Can Governments Deal with Pandemics?
16 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2020 Last revised: 3 Dec 2021
Date Written: August 11, 2020
While few economists dispute that governments should have some role in dealing with pandemics, the relevant institutional question is whether governments can deal with pandemics. In this article, we argue that there are trade-offs embedded with the provision of public health measures. States that are better able to effectively deal with pandemics require a great deal of capacity to implement coercive measures such as economic lockdowns or quarantines. Such capacity is associated with a lesser ability to generate economic growth and harness its palliative effects with regards to other health dimensions. As a nation’s institutions are “bundles” (i.e. one takes the wheat with the chaff), there are nations doomed to deal poorly with pandemics, at least in the short run. Despite the positive and normative case for government-involvement in public health, effective involvements may be outside the range of institutional possibilities.
Keywords: Public health, political economy, smallpox, COVID-19, institutions, economic history
JEL Classification: I15, I38, H40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation