Trump’s Implicit Valuation of Life: Back of Envelope Calculations from the Pandemic Response

According to researchers at Columbia University, implementation of shelter-in-place/social distance measures one week earlier would’ve saved 36,000 lives. Given the GDP that was generated in that one week, this implies Trump’s implicit valuation of one life is $1.16 million (compared to typical Value of Statistical Life of about $11 million).

Here are the calculations:

2019Q4 GDP was 417.9 billion/week (= $21729 billion SAAR/52 weeks)

If GDP in shutdown is 10% reduced (which is implied by estimates of 2020Q2 reduction of about 40% relative to 2019Q4), that means a $41.8 billion loss.

Pei, Shandula and Kaman (2020)  estimate 36,000 lives could’ve been saved by implementing lockdown measures one week earlier.

Dividing $41.8 billion by 36,000 lives yields an implicit valuation of $1.16 milion/life.

This compares against 10.1 million 2015$ in median Value of Statistical Life (VSL) reported by Kniesner and Viscusi (2019) in their Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Economics and Finance entry. Adjusting to current dollars yields a VSL of about $11 million.

In other words, Trump’s implied valuation of a typical life sacrificed by not implementing non-pharmaceutical interventions is approximately one-tenth of the value used in some standard benefit-cost calculations.



76 thoughts on “Trump’s Implicit Valuation of Life: Back of Envelope Calculations from the Pandemic Response

  1. pgl

    Interesting calculation but the reality is that Trump puts zero value on anyone’s life unless they are servants to the honor of Donald John Trump.

    1. Willie

      He doesn’t value those lives, either, as evidenced by the propensity to kick people to the curb and say he doesn’t know them.

      It is a useful calculation, though. And it would be interesting to see the cost/benefit calculations that can be deduced by projections of economic benefits vs. deaths caused by opening the economy too early.

  2. sammy

    It’s a start, but it’s not the simple. There is the other side of the equation.

    Hundreds Of Doctors Warn Trump Of ‘Exponentially Growing Negative Health Consequences’ Of Shutdown

    More than 600 medical doctors wrote a letter to President Donald Trump this week that warned the president that continued shutdowns in response to the coronavirus pandemic are going to cause a serious “mass casualty event.”

    Millions of Americans are already at triage level red. These include 150,000 Americans per month who would have had a new cancer detected through routine screening that hasn’t happened, millions who have missed routine dental care to fix problems strongly linked to heart disease/death, and preventable cases of stroke, heart attack, and child abuse. Suicide hotline phone calls have increased 600%.”

    “Tens of millions are at triage level yellow,” the letter continued. “Liquor sales have increased 300-600%, cigarettes sales have increased, rent has gone unpaid, family relationships have become frayed, and millions of well-child check-ups have been missed. Hundreds of millions are at triage level green. These are people who currently are solvent, but at risk should economic conditions worsen. Poverty and financial uncertainty is closely linked to poor health.”

    “Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful events, and the effect on a person’s health is not lessened because it also has happened to 30 million other people,” the letter continued. “Keeping schools and universities closed is incalculably detrimental for children, teenagers, and young adults for decades to come. The millions of casualties of a continued shutdown will be hiding in plain sight, but they will be called alcoholism, homelessness, suicide, heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure.”

    1. baffling

      that letter was from a bunch of trump supporters recruited by the white house.
      if you were worried about cigarettes and alcohol, you could have banned their sale.
      if you were worried about lost income, you could have provided unemployment insurance support as long as the virus lasted.
      optional medical procedures can be postponed. we can have limited medical services that support more acute cases. if you do not lock down and suppress the disease, your hospitals are filled with virus transmitting sick patients. are you going to give somebody an immunosupressing chemotherapy while they sit in a hospital next to a covid patient? not very logical sammy.
      i find it interesting how the compassionate conservatives are now all up in arms about making sure we have great and available services for the homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics and poor. where was that concern 6 months ago?
      you need to do better than this sammy the schmuk.

