The Silence of Economists


Mikko Packalen, an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Waterloo and Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research penned a pretty damning editorial on the state of their profession throughout this Covid debacle we’ve all been living through since spring of 2020.

To wit…

The lockdowns of Spring of 2020 were likely responsible for much more of the decline in economic activity than the consensus among economists admits.

As professional economists, we have watched the response of much of the economics profession to COVID-era lockdowns with considerable surprise. Given the evident and predictable harms of lockdowns to health and economic well-being, we expected economists to raise the alarm when lockdowns were first imposed. If there is any special knowledge that economists possess, it is that for every good thing, there is a cost. This fact is burned into economists’ minds in the form of the unofficial motto of the economics profession that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

From the depths of our souls, economists believe that the law of unintended consequences applies to every social policy, especially a social policy as all-encompassing and intrusive as lockdown. We economists believe that there are trade-offs in everything, and it is our particular job to point them out even when the whole world is yelling at the top of its voice to be quiet about them. It may still be a good idea to adopt some policy because the benefits are worth the cost, but we should go in with our eyes open about both.

And this excerpt on small business…

Economists surprised the public also with their cavalier attitude toward the plight of small businesses, devastated by lockdowns. The profession’s central tenets rest on the virtues of competition. Yet economists’ foremost wonder about the intense duress experienced by small businesses during lockdowns seems to have been whether the closures will have a “cleansing” effect by eliminating the worst-performing firms first. To the dismay of many, the dismal science has had very little to say about how lockdowns have favoured big business and what this will mean for market competition and consumer well-being in the years to come.


Their full editorial can be found here: