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We don’t have to abandon logic here

Summary:
There are silly things to say about the coronavirus and this is one of them: And now Covid-19. Imagine if blunt economic interest was, in fact, dictating our response. Would we be shutting the economy down? What we know about the virus tells us that it most often kills what are by the numbers the “least productive” members of society. The majority of the working population experience symptoms barely more significant than a regular flu. Unlike regular flus it does not threaten children, the future workers. The virus may be bad, but simplistic economic logic would dictate that until we have a vaccine it would be best to keep life going, because, you know, “it’s the economy stupid”.Economics - and thus the economy - is not about money, or production, or consumption, incomes nor any of the

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There are silly things to say about the coronavirus and this is one of them:

And now Covid-19. Imagine if blunt economic interest was, in fact, dictating our response. Would we be shutting the economy down? What we know about the virus tells us that it most often kills what are by the numbers the “least productive” members of society. The majority of the working population experience symptoms barely more significant than a regular flu. Unlike regular flus it does not threaten children, the future workers. The virus may be bad, but simplistic economic logic would dictate that until we have a vaccine it would be best to keep life going, because, you know, “it’s the economy stupid”.

Economics - and thus the economy - is not about money, or production, or consumption, incomes nor any of the specifics that are actually studied. We study those specifics in order to work out how to maximise utility. That is, as much as is possible of what people want.

Matters like GDP - and production, recorded consumption and so on - are only proxies for this underlying thing we’re trying to maximise. To talk of “the economy” is to reify that proxy, an error that often enough doesn’t matter - that’s the way with proxies, they’re often good enough - but we must not forget that it is just a proxy. And increased GDP means that we can produce more, therefore we can consume more. It’s an increase in our ability to maximise utility, that’s the very point.

Not killing grandpa by not going to the pub - or work - is an increase in utility, we have no conflict here. Except among those with the silly belief in that reification of “the economy”.

There are also stupid things that can be said:

It is the commercial logic of drug development that defines the range of vaccines we have ready and waiting; obscure coronaviruses don’t get the same attention as erectile dysfunction.

There is no possible system of organisation that would have a vaccine ready today. No one actually knew that there was anything to have a vaccine about until December at the earliest. Going back through blood samples gives us November 17 as the first (at this point at least) recorded evidence of the existence of the virus. To wibble that it’s commercialisation that created the current absence is to claim that the HIV drugs should have been created in 1959.

Yes, we have a problem here. But logic is an aid to solving problems, problems are not an excuse to abandon logic.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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