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Introduction to our choices

  • The COVID-19 pandemic will reshape all our economic choices. Nations have made a crucial choice in recent weeks, choosing human life over economic growth.
  • Governments including ours have mandated lockdowns to slow the pandemic, relieve the pressure on their hospitals and save lives.
  • Economics is about choices, a study of ‘human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means’. Trade-offs are central to these choices.
  • On the one hand, there will be massive economic costs.
  • On the other hand, updates land in our phones on a minute-by-minute basis, invoking both our empathy and our fear.
  • Our choice is obvious — human life over economic growth.

Do we really always choose to save lives?

  • For decades, we have chosen profits and growth over human lives.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 4.2 million lives are lost annually due to air pollution.
  • These deaths occur in dispersed locations, through varying illnesses and outside our frenzied social media feeds. Therefore, the choice is not as clear to us.
  • It is a choice between 4.2 million lives and the marginal returns from industries choosing polluting vs. non-polluting technologies.
  • This is not a Luddite call to replace our cars with carriages. Cleaner technologies are available, for instance, through our IFAD programs, low-cost technologies are being developed even for smallholder farmers.

Saving lives is not something that is easily being done now

  • Social Distancing is hardly viable for the 2% of the global population who are homeless or the 20% who lack adequate housing.
  • Social distancing will also take a disproportionate economic toll on the informal sector, employing up to 60% of the working population globally and 90% in India.
  • The cure could trigger deep poverty and a food security crisis, actually endangering more lives.
  • According to UNICEF, even prior to COVID-19, diseases directly linked to lack of safe water killed 1,400 children under five every day, globally over half a million a year.
June 2024