      1. pgl

        Sammy did not tell us the names of these 600 alleged doctors. I bet the list includes Donald Luskin, Stephen Moore, Art Laffer, and Lawrence Kudlow as they will sign anything including economist letters even though none of these morons are economists either.

      2. pgl

        ” Computers, too, are an ominous threat. The organization has resisted the use of electronic medical records—which, naturally, represents an attempt by the government to acquire masses of private information about American citizens”. This is what these quacks believe? Hey Sammy – this is ala One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest!

    2. pgl

      A letter obtained by Fox News reported on the Daily Caller? Anyone with an IQ above the teens would know this is a fraud. Come on
      Sammy – we know you are incredibly stupid but I thought even you would know this was intellectual garbage. But maybe not!

    3. 2slugbaits

      sammy These are crocodile tears. As baffling pointed out, these doctors were recruited by Team Trump and I don’t think they have any special expertise in economics. Of course, they do have some expertise in medicine, but they also have vested interests. Are you surprised that plastic surgeons want to reopen? Were they as concerned for the welfare of the poor before the virus? How many argued that doctors and hospitals made too much money and lower their fees? Gimme a break.

      Hundreds of millions are at triage level green. These are people who currently are solvent, but at risk should economic conditions worsen.

      Really? Hundreds of millions? How many people do you think live in this country? I suggest that your doctors might be math challenged.

      There’s no good reason why people should be suffering economically. Of all the problems we face, that’s got to be the easiest problem to overcome. Even the Fed, which is notoriously anti-inflation, has been begging Congress and Trump to ramp up fiscal spending.

      As to the medical issues, I don’t think anyone is complaining about reopening medical facilities. Hospitals had to shut down elective surgeries and tests for a short time because those hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID patents and didn’t have adequate PPE…no thanks to Team Trump.

      Your only valid concern is with respect to education. But the best way to maximize the chances that kids will be able to go back to school in the fall is to knock down the virus before schools reopen. As to university students, here the concern is that people don’t feel safe enough to attend regular classes. No one is going to pay Menzi’s UW tuition fees and only get a Phoenix Online education. Urging governors to reopen as quickly as possible only makes that problem worse.

      What seems to motivate MAGA hatter protests isn’t the fact that they can’t get cancer screenings (they now can in every state) or send their kids to school (irrelevant since schools would be ending now anyway). Their main concerns seem to be going to theaters, drinking beer at bars and getting haircuts.

    4. Willie

      Sammy, your death cult is trying to kill my mother, my wife, and then me with your misinformation, quackery and Mammon worship. You are a heartless fraud.

      1. noneconomist

        Not to worry, Jo Rae Perkins, who won the Oregon Republican nomination for U.S. Senate , is solidly pro-life. and a Q believer too! So, get rid of the unwell, save the unborn, and plan to ship those traitors to Guantanamo. Feelin’ good, Sammy?
        Where have you gone, J.Blowhard Hambone? To Oregon.

    5. macroduck

      The idea that hospitals would have done a bunch of cancer screening which has not been done because of quarantine efforts is ludicrous. Medical personnel have been overwhelmed by Covid treatment efforts in many locales, to the extent that they could not have done more. A lesser effort at quarantine would have widened the spread of the virus, causing overflow conditions in even more places, making normal medical practice impossible in those places, as well.

      Liquor sales up 300-600%? No. That’s simply a lie. They are up more like 50%:

      It is possible that there are 600 doctors in the U.S. that dumb. It is possible there are 600 doctors in the U.S. who are that dishonest. It is equally possible that this letter is of the same ilk as reports in 2016 that the Pope supported Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations. The effort to mislead the public to justify Trump’s elevation to power may be unprecedented in U.S. history. Anyone who fails to take that effort into account is either a target of that effort or part of the effort.


  3. Craig

    No argument about Trump. He has been erratic at best, hasn’t been a stable leader, and dithered on whether to encourage shut down or not, but technically the governor’s had the power to shut down their states. It would be interesting to see your calcs for Cuomo. How much $ did he save per death by discharging COVID positive elderly back to nursing homes. He was late to the shut down as well.


