In a previous post, I mentioned Paul Ormerod’s argument that governments have relied too heavily on epidemiologists, and not enough on economists, when crafting their responses to COVID-19. (For example, they’ve consistently failed to subject their own policies to rigorous cost-benefit analysis).
However, survey evidence indicates that many economists were just as strongly pro-lockdown as the doctors, epidemiologists and public health scientists who’ve been advising governments.
In April of 2020, members of the ‘IGM economic experts panel’ (a sample of 44 academic economists based in the U.S.) were asked whether a “comprehensive policy response will involve tolerating a very large contraction in economic activity until the spread of infections has dropped significantly”. Of those who answered, zero percent disagreed.
In addition, zero percent of the panel disagreed that “abandoning severe lockdowns at a time when the likelihood of a resurgence in infections remains high will lead to greater total economic damage than sustaining the lockdowns to eliminate the resurgence risk”.
In a survey of 47 Australian economists from May of 2020, only 19% disagreed that “the benefits to Australian society of maintaining social distancing measures sufficient to keep R less than 1 for COVID-19 are likely to exceed the costs”.
Why did so many economists back the lockdowns? Mikko Packalen and Jay Bhattacharya (of Great Barrington Declaration fame) seek to answer this question in a recent essay for Collateral Global.