(p. A17) Reducing the incidence of disease isn’t necessarily desirable if excessive prevention, in the form of lockdowns or school closures, is more costly to society than the damage done by an illness. We don’t close highways to minimize accidental deaths, despite the existence of dangerous drivers. Yet this is exactly what we’re doing when the government intervenes to limit the spread of communicable diseases by, for instance, mandating vaccines that don’t prevent transmission.
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In early 2020, University of Chicago economists estimated that about 80% of the total damage from Covid came from prevention efforts that hindered economic activity, and only 20% from the direct effects of the disease itself. This analysis motivated me and others to recommend that initial efforts to stop the spread should focus on older people, who are at higher risk of severe illness and not as active in the economy as younger people. This would allow younger people to keep the economy going while limiting the spread of the disease among those most at risk from it. Some in the public-health community, like the signers of the Great Barrington Declaration, eventually saw the light.
My Chicago colleague Casey B. Mulligan has found that total monthly Covid-related harms fell from 2020 to 2021, even as the number of deaths rose. In tax terms, this is an effect not unlike that of the Laffer curve—a lower rate may increase revenue because of growth in the tax base. Similarly, vaccines and treatments reduced the costs associated with getting sick—call it the “disease tax”—but also increased social and economic activity, allowing the infection to spread. Even if the disease tax is paid by more people, the costs are outpaced by the overall benefit derived from the subsequent tsunami of economic activity.
For the full commentary, see:
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 19, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)