    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Craig: True, but had Mr. Trump said forcefully all states should close down, don’t you think we would’ve had more states actually implement NPI’s, and those that did, more forcefully?

      You get me the stats (counterfactual, etc.) and we can do the calculations. Personally, I look to my old home states, California and Washington for rational policy implementation.

  4. Barkley Rosser

    Hmmm., a new calclulation by Viscusi, who is sort of the lead figures on these VSL calculations. As of the end of the Obama admin a special committee of the EPA, which worries about these things had it at about $7 million, but I think it is reasonable that is higher now.

    In any case, $7 million is still well above this implicit figure that Trump is supposedly using, although I agree with both pgl and Willie that in reality he does not value those lives at all, only those of people he actually knew, with a couple of his “friends” having died of it, whom he made some actually human remarks about. Otherwise, meh!

  5. Wally

    I suppose the ‘implicit’ calculation can be made, but Trump isn’t making any such thing, nor is he capable of doing so. His calculation is more simple: “what do I have to do or say to get re-elected?”.

  6. pgl

    Here is the point that Trump sycophants like Sammy miss. If Trump had acted sooner – we would not have as many deaths and we would be able to reopen by now. If Trump did a damn thing about testing – we could reopen sooner without a spike in deaths. If everyone won their damn masks – we could reopen without a spike in deaths. So all the bad things that are happening now are directly attributable to the fact that Trump is too much of a pathetic little coward to actually lead.

    1. Willie

      Mammon worship again. Do you consider yourself pro-life as so many reactionaries who masquerade as conservatives do? If so, then you are the worst kind of opportunistic, greedy fraud.

      1. sammy


        Virtue signal all you want, but the lockdown also costs lives, maybe more than it saves from corona. It is you, therefore, who doesn’t care about human lives.

        1. Menzie Chinn Post author

          sammy: You are seriously trying to say more people died than saved from the lockdown? Do you have a shred of evidence from any respectable epidemiologist?

          1. sammy


            Not what I am saying. The lockdown, at worst, slowed the spread of the virus. How many people it has actually “saved” over the long term is TBD. There is at this point not much correlation between differing degrees of lockdown and spread. However there is a difference between the “seen” costs and the “unseen” costs. The seen is obvious, we get death numbers every day. The unseen is not so obvious, but real nevertheless – that is the pathologies associated with unemployment and boredom and discontinuation of other medical services as well as the collapse of the economy. After all we can buy a lot of life for the $X Trillion GDP loss.

          2. baffling

            sammy: “but the lockdown also costs lives, maybe more than it saves from corona.”
            menzie: “You are seriously trying to say more people died than saved from the lockdown?”
            sammy: “Not what I am saying.”
            actually sammy the schmuk, that is EXACTLY what you said.

            sammy: “that is the pathologies associated with unemployment and boredom…”
            so here is another thing sammy is saying. unemployment and boredom are more dangerous than the coronavirus. it is almost like your logic is equivalent to a bot than an actual person sammy the schmuk.

            now what sammy will not say, is that he is still sitting safely in isolation in his mothers basement while he continues to ask others to go out and risk their lives to grow the economy. you are a real patriot sacrificing for the common good, sammy. almost like private bone spurs, asking others to risk their lives while he makes everybody around him take daily coronavirus tests to stay safe from “just the flu”.

          3. baffling

            “However there is a difference between the “seen” costs and the “unseen” costs.”
            curious sammy, do you also apply the UNSEEN costs of environmental pollution and global warming, or is this simply a selective argument of convenience?

        2. Willie

          Virtue signal? There’s a wingnut snowflake buzz word. I’m asking you how much you value other people’s lives. Apparently you don’t. Are you keeping yourself safe from the bug while expecting others to take risks for you? If that’s not who you are, then I suggest you go apply for a job in a meat processing plant or in a supermarket. Take your chances. You won’t like the results, but you will at least be consistent.

