A Poorer Economy Means a Sicker World

A number of economists and commentators have argued that government-imposed social distancing laws should be relaxed sooner rather than later: Brutal government restrictions have led to collapsing output, skyrocketing unemployment, and long lines for welfare funded by ballooning government debt.

The response to this argument, in some circles, has been disgust. After all, what kind of person would risk people’s lives in the name of the economy? But here is where the discussion has cratered into a false dichotomy. The idea that this debate is about a trade-off between saving lives and saving GDP numbers represents a widespread and frustratingly tragic misunderstanding of why economic growth matters. The first reason, amongst many, is that economic growth is how we save more lives tomorrow than we can today.

A growing economy means that, over time, the community will enjoy increasing real incomes. As incomes grow, people will spend a smaller portion of their money on necessities and a larger share on their personal wellbeing and health. This, in turn, encourages more capital investment in health and a larger share of the labor force can move into nursing and medicine.

Therefore, if our economy grows quickly, a larger share of our wealth will be redirected towards the healthcare system. Growing demand for healthcare services encourages innovation, entrepreneurship, and medical research, all of which means that more lives will be saved tomorrow, the ne