COVID-19: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Politics

57 Osgoode Hall L.J. 537 (2020)

Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper

27 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2020 Last revised: 4 Feb 2021

See all articles by Dan Priel

Dan Priel

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School

Date Written: November 25, 2020

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic forced governments around the world to make tough political decisions about the cost of saving lives and the limits of doing so. One of the striking aspects of the debates over these necessary tradeoffs is the relatively little weight individual rights seemed to have carried in these discussions. At first, this might have seen the triumph of cost-benefit analysis (CBA); and in a sense, it was. However, the pandemic has also shown the limitations of CBA, especially in the face of severe uncertainty. This essay reviews some of the sources of uncertainty in the context of the pandemic and shows how, in the face of such uncertainty, different countries fall back onto their political commitments, which include concern for individual rights. I thus argue that rather than being in competition to CBA, political considerations (including concern for individual rights) end up being incorporated into an impressionistic calculation of costs and benefits of government action. I conclude by suggesting that this is where future discussion of the theoretical foundations of CBA should focus on.

Keywords: Cost-benefit analysis, COVID-19, health policy

Suggested Citation

Priel, Dan, COVID-19: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Politics (November 25, 2020). 57 Osgoode Hall L.J. 537 (2020), Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3737818 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3737818

Dan Priel (Contact Author)

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
Canada

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