      2. noneconomist

        Seems to be no problem on the right with a senior die off. (Hey, think of the kids, will ya!)
        But work to pass Right to Die legislation, and you see walls crumble, pro-lifers in apoplectic shock, and pious conservatives babbling about God, death panels, eugenics, and whatever else they babble about. And, as we know, they do love to babble.
        Got incurable cancer? Well, suck it up, suffer, and wait to die like God intended. But do feel free to go out and get Covid. The economy, you know.

    2. 2slugbaits

      $50K over what timeframe? And I seriously doubt that those hardest hit by the COVID unemployment earn an average of $50K/year.

      1. pgl

        Exactly! Trump keeps telling us that the Trump recession will be over by the 3d quarter of 2020. But it seems Sammy is predicting this will last until 2021Q3! I guess wearing that MAGA hat does make one really, really stupid.

        1. Willie

          Stupid and completely inconsistent. It’s over Q3 in 2020 or Q3 in 2021? The snowflake right can’t figure it out.

  7. joseph

    sammy: “Hundreds Of Doctors Warn Trump Of ‘Exponentially Growing Negative Health Consequences’ Of Shutdown”

    This letter was created by the lobbyists of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. This is a a small group of ultra-right-wing wackos.

    Among their beliefs are:
    HIV does not cause AIDS.
    The “gay male lifestyle” shortens lifespan by 20 years.
    Abortion increases the risk of breast cancer.
    Vaccinations cause autism.
    Illegal immigrants have caused an explosion of leprosy cases.
    The existence of the FDA is unconstitutional.
    Obama used hypnotism on audiences in his speeches.
    Humanists have replaced the religion of Jehovah with evolution.

    Sammy, tell us the truth. Are these the sorts of people you would take medical advice from? I’m almost afraid to hear the answer.

    1. 2slugbaits

      joseph That’s the same whacko group that Bruce Hall cited in support of his much loved hydroxychloroquine snake oil.

  8. sammy

    By way of an “back of the envelope” calculation: the population of the US is 330,000,000 so if 1/2 of 1% (.005) die a hastened death associated with lockdown effects, that number is 1,650,000. That doesn’t even count countries around the world that depend on the US for aid. How many people have died from Covid again?

    1. Ulenspiegel

      “By way of an “back of the envelope” calculation: the population of the US is 330,000,000 so if 1/2 of 1% (.005) die a hastened death associated with lockdown effects, that number is 1,650,000. ”

      The 0.5% death rate of lock down related issues are pulled from your lower back, correct? If these numbers were correct other countries with lock-downs and good reporting system of cases like Germany or Austria would observe excess deaths that are not explained by cov-19, interestingly, they don’t observe these. Therefore, your hypothesis is BS.

      The death rate with sufficient ICU capacity of cov-19 is 0.5%, without sufficient ICU capacity is in the range of 1% – 1.5% of all infected, that are quite hard numbers. Now do your calculations again and come with a coherent argument.

      ATM you sound like a member of the control group stupid/ delusional. Your contribution is appreciated because it covers efficiently nonsense, but of course does not contribute to a fact based solution.

    2. pgl

      Your back of the envelope calculations seem to be based on really stupid assumptions. I bet your dog could do better than the nonsense you routinely spew out.

    3. Menzie Chinn Post author

      sammy: The US statistics on excess mortality exists, and is published by CDC. You can see what share is *officially* attributed to Covid-19 (likely an undercount). Once you see the residual, you understand in an accounting sense your conjecture is nonsense.

    4. baffling

      ” so if 1/2 of 1% (.005) die a hastened death…”
      that is simply conjecture sammy, with no evidence of support whatsoever. do you simply make stuff up, just like trump?
      on the other hand, without lockdown, it appears pretty clear that the death rate from the coronavirus is larger than that number, perhaps an order of magnitude larger. sammy, it is dangerous for you to get into arguments using numbers, something you apparently know little about. schmuk.

      1. pgl

        “that is simply conjecture sammy, with no evidence of support whatsoever.”

