But even in the most trying times, the insights of economics offer an important set of tools for understanding people and their actions. That’s what Ryan Bourne, R. Evan Scharf Chair for the Public Understanding of Economics at Cato, sets out to explain in his new book Economics in One Virus: An Introduction to Economic Reasoning through COVID-19.
As he explains, “By fundamentally changing the calculations about what we wanted and were able to do, [the pandemic] exposed the sheer scale of choices we usually make unthinkingly.” Simple, mundane tasks became fraught with new risks and new tradeoffs. Governments, too, were faced with unprecedented choices as they considered radical new policy responses. While the science of medicine and epidemiology shaped many of these decisions, Bourne explains how they were fundamentally economic. “For at its most basic, economics is about choices. It is about weighing different options or alternatives in the face of constraints.”