Is Preventing Covid-19 Deaths Worth a Severe Recession? The Answer Depends on Controversial Assumptions About the Epidemic’s Lethality.

A cost-benefit analysis of COVID-19 lockdowns highlights crucial gaps in the data.

by Jacob Sullum

In a paper published on Monday, three economists address the tradeoff between COVID-19 containment and economic activity in the United States. They estimate that “the optimal containment policy increases the severity of the recession but saves roughly half a million lives in the U.S.” According to their model, aggressive control measures more than double the decline in aggregate consumption. The lead author, Northwestern University economist Martin Eichenbaum, says the difference would amount to an additional reduction of $1 trillion over the course of a year. That comes out to roughly $2 million for each life saved, which looks like a bargain compared to the $9.3 million per-life value used in the model.

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