        Actually this is the kind of dumbass statement Bruce Hall has made. Let’s see. If 10% of the population gets this virus and if 5% of them die, then you get this misleading 0.5% claim. Of course Bruce Hall and Sammy are lying here. The probability of dying if one catches the virus is still 5%. Now take this to its logical conclusion. If people follow the stupid advice of Sammy and Bruce Hall (and Trump) such that 50% of the population gets the virus and if 5% of them die, then we are seeing 2.5% of our population die. Of course none of these hacks would care at all if 8 million people died especially if the deaths were mainly minorities.

        We have called Bruce Hall on this BS many times and of course Brucie ducks and run leaving it to Sammy to repeat the lie and take the well deserved ridicule. I guess Sammy is really this damn stupid!

    5. Willie

      Let us get this straight. You are worried about people who would die, in some theoretical world, far more than those who have already died and who you will just casually kill with your favored policies. And the theoretical dead would be far fewer than the real dead. You, Sammy, are beyond contempt.

  9. 2slugbaits

    sammy Since you’re so concerned about the little tikes returning to school, I’m sure you’ll be supporting the Democrat’s bill to bail out state governments. Am I right? After all, without the bailout, schools won’t open. And public universities will be shuttered as well.

    1. randomworker

      Wow, Sammy. Trump has the worst employment record this side of Herbert Hoover. The Trump Slump is one for the record books.

      1. pgl

        Sammy relies on Tyler Durden for his “economics”? OK! But hey if they think this recession will last a lot longer than Trump is claiming – go for it!

    2. 2slugbaits

      sammy So your “go to” sources are the Daily Wire and ZeroHedge. My oh my. Your poor fella.

      Would you rather that 1 in 4 American workers not have unemployment benefits? That is the latest Trump line. His right-wing business friends have been telling him that we need to cut unemployment benefits in order to compel workers to return to work so that fat cats hidden away in their remote lodge homes can enjoy fat profits. And then to further reinforce a message of Trumpian responsibility, they demand that McConnell ensure those same fat cat CEOs won’t be held liable for any liability associated with forcing workers to return to work in an unsafe environment. Sorry, but your concern for vulnerable workers is transparently fake. It’s a concern of convenience. There is economic pain out there, but it’s largely because Trump and the GOP have gone out of their way to use economic pain as a way to bully reluctant workers into risking their lives for the sake of cowardly CEOs. The way to relieve economic pain is to ensure unemployment benefits get to those who need it the most and get it there quickly. Instead we’ve got federal and state agencies working overtime to find ways to deny benefits. You mentioned the mental toll that people are experiencing, but did it ever occur to you that a lot of that mental stress might be due to financial worries. The government has it in its power to mitigate those worries. When all is said and done your chief concern with the shutdown seems to be that you’re bored. Other people need to die because poor sammy is bored. In the words of the old Jethro Tull song, you want to be “Down at the waterhole, drunk every Friday.” If you’re that bored, then try reading something a little more elevated than the Daily Wire or ZeroHedge.

    3. baffling

      a point of order. it is much easier to replace a workers loss of income over the next few months, than it is to replace his life. why the rush to kill the workers sammy?

      1. pgl

        Sammy is counting on all of the victims being either liberal Democrats or minorities. That way Trump can suppress the vote for Biden. The Republican way!

  10. joseph

    randomworker: “Wow, Sammy. Trump has the worst employment record this side of Herbert Hoover. The Trump Slump is one for the record books.

    That comment may have the opposite effect of your intent. Herbert Hoover is considered a conservative hero by that crowd. You are paying Trump a compliment.

    1. Willie

      Only for those who think people should work until they die, then drop dead of exhaustion, like they did. The GOP seems to want to repeal the entire New Deal, the Great Society, and certainly wipe the Civil Rights Act off the book. Take us back to the time of Diamond Jim Brady and life is perfect! Never mind that most of the clowns who think like this would die of black lung or some other occupational illness, because as expendable workers, keeping them healthy or alive wouldn’t be cost effective. It’s one of those careful what you wish for things.

    1. pgl

      One can golf safely if one wears a mask and social distances. But look at that picture – no masks and no social distancing. Now if one of Trump’s golf partners has this virus, how much you want to bet Trump gets it.

