'Saving The Economy Versus Saving Lives?': An Ethicist And Economist Consider A Coronavirus Question

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People watch as the USNS Comfort medical ship moves up the Hudson River as it arrives on March 30, 2020 in New York as seen from Weehawken, New Jersey. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)
People watch as the USNS Comfort medical ship moves up the Hudson River as it arrives on March 30, 2020 in New York as seen from Weehawken, New Jersey. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

Saving the economy vs. saving lives? That's a grotesque oversimplification of a complex question. We sit down with an economist and an ethicist to think through how an entire society best unwinds from a lockdown.


Christine Mitchell, executive director of the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School. (@Mitchell_HCB)

Andrew Atkeson, professor of economics and finance at UCLA. (@UCLA)

From The Reading List

The Boston Globe: "A message to the public from Mass. doctors, nurses, and ethicists about the coronavirus" — "As the world responds to the novel coronavirus public health crisis, the entire medical community across the Commonwealth, composed of numerous hospitals and countless providers, is working hard to develop and refine plans to support our patients, providers, and staff for the evolving and possibly unprecedented situations related to COVID-19. Many of our plans are well grounded in years of thoughtful ethical work and real-world experiences, like the Sept. 11 and Boston Marathon attacks, previous flu epidemics, as well as disaster preparedness drills."

Reuters: "The U.S. weighs the grim math of death vs. the economy" — "Hollstadt Consulting CEO Molly Jungbauer has had to let go 30 of the 150 employees at her St. Paul, Minnesota firm to weather the drop in revenue from travel industry clients because of the coronavirus. She’s worried about her daughter, who lives in New York and has the disease. But she also worries that shutting the economy with open-ended stay-at-home orders could have an 'irreversible' impact."

Chicago Booth Review: "How does economic policy interact with public health measures for COVID-19?" — "Just two weeks ago, the likelihood of a major US recession as a consequence of the public health challenge posed by COVID-19 was still in doubt. In the past few days, the number of claims filed for unemployment insurance hit record levels; the total number of COVID-19 cases in the United States went past 100,000, already substantially higher than the totals in Italy and China; and parts of the country have imposed lockdowns, closing non-essential businesses and requiring people to stay at home as much as possible."

The Washington Post: "Should older Americans die to save the economy? Ethicists call it a false choice." — "Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick set off a firestorm of criticism after he suggested Monday that he and other older Americans should be willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the economy, which he said was in mortal jeopardy because of shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic."

Detroit Free Press: "Ethics professor: In coronavirus crisis, Don't prioritize economics over public health" — "President Donald Trump said this week that he hopes to see economic activity ramped up and social distancing practices and other public health measures reduced by Easter, which is April 12. This is a recipe for disaster and it again vividly illustrates his dismissal of medical and scientific expertise for his own political goals."

This program aired on April 1, 2020.


Brittany Knotts Freelance Producer
Brittany Knotts is a freelance producer for On Point.


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Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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