• Dr. Francis Yoo

COVID Contemplations - Economics of Lives (snippet)

Article: “On ‘The Cure is Worse Than the Disease’”

By Kevin D. Williamson5

Article Summary

Many parts of the world, including the USA, have responded to COVID by reducing gatherings and opportunities for in-person human interactions. This has negatively impacted many businesses and therefore the economy as a whole. “The cure is worse than the disease” is a saying that is being used during the COVID pandemic to declare that the detrimental effects on the economy are worse than letting more people contract, get sick with, and possibly even die from COVID.

The author of this article does not intend to give answers but rather gives an objective framework to give context to this saying:

1. It is uncertain how the strategies to respond to COVID will affect the future.

2. There is great complexity in the question of what the best response to COVID is.

3. It is in this complex, uncertain scenario that leaders are giving answers and directions.5

Basically this article says that there is no definitive way to tell whether “the cure is worse than the disease,” there is no way to tell what the long-term effects of the restrictions on gatherings and face-to-face interactions will be, and that significant decisions still have to be made despite this.


(Disclaimer: I am not an economist or statistician).

The heavy restrictions on in-person interactions have pros and cons:

  1. Lower COVID transmission may allow more people to get access to healthcare. This saves lives and maintains the health of individuals in the short and long term.

  2. Fewer COVID-related deaths could be beneficial to the economy long term. This may increase the health of the economy in the long term, but...

  3. Many businesses may close as a result and many people lose their source of income. This definitely decreases the health of the economy in the short term.

  4. More people would not be able to afford food, shelter, health and medical necessities. This decreases the health of those individuals in the short term and may have long-reaching effects for their health.

In other words, the restrictions save more lives and hurt the economy in the short term, but we do not really know the long-term effects. The argument can be simplified and stripped down to: economy versus lives. There are two groups who want to maximize different goals: Group E (for economy) wants to maximize the economy while Group L (for lives) wants to maximize the lives saved.

Texas’ lieutenant governor Dan Patrick’s position describes Group E’s perspective of maximizing the economy at the expense of lives:

No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?' And if that is the exchange, I'm all in...6

and continues to say that he believes many grandparents share his sentiment. From this perspective, it is better for businesses to reopen and boost the current economy even though it may cause more people, especially those that are more vulnerable to COVID, to die.

In the worst-case scenario, many, many, many people, especially the older and sicker, would die directly from COVID (or its health consequences) in this situation, but the economy MAY do better in the short time. However, in the long term, this might increase COVID transmission and deaths, which would likely negatively affect the economy long term.

Frontline healthcare workers exemplify Group L’s perspective - they are working to save as many lives as possible, often at the risk of worsening the economy by maintaining COVID-related business restrictions as long as needed to minimize COVID casualties. In the worst-case scenario, many lives are saved, but the economy suffers in the short and long term, which may in turn lead to a less effective healthcare system and negatively impact peoples’ health.

There are underlying assumptions here that I want to point out:

1) Group E and Group L cannot both be happy; more lives saved means a worse economy and a better economy means more lives lost.

2) The health of people AND the economy cannot both be helped at the same time.

This can be seen as proposing that we measure people’s lives with dollars or measuring dollars with lives.

Are these assumptions true? What about looking for ways to help the health of people AND businesses, ways to save as many lives as possible while finding ways to improve the economy?

Obviously, I should point out that the above is an oversimplification. There are many other considerations, not the least of which is location. Would tightening up on or relaxing the restrictions depending on the location make sense? Would it make sense to retain the heavy restrictions in urban areas like New York City and have different, looser standards in rural areas?

Question / Exercises

Did you or any of your loved ones contract COVID? Did someone you know pass away due to COVID? What emotions arise when people say that we should remove restrictions even if it means sacrificing the lives of people? Anger? Shame? Fear? Sadness? Happiness? Be honest and open, but do not attack yourself or anyone else.

Did you or your loved ones suffer financially because of the restrictions that were instituted to battle the public health problem of COVID? Did you or someone you know lose a job or have to close their business and is struggling to pay bills and is worried about how to make ends meet? In those cases, what emotions arise when people say that we should continue the restrictions to save lives, even if it means harming today’s economy and people’s livelihood?

Can I acknowledge my anger, shame, fear, anxiety, hurts?

Why am I having this experience of anger, shame, fear?

Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to help?

Who do you need to confront in love?

Acknowledging and facing these uncomfortable experiences lets you explore your hurts and then journey through them. There is something great on the other side. I’m not saying to tough it out by yourself, but if you never earnestly face these experiences, you almost certainly will lose chances to grow and manifest the true inner essence, freedom, identity, and security that are within you.

Dig on because there is treasure within.


1. Williamson KD. On ‘The cure is worse than the disease’. National Review website. https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/03/coronavirus-response-is-the-cure-worse-than-the-disease-question-unanswerable. Updated March 24, 2020. Accessed June 13, 2020.

6. Knodel J. Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick suggests he, other seniors willing to die to get economy going again. NBC News website. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/texas-lt-gov-dan-patrick-suggests-he-other-seniors-willing-n1167341. Updated March 24, 2020. Accessed June 13, 2020.

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