by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
This week, JLF’s Dr. Don van der Vaart wrote a research brief advocating for a more deliberate cost-benefit analysis of public health measures. Dr. van der Vaart writes:
As we struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic, our government has responded by imposing economically severe restrictions on our lives. In doing so, elected officials must remember that imposing costly public health restrictions may do more harm than good. Ultimately, decisions on the stringency of public health requirements must be balanced with the costs of doing so…
A well-functioning economy is critical to improving health care and environmental quality, and the risk of destroying that economy has (and should) place real limits on the measures taken in the name of protecting people and the environment.
Dr. van der Vaart likens it to environmental regulations meant to protect public health:
The environmental laws are filled with compromises. The Clean Water Act, for example, explicitly includes cost considerations when setting standards. Cost-benefit analysis often places a dollar amount on a “statistical” lifetime. Benefit calculations include the number of trips to the emergency room, lost workdays, lost school days, and deaths. Our regulatory state is filled with such compromises because we recognize that environmental management would suffer irreparable harm if the economy is severely impaired. Similarly, crippling our economy would leave us ill-prepared to sustain our enviable health care system.
Dr. van der Vaart continues:
There are limits to what a government can spend to save lives. We could force everyone to drive 10 miles per hour and save many lives, but the resultant economy would not generate the resources needed to support health care to uninsured or provide a robust environmental protection program. Does this mean some will suffer simply for want of spending more of the nation’s treasure? Absolutely. And it has done so for years.