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Only Saving Lives Will Save Livelihoods The Right Way to Understand Pandemic Economics

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People wait in line for a pop-up food pantry in Chelsea, Massachusetts, April 2020
Brian Snyder / Reuters

The novel coronavirus has spread widely around the world, overwhelming health-care systems and killing hundreds of thousands of people. But fatigue with stay-at-home orders and the consequences of a sudden freeze in economic activity have brought diminished focus on the human cost of the disease. Even worse, impatience has reinforced a widespread misconception: that saving fewer lives will be worth it if economic activity is restored quickly. Pandemic economics doesn’t work that way, and neither can pandemic response. Only action that places people’s health at its center will enable an economic recovery.

Individuals’ perceptions of safety will drive consumer and business decisions in the coming months. If governments fail to save lives, people afraid of the virus will not resume shopping, traveling, or dining out. This will hinder economic recovery, lockdown or no lockdown. Accordingly, only investing in strategies that protect health will allow the economy to rebound;

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