note his comment that “in economics, I think we often err on the other side—people fully incorporate the future in many models.”