Modeling to Inform Economy-Wide Pandemic Policy: Bringing Epidemiologists and Economists Together

Michael Darden, David Dowdy, Lauren Gardner, Barton H. Hamilton, Karen Kopecky, Melissa Marx, Nicholas W. Papageorge, Daniel Polsky, Kimberly Powers, Elizabeth Stuart, and Matthew Zahn
Working Paper 2021-26
November 2021

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Abstract: Facing unprecedented uncertainty and drastic trade-offs between public health and other forms of human well-being, policymakers during the Covid-19 pandemic have sought the guidance of epidemiologists and economists. Unfortunately, while both groups of scientists use many of the same basic mathematical tools, the models they develop to inform policy tend to rely on different sets of assumptions and, thus, often lead to different policy conclusions. This divergence in policy recommendations can lead to uncertainty and confusion, opening the door to disinformation, distrust of institutions, and politicization of scientific facts. Unfortunately, to date, there have not been widespread efforts to build bridges and find consensus or even to clarify sources of differences across these fields, members of whom often continue to work within their traditional academic silos. In response to this "crisis of communication," we convened a group of scholars from epidemiology, economics, and related fields (such as statistics, engineering, and health policy) to discuss approaches to modeling economy-wide pandemics. We summarize these conversations by providing a consensus view of disciplinary differences (including critiques) and working through a specific policy example. Thereafter, we chart a path forward for more effective synergy among disciplines, which we hope will lead to better policies as the current pandemic evolves and future pandemics emerge.

JEL classification: C8, H0, I1, J0

Key words: economics, epidemiology, public health, Covid-19, behavior modeling, health outcomes, health-wealth tradeoffs

This paper represents a collaborative effort. All authors contributed equally and are thus listed in alphabetical order. The project was supported by a pilot grant from the Hopkins Business of Health Initiative (HBHI). The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System. Any remaining errors are the authors' responsibility.

The authors and their affiliations are: Michael Darden and Daniel Polsky, Johns Hopkins University, Carey School of Business; David Dowdy, Melissa Marx, and Elizabeth Stuart, Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health; Lauren Gardner, Johns Hopkins University, Department of Civil and Systems Engineering; Barton Hamilton, Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School; Karen Kopecky, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; Nicholas Papageorge and Matthew Zahn, Johns Hopkins University, Department of Economics; and Kimberly Powers, University of North Carolina, Gillings School of Global Public Health. Please address questions regarding content to Nicholas W. Papageorge.

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