Covid, AIDS and the Dismal Science of Public Health – The Wall Street Journal

Oct. 7, 2021 1:13 pm ET

John Tierney’s “Unlearned AIDS Lessons for Covid” (op-ed, Oct. 4) correctly stresses the public-health community’s history of overforecasting diseases. But the lack of expertise in the economic incentives that limit disease is much broader, as Richard Posner and I argued three decades ago. Since then, the field of economic epidemiology has exploded, and Covid-19 represents many déjà vu experiences of its main lessons.

First, the course of communicable diseases is driven more by incentives in the private sector than by government policy. The incentive for prevention rises with disease occurrence. This implies a self-limiting effect on disease growth—contrary to public-health predictions—but also exponential growth early on in the outbreak. Thus, testing in early 2020 was not as central as claimed by many, including by Drs. Deborah Birx and Scott Gottlieb. A great testing program would still battle low prevention incentives, including demand for tests.

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