Thursday, April 9, 2020

Of course, the economist can never view the world through the innocent eyes of the epidemiologist either...

This piece by Noah Feldman really challenged a lot of my preconceptions.
The upshot of these different worldviews is that, on the whole, epidemiologists are insisting that we must take all necessary steps to control the spread of Covid-19. Meanwhile, many economists are saying that we must find a way to reopen the economy and that we must explicitly weigh the trade-off between virus-related health and broader human well-being that is in part a product of a functioning economy. (Of course, not all epidemiologists and economists fit neatly into these two boxes; I am offering a heuristic device to make sense of different approaches, not a sociological study.)

The gulf between the worldviews is big — and it’s growing.

When epidemiologists say that there is no trade-off to be had between health and the economy, because if people keep getting sick and dying it will leave the economy worse off, lots of economists just shake their heads. “There is always a trade-off,” you can hear them thinking. The consequences are measurable. People dying is unfortunate, but it’s still a cost that can be compared to the costs of shutdown.

Meanwhile, when the economists talk the trade-off talk, lots of epidemiologists (and others) find it morally reprehensible when people are dying.

This guy is a Harvard law professor, not some clueless ass setting up straw men. Obviously, I need to reconsider my assumptions. I thought epidemiologists were actually making calculations (often with the help of economists who specialize in health care) and concluding that even extreme containment measures would more than pay for themselves when compared to the consequences (economic and otherwise) of a full collapse of the health system. I had assumed that any reasonable cost/benefit analysis would favor the outcome of South Korea over Italy.

Of course, I was also under the impression that the vast majority of economists agreed with the epidemiologists on this,  with only a few Fox News shills pushing the "don't let the cure be worse than the disease" line. Apparently, I'm going to have to re-examine lots of my preconceptions.

1 comment:

  1. but . . . +1 for Ivy League law professors who make up their own B.S. rather than plagiarizing B.S. from others.