Wolfers puts public health at the center of economic recovery

May 15, 2020

The current method for calculating Gross Domestic Product is missing “the immense value of the sacrifices being made by millions of people who have stayed at home to stop the spread of the coronavirus,” Ford School economics professor Justin Wolfers argues in an Economic View column in The New York Times May 14 titled “G.D.P. Doesn’t Credit Social Distancing, but It Should”.

Wolfers asserts, “A better measure of economic growth would count our efforts to protect public health and refocus the debate about how to ‘reopen the economy.’… Because we don’t charge one another for saving lives, one of the most herculean efforts ever undertaken isn’t being counted in gross domestic product. But if you stop and think about it, you will see that this is a critical omission.”

Wolfers was featured on MSNBC’s The Last Word on May 8, with his strong assertion that “solving the health crisis is key to reopening the economy.” Whether it’s going to the store or returning to the office, people will not leave their homes until they feel they are safe from contracting coronavirus. As for when that could happen, Wolfers says, “no one is going to know until we see the recovery starting.”

You can read the column in The New York Times here.

The MSNBC segment can be viewed here

Justin Wolfers is a professor of public policy and economics. He also serves as a member of the Congressional Budget Office Panel of Economic Advisers. Wolfers' research interests include labor economics, macroeconomics, political economy, social policy, law and economics, and behavioral economics. Previously, Wolfers was an associate professor of business and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting professor at Princeton University. He is a research associate with the National Bureau for Economic Research, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, a senior fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a research affiliate with the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London, and an international research fellow at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy in Germany.