NBER

Roberto Chang, Andrés Velasco

Bibliographic Information

NBER Working Paper No. 27020
Issued in April 2020
NBER Program(s):EFG, IFM, PE

Available Formats

Abstract

The Covid-19 pandemic has motivated a myriad of studies and proposals on how economic policy should respond to this colossal shock. But in this debate it is seldom recognized that the health shock is not entirely exogenous. Its magnitude and dynamics themselves depend on economic policies, and the explicit or implicit incentives those policies provide. To illuminate the feedback loops between medical and economic factors we develop a minimal economic model of pandemics. In the model, as in reality, individual decisions to comply (or not) with virus-related public health directives depend on economic variables and incentives, which themselves respond to current economic policy and expectations of future policies. The analysis yields several practical lessons: because policies affect the speed of virus transmission via incentives, public health measures and economic policies can complement each other, reducing the cost of attaining desired social goals; expectations of expansionary macroeconomic policies during the recovery phase can help reduce the speed of infection, and hence the size of the health shock; the credibility of announced policies is key to rule out both self-fulfilling pessimistic expectations and time inconsistency problems. The analysis also yields a critique of the current use of SIR models for policy evaluation, in the spirit of Lucas (1983).

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