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Trading Off Consumption and COVID-19 Deaths

SIEPR
Jun 2020
Working Paper
20-026
By  Robert E. Hall, Charles I. Jones, Peter J. Klenow
This note develops a framework for thinking about the following question: What is the maximum amount of consumption that a utilitarian welfare function would be willing to trade off to avoid the deaths associated with COVID-19? The answer depends crucially on the mortality rate associated with the coronavirus. If the mortality rate averages 0.81%, as projected in one prominent study, our answer is 41% of one year’s consumption. If the mortality rate instead averages 0.44% across age groups, as suggested by a recent seroprevalence study, our answer is 28%.