Quick Update: The Excruciating Choice: “Flattening the Curve” and Prolonging the Global Recession

©2020 Farok J. Contractor, Rutgers Business School

Click  20 Mar 2020 for earlier post
Government Waking Up to the Trade-offs

It is not every day that, shortly after I publish a post, the Trump administration responds with a similar thought, addressing – seemingly for the first time – the balance between health considerations and the economic (and long-term health) damage caused by lockdowns and quarantines during a global pandemic.

More than a fifth of the world’s population is either in a state of lockdown or is being urged to stay home, which amounts to 1.54 billion persons taken out of economic productivity. With millions of job losses and closed businesses, shortly before midnight on Sunday, March 22, 2020, Trump tweeted – in all capital letters:

“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”[1]

The Excruciating Choice

Dear reader: Mind you, I am taking no position myself in the debate I proposed. In my earlier post, I called weighing health against economic considerations an “excruciating choice”:

  • Public health experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci (who frequently contradicts the president) are more comfortable with social isolation lasting weeks, if not longer, than with easing restrictions too soon.
  • Economists in the White House are beginning to wake up to the concern that the shutdown would affect the economy so badly that it could trigger not just a recession, but a depression – possibly lasting years.

Even a severe recession, prolonged by months of unemployment, would itself have health consequences, something I alluded to in my earlier post.

But at least, now, the balance or trade-offs between physical and economic health are beginning to be considered by the US federal government, as well as by state and local governments.

Without taking sides, we will stay vigilant as the story continues to evolve.

[1] Haberman, M. & Sanger, D. E. (2020). Trump says coronavirus cure cannot “be worse than the problem itself.” New York Times, March 23.

 

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