It might be callous, but there is a statistical value for a life, based on lifetime earnings and what an individual is willing to pay to incrementally reduce the risk of death. However distasteful this might seem, it’s a critical tool for weighing the trade-off between the economic costs of a lockdown and the public health economics of containing the COVID-19 virus.
Indeed, according to the Center for Disease Control, a no-action scenario will lead to the infection of 160 million to 214 million inhabitants in the United States, which could cause between 200,000 and 1.7 million deaths. Assuming that the average age of death remains close to 60, the age-specific value would be close to $5 million, which would make the economic cost between $1 trillion and $8.5 trillion. The upper-bound estimate would be the equivalent to 39.7% of our nation’s GDP, but the values in this range do not include the cost of suffering for non-lethal cases of COVID-19, the productivity decline linked to the illness, and medical expenditures. This means if there is a 20% decline in quarterly GDP, which several forecasters have projected for the second quarter, even the lower bound estimate would exceed the cost of a lockdown.
To keep the reproduction number of the virus below a value of 1, disease modelers suggest that we will need to quarantine households for a duration of five months. Therefore, if Gov. Kim Reynolds continues to dither, the containment will be longer and more costly than necessary.