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Your money or your life? Coronavirus-era economics makes us ask grim questions about how to value each other
Long before COVID-19 cases rose and markets plummeted, economists had ways to measure what a human life is worth – but the public, and the health officials keeping them safe, have their own ideas about that too. Who should we listen to in this crisis, and the rebuilding that comes after?
Published April 12, 2020
graph above: Murat Yükselir and John Sopinski/ The Globe and Mail, Source: John Hopkins University; Yahoo Finance
WN: This is an eminently reasonable and well-researched article that, as suggested by the title, puts the two values alongside each other. And, as it turns out, we may have our cake and eat it too! Explains the writer:
In other words, if physical distancing saves 140,000 Canadian lives over the course of the pandemic – another conservative estimate – that’s worth $1.5-trillion. That’s more than seven times the projected $200-billion cost of the Trudeau-Morneau bailout. Physical distancing may be an economic nightmare, but it’s also a solid rebuke to bottom-line assessments of the value of human existence.
It’s an outstanding article, and has been updated once so far, so perhaps more will follow. The Globe and Mail is making these articles free to the public, though asks for purchase of a subscription.
But there is another pair of artifacts you can stare at long enough to induce existential terror: the chart of the upward surge of global coronavirus cases, and the graph of the stock market’s harrowing plummet because of them.
Both curves are steep. The free-falling stock chart is a cliff you don’t want to stand too close to. The pitch of the rising COVID cases, on the other hand, is more like the upper slope of a glacier, if you have ever skied up one: It keeps going up, and up, and up, and even when you think you have the top in sight, you don’t. It never seems to level off.
Together, the two charts describe the world today and as far as anyone can see into the future, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, a one-of-a-kind event no human has ever experienced on this scale before.
The stock market lost a third of its value between Feb. 12 – the day the number of coronavirus deaths passed 1,000 in China – and March 23, when it finally hit bottom after a string of rolling losses. More than US$26-trillion evaporated from funds and retirement portfolios, years of savings swept away. (None of this has been predictable: Last week, with COVID-19 deaths in a rapid climb, the market had recovered a quarter of its losses).
The paralyzed economy isn’t faring any better. More than a million Canadians have lost their jobs so far, and 2.5 million more may join them by the end of April. (More than 16 million Americans are now unemployed.) Growth in Canada is expected to drop by 25 per cent in the next quarter alone. The culture of office work may never recover, for better or worse; the use of cash has dropped by half around the world.
Please click on: Your Money or Your Life