The wisdom of Larry Summers



Tyler Cowen directed me to a recent interview with Larry Summers:

The real crime is not that we miscalibrated on some economic versus public health trade-off. The real crime is that we have not succeeded in generating far greater quantities of testing, far greater mechanisms for those 40 million unemployed people to do contract tracing, far more availability of well-fitting, comfortable, and safe masks, and that we’re under-investing in the development of new therapeutics and vaccines.

When something costs $10 to $15 billion a day, you need to make decisions in new ways. We should not be waiting to see which of two tests works best. We should be producing both of them. We should not wait for vaccines to be proven before we start producing them. We should be producing all the plausible candidates. Remember, one week earlier in moving through this is worth a hundred billion dollars: two months’ worth of the annual defense budget.

While you might emphasize different solutions, he’s absolutely right that there was never a tradeoff between public health and the economy. The trade-off was between laziness and the economy. We could be lazy, or we could have a good economy. We chose lazy.