  11. sammy

    Look at communities with high unemployment but that receive government checks to survive over a long term. From inner cities to Appalachia. What do you see? Rampant drug use, high crime, poor health, broken families, low esteem.

    1. 2slugbaits

      sammy If you’re genuinely concerned about the social and economic problems of chronic unemployment in areas like Appalachia and inner cities, then let me suggest you spend some of your spare COVID enforced vacation reading Good Economics for Hard Times by the 2019 Nobel laureates Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo. But taking away unemployment benefits doesn’t make them better off. But those are longstanding problems and have nothing to do with the COVID-19 measures.

      1. baffling

        here is maga and sammy logic. we have a depressed economy with 20% unemployment. what is the solution to kick start the economy? kick people off of unemployment insurance and provide a “stimulus” via tax cuts. how in the world is a tax cut going to help an unemployed person with no income? great stimulus plan. maga logic at work.

    2. pgl

      My Lord Sammy – that was the dumbest comment about poverty in Appalachia. This issue goes back over 2 centuries and has been extensively research. Of course a Trump minion like you has no clue. For your education – here is a good beginning on the literature:

      Of course it was written a while back so it does not include your little COVID-19 thesis.

  12. Peter Dorman

    This is a weird post. (1) The delay of lockdown orders had only a partial economic effect; the bulk of economic loss was due to spontaneously chosen distancing as several studies have shown. (2) Greater infection has also made it more difficult to resume economic activity, with much larger costs likely for the months ahead. (3) The VSL thing is bonkers, as I have written in various places. I have *never* seen a rebuttal to my arguments, anywhere. It’s not like there’s even a debate. (4) If you do believe in the VSL stuff, you want value of years lost, since most of the Covid deaths have been to older people.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Peter Dorman: If you used QALYs instead of fatalities, and your preferred number for GDP loss due to lockdown for that one week, what would be the implied tradeoff? What is your preferred point estimate for value of a QALY?

      1. Peter Dorman

        Hi Menzie. As you would expect, I have similar issues with monetized QALY’s. The notion that an impairment or premature death can be decontextualized and given a single value violates just about everything we know about attitudes toward risk. Seriously, try finding a psychologist who studies risk and ask them. In my own work I’ve used DALY’s, which at least have the advantage of being more or less objective, although (of course) they don’t serve the function that welfare econ needs performed.

        I see no reason why economists need to reduce the dimensionality of the information they convey by monetizing everything. Fungible goods should be monetized of course, but nonfungibles like life and health should be kept in their own metrics.

        1. Menzie Chinn Post author

          Peter Dorman: Well, Trump has made a tradeoff implicitly in GDP units for lives — or for DALYs –, if you like. What would be your preferred valuation of a DALY, then? Or how else to contextualize the tradeoff? I have no strong feelings on the matter, except I think one would want to have a feeling for whether the implied tradeoff matches what an average person would use.

          1. Peter Dorman

            I think the obvious way of expressing the tradeoff would be the best — no need to get fancy. On the one hand we have a range of estimates of the lives lost due to the screw-up of federal policy. (Actually there were multiple screw-ups.) On the other we have a range of estimates of the economic impacts, short run (perhaps a slightly slower descent into depression-level conditions) and long run. You could compute a present value of the economic effect and denominate it by the number of lives. The funny thing in this case is that I suspect it is very likely that the delay in taking action plus the premature removal of distancing orders will be cost-increasing.

          2. Menzie Chinn Post author

            Peter Dorman: Well, yes, that was the point of Eichenbaum’s paper, which came out very early in the event. As well as Gourinchas’s paper. As well as Atkeson’s follow up note…

    2. 2slugbaits

      Peter Dorman I don’t think you have to believe in VSLs to understand Menzie’s point. If you don’t believe in VSLs, then you don’t need to be convinced that Trump undervalues human life. It’s just accepted as a given. But if you’re of a certain mindset that does find it necessary to justify things through the lens of hardheaded dismal science glasses, then Menzie’s post shows that even under that assumption Trump doesn’t place much value on human life.

