The Cure is Not Worse than the Disease - A Humanitarian Perspective
24 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2020 Last revised: 29 Oct 2020
Date Written: June 6, 2020
Although most people understand that the current public health efforts lead to a significant economic decline, few are willing to put a price tag on a human life. This manuscript draws upon economic estimates of mortality induced by government regulation, to compare lives saved by the current public health approach with potential downstream collateral loss of lives from the economic downturn. The lives-to-lives comparison is not confounded by differences in people’s normative assessments of the value of human life. Based on the best currently available evidence, we estimate that the 2020 COVID19-mitigating public health measures will save between 913,762 and 2,046,322 lives in the US; however, the economic downturn from shelter-in-place measures and other restrictions on economic activity could create an indirect collateral loss of 84,000 to 514,800 lives over the following years. This manuscript concludes that COVID19-mitigating public health measures are justified; however they can create potentially significant albeit less overt downstream morbidity and mortality. A balanced approach that prioritizes public health while also restricting economic activity as minimally as possible is essential to emerging from the pandemic with the least amount of humanitarian cost from the virus and from the loss of economic opportunity combined.
Note: Original version: 7/6/2020 Updates: 7/9/2020: the range for the proportion of asymptomatic cases updated to 13%-57%, citation added; the results update accordingly to 900,000-2,700,000 lives saved. (The original version reported 20%-80% asymptomatic cases and 500,000-2,700,000 lives saved.) 7/23/2020: added new references, corrected several grammatical error and typos. 8/6/2020: the unmitigated death toll has been updated to reflect new information on the number of asymptomatic cases. The downstream collateral loss of life has been updated in lieu of quarter 2 GDP report.
Keywords: Value of Life, Economic Shut-Down, COVID-19, Cost-Benefit
JEL Classification: I18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation