Don’t fall for the false trade-offs of COVID-19 policy
By Neale Mahoney – The American economy—like those of many countries—is reeling. As COVID-19 forces businesses to shut their doors and consumers to retreat within their homes, the stock market has plummeted and unemployment-insurance claims have skyrocketed. Many people are predicting that we will soon experience a severe recession, in the United States and around the world.
So it may come as no surprise that in this gloomy environment, there are growing concerns that the economic costs of mitigating the spread of COVID-19—through social distancing and/or isolation, the approaches favored by many health experts—are worse than the health costs we would incur by relaxing such measures. As US president Donald Trump put it on Twitter, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
Trade-offs are central to economics. Many of our canonical models are designed to illustrate them, and economists are quick to point out trade-offs, or “unintended consequences,” when they are ignored by policy makers.
Because of these trade-offs, reasonable people with a shared goal can disagree, simply because they have differing views of, for instance, the elasticity of labor supply (how workers respond to changes in after-tax wages), the degree of moral hazard (how people respond to the out-of-pocket price of health care), and so on.
However, when it comes to COVID-19, the conventional economic trade-offs are greatly overstated. Indeed, I’m worried that the language of trade-offs is being co-opted to push for shareholder bailouts and corporate cronyism. Some of the “trade-offs” being weighed in discussions of policy are not trade-offs at all. We economists should get ahead of this and call it what it is: nonsense. more>
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- How will poor countries cope with COVID-19? [VIDEO]
- How does economic policy interact with public health measures for COVID-19? Romesh Vaitilingam
- How the coronavirus affects stock prices and growth expectations, Niels Gormsen and Ralph S. J. Koijen