      Except for a few hopeless MAGA hatters,I don’t think there’s a lot of disagreement on this board that much of the economic loss due to the spread of COVID infection would have happened without benefit of strict lockdown orders. People were scared and hunkered down without much coaxing. Well, that’s probably truer in some places than in others. After all, there’s no accounting for the old Confederacy. But there were (and still are) enough knuckle draggers out there that lockdown orders were necessary, if for no other reason than those orders didn’t allow for a few renegade businesses to remain open, which would have put economic pressure on other good citizen businesses to also try and open. And it also gave workers in nonessential industries explicit permission to stay home.

      I would argue that any VSL argument should also account for chronic disabilities that reduce earning power and years of life.

      most of the Covid deaths have been to older people.

      That’s true, but…I wonder if that’s becoming less true as the virus mutates. Initially almost all of the deaths and hospitalizations seemed to involve the elderly; however, as time went by it seemed like later mutations (last I heard we were on the 14th mutation) were killing and disabling younger people. I wonder if there have been any empirical studies on this.

      1. Willie

        Most, but not all of the deaths have been older people. Then there is the long and painful recovery some have if they survive. If they ever recover. And if the virus was allowed to run its course, how many additional people with many productive years ahead of them would be disabled or dead? That is a cost to the economy that lasts decades. In the long run, a lockdown may end up far more cost effective than ending it prematurely. Think about it for a while before making short term calculations.

  13. Barkley Rosser

    I have just seen a pretty intense debate on Facebook between Vernon Smith and Lones Smith over suicidess induced by the lockdown. Vernon had posted a piece by Jeffrey Tucker of the AIER that predicted a massive surge of suicides that supposedly would happen if reopening and getting the economy growing again would happen. This piece by Tucker came out on 5/22.

    Problem is that he cited a study done in late March that looked at old studies of suicide and unemployment to make this claim plus quoted some doctor from late March who claimed some surge of suicides in a county in Tennessee. But then no data on anything since. Offhand it seems to mee that if we have had a surge of suicides somebody would have noticed it and reported o nit, but nobody has. I have seen reports of big increases in depression and other mental health problems but none of suicide increases specifically so far.

    1. 2slugbaits

      Don’t we have to distinguish between suicides due to financial stress versus suicides due to frustration with having to be stuck indoors without benefit of recreation? Suicides due to financial stress ought to be easy fixes if we have the political will. It’s just a matter of pushing money out the door. Those suicides should be laid at the doorstep of Mitch McConnell. OTOH, those of us who support tighter restrictions should accept responsibility for suicides due to boredom and lack of recreation. That said, I think there’s widespread agreement that it’s now okay to allow most outdoor recreation provided it’s done in a responsible way; i.e., wearing masks and keeping a social distance. That also means keeping tight restrictions on movie theaters. But I have to ask, is anyone going to commit suicide because they won’t get to see the latest installment of a Marvel comics superhero saga? The trickier question is what to do about schools in the fall. The best way to make that question less tricky in the fall is to be responsible during the summer.

  14. baffling

    sammy, i still need help understanding how tax cuts help the unemployed right now. please explain that logic. i lost my job, you want to cut my unemployment insurance, and i have no income. how does a tax cut help to put food on my table today?

  15. Bruce Hall

    Hindsight is not always 20-20. Presumptions upon assumptions are interesting mind games, but evidence of nothing.

    If Pelosi and de Blasio hadn’t encourage revelry for the Lunar New Year, the attitudes toward Covid-19 would have been more in keeping with Trump’s shutdown of travel with China and subsequently Europe. 23,307 lives would have been saved in New York and New Jersey alone based on New York and New Jersey being outliers from the rest of the nation.

    If Cuomo and Whitmer had not forced residents back into nursing homes where they constituted a significant portion of their states’ deaths, an additional 4,478 lives would have been saved.

    If Massachusetts, Illinois and Pennsylvania had been more aggressive in their actions, another 6,291 lives would have been saved.

    Sure, I pulled those numbers out of my A.S.S. model which closely aligns with CU’s.

