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The Human Cost of Economic Crises

Mar 2009
Working Paper
08-029
By  Marcus Alexander, Matthew Harding, Carlos Lamarche
Policy makers rely on a mix of government spending and tax cuts to address the imbalances in the economy during an economic crisis, by promoting price stability and renewed economic growth. However, little discussion appears to focus explicitly on the costs of economic crises in terms of human lives, especially the lives of the most vulnerable members of society, infants. This paper quantifies the effect that economic crises, periods of prolonged economic recession, have on infant mortality. Moreover, we investigate whether different levels of public spending on health across advanced industrialized democracies can mitigate the impact of crises on infant mortality. We find that economic crises are extremely costly and lead to a more than proportional increase in infant mortality in the short-run. Substantial public spending on health is required in order to limit their impact.