Paul Krugman: A stronger GDP won’t help Americans if they’re dead
Paul Krugman

Liberal economist Paul Krugman, in his New York Times column, has been stressing that the better a job the United States does with social distancing policies now, the better off the U.S. economy will be in the long run. In his Thursday column, Krugman warns that a premature reopening could hurt the U.S. both economically and from a health standpoint.


“America is now engaged in a vast, dangerous experiment,” Krugman writes. “Although social distancing has limited the spread of the coronavirus, it is far from contained. Yet despite warnings from epidemiologists, much of the country is moving to open up for business as usual.”

President Donald Trump and his allies, Krugman notes, have been asserting that a speedy reopening is necessary in order to “save the economy.” But Krugman emphasizes that a strong GDP isn’t going to help Americans who die needlessly.

“Now, money matters,” Krugman asserts. “There is a clear relationship between income and life satisfaction. But it’s not the only thing that matters. In particular, you know what also makes a major contribution to the quality of life? Not dying. And when we take the value of not dying into account, the rush to reopen looks like a really bad idea, even in terms of economics properly understood.”

Krugman goes on to say that although social distancing “reduced GDP” in the U.S., it was “well worth it.” However, he writes that the U.S. would have been better off from both a health standpoint an economic standpoint if it had implemented aggressive social distancing policies sooner.

“Indeed, we waited too long: a Columbia University study estimated that locking down just a week earlier would have saved 36,000 lives by early May, and a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the benefits of that earlier lockdown would have been at least five times the cost in lost GDP,” Krugman explains. “So, why are we rushing to reopen?”

When it comes to surviving the COVID-19 pandemic, Krugman writes, “rationality” has a “well-known liberal bias” — and the “magical thinking” of Trump’s administration will not change that.

“The push for reopening rests on a foundation of willful ignorance,” according to Krugman. “Never mind GDP: the most fundamental job of any leader is to keep his people alive. Unfortunately, that’s a job Trump doesn’t seem interested in doing.”