Economics in One Virus

An Introduction to Economic Reasoning through COVID-19

Economics in One Virus draws on the dramatic events of 2020 to bring to life some of the most important principles of economic thought. Packed with supporting data and the best new academic evidence, those uninitiated in economics will be given a crash‐​course in the subject through the applied case‐​study of the COVID-19 pandemic, to help explain everything from why the U.S. was underprepared for the pandemic to how economists go about valuing the lives saved from lockdowns.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why hand sanitizer was missing from your pharmacy for months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit? Why some employers and employees were arguing over workers being re‐​hired during the first COVID-19 lockdown? Why passenger airlines were able to get their own ring‐​fenced bailout from Congress?

Economics in One Virus answers all these pandemic‐​related questions and many more, drawing on the dramatic events of 2020 to bring to life some of the most important principles of economic thought. Packed with supporting data and the best new academic evidence, those uninitiated in economics will be given a crash‐​course in the subject through the applied case‐​study of the COVID-19 pandemic, to help explain everything from why the U.S. was underprepared for the pandemic to how economists go about valuing the lives saved from lockdowns.

After completing this highly readable, fast‐​paced, and provocative virus‐​themed economic tour, readers will be able to make much better sense of the events that they’ve lived through. Perhaps more importantly, the insights on everything from the role of the price mechanism to trade and specialization will grant even those wholly new to economics the skills to think like an economist in their own lives and when evaluating the choices of their political leaders.

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Praise for the book

“It is said that the prospect of a hanging concentrates the intellect. Ryan Bourne shows that the reality of a pandemic concentrates it on economics. In his graceful, humane, and page‐​turning book he teaches us about scarcity and opportunity cost and all the rest of the clanging apparatus of policy science. It should be read by every alert citizen―in the lockdown she has plenty of time to read.”
―Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago

“Just as the pandemic stripped away the frosting of habit and brought us down to essentials, Economics in One Virus lays bare the complex web of economic calculations that undergirds not just our response to the pandemic, but the whole of our everyday lives. With wit and penetrating insight, Mr. Bourne offers a guided tour of the past year that will offer the reader plenty of lessons for years to come.”
―Megan McArdle, columnist, Washington Post

“A truly excellent book that explains where our pandemic response went wrong, and how we can understand those failings using the tools of economics.”
―Tyler Cowen, Holbert L. Harris Chair of Economics at George Mason University and coauthor of the blog Marginal Revolution

“A clear, compelling, and well‐​written book. Economics makes the dramatic COVID-19 year fall into place, and the vividness of COVID-19 makes economics seem easy and natural. Eye‐​opening insights on every page.”
―John Cochrane, Rose‐​Marie and Jack Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution

Economics in One Virus is a smart, wide‐​ranging, and admirably clear introduction to the power of economics in the context of the defining crisis of our age. The pandemic has taught us very painful lessons, but this lesson is a pleasure.”
―Tim Harford, author of The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics

“In this lucid and well‐​organized work, Ryan Bourne sets out how the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the continued relevance and importance of economic principles and insights, providing forceful illustrations of economic reality. Understanding basic economics is vital for understanding what is happening, how to decide what to do, and how to do better in future. This book is especially useful for students and teachers of economics, but should be read by anyone wanting to understand how the discipline helps us to make sense of the world.”
―Stephen Davies, Head of Education, Institute of Economic Affairs

About the Author

Ryan A. Bourne occupies the R. Evan Scharf Chair for the Public Understanding of Economics at Cato. He has written on a number of economic issues, including: fiscal policy, inequality, minimum wages, infrastructure spending and rent control. Before joining Cato, Bourne was Head of Public Policy at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Head of Economic Research at the Centre for Policy Studies (both in the UK). Bourne has extensive broadcast and print media experience, and has appeared on BBC News, CNN and Sky News, CNBC, and Fox Business Network. He writes weekly columns for the Daily Telegraph and a fortnightly column for the UK website ConservativeHome. Bourne holds a BA and an MPhil in economics from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.