    If it’s Trump’s fault, it must be a plot against Democratic Party governors:

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Bruce Hall: Any cases traced to ***Chinatown*** in SF or NYC? First US case is in Washington State, ***not in a Chinatown***. In any event, Pelosi goes to SF Chinatown 25 Jan, Trump *partially* blocks air travel from China on 31 Jan, with no impediment put on travel from Europe (Italy). Was the first US instance of community spread in Chinatown, by the way? No…it wasn’t. Stop blowing the dog whistle.

    2. baffling

      donald trump has a mini-me in bolsonaro of brazil. brazil is performing on par with the usa. why then does trump claim success while he bans his mini-me partner from entering the country. bolsonaro and brazil are following trumps prescription, but yet trump bans them from entering the country because of covid. interesting. using trump logic, the usa should probably be banned from every other country in the world right now. talk about a double standard.

      by the way bruce, a lot of cases in new york city are the result of the medical community catching the virus because of inadequate ppe. would have been nice if the president had been able to protect our front line against the virus. instead he was denying its existence and refused to obtain adequate supplies of ppe. leadership in action.

    3. Barkley Rosser

      I think it is legit to criticize Cuomo and Whitmer, especially Cuomo, for their policies of putting positive covid-19 people in nursing homes. This seems to have been extremely unwise and deadly. But Trump certainly moved way too slowly on this matter and is also respoinsible for thousands dead, if not necessarily the precise number estimated by the CU study.

  16. baffling
    this helps explain people like sammy, corev and bruce hall. this is how they get their information, courtesy of china and russia in an effort to stoke discontent in the west. all of that antilockdown was a result of people susceptible to propaganda. once again it appears that trump is continuing to do the dirty work of russia. moscow mitch would be proud that his constituents are so vulnerable.

  17. Julian Silk

    There are two ways in which this count can be challenged, depending on your political point of view. If we accept that the COVID-19 pandemic is real, and not politically inspired misrepresentation of deaths caused by other means, then the article by the Chinese researcher Babak Javid and the Israeli researcher Nathalie Balaban at

    should be taken into account, as masks and social distancing would be relevant. If we take the point of view that this is misreporting, designed to undermine the chances of re-election of the President and the Republicans in the Senate and House, then the original figure of approximately $10 million per life stands.


  18. Wally

    “President Donald Trump on Monday said that he “will be reluctantly forced” to move the Republican National Convention if North Carolina doesn’t ease up on social distancing restrictions to allow full attendance.”

    Oooo… this is gonna be good. Hundreds of GOP delegates in one huge crowded room for hours and hours, yelling and screaming and not a single one of them will be carrying a deadly virus… right?

    1. baffling

      welcome each one with a “heeeeere’s ur sign”
      look, you can’t fix stoopid. let them come, but keep your local rules in place. protect the locals if possible. if the national rnc wants to bring in a bunch of old white guys with preexisting conditions, have at it. this is the trump equivalent of a three year old holding his breath until he gets what he wants. i would not engage or negotiate with trump. just stay quiet and let him fight with himself. if i were the hospitality union, i would call a strike during the week of the convention. if i were the governor, i would tell trump he and his vaccine are welcome this summer.

  19. Barkley Rosser


    This is complicated, and your point is taken. I would note that in more normal recessions it is often thought that a factor for suicides among the unemployed is not just money, much less bordeom, but the loss of identity. This is more serious when it looks like the job loss is permanent, which it often is for certain workers in certain recessions, such as auto and steelworkers in the recessions from 1979-82.

    In this one so far there is lots of hope so far that most people will get their jobs back, possibly fairly soon, especially if that not too likely V pattern happens. This is why I am worried that we are about to see the suicide rate go up now even as the economy is clearly growing. We shall have lots of frustrated people hoping to get re-employed not doing so, with some of those not only experiencing deeper financial problems but also having to look more seriously at the possibility that their old job has disappeared for good. That will especially add to the suicide rate.

    BTW, I am planning to do a more serious post on this matter on Econospeak soon.

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