This paper from the London School of Economics does not actually tell us when we should end the lockdown. Partly because their model makes assumptions about what is worthwhile and all that. Partly because the values they apply to what is worthwhile can be argued about. As they themselves agree.
However, the base logical structure that they use is entirely correct. Well, I would say that, obviously, given that one of the writers of it was one of those who tried to jam economics into my head in the first place.
The time to release the lockdown is when the net benefits of doing so become positive.
1. The net benefits include many items, some positive and some negative, and their size varies over
On the positive side, releasing the lockdown
(1) increases people’s incomes now and in the future.
(2) reduces unemployment now and in the future.
(3) improves mental health, suicide, domestic violence, addiction, and loneliness.
(4) maintains confidence in the government.
(5) restores schooling.
As time progresses, the positive effects will increase in magnitude.
On the negative side, releasing the lockdown
(1) increases the final number of deaths from the virus (as well as from other conditions which may
get undertreated if health services become overstretched with COVID-19 patients).
(2) increases road-deaths, commuting, CO2 emissions, and air pollution.
2. To compare the different effects requires a common metric. We propose as a metric the number of
Wellbeing Years (WELLBYs). This metric is analogous to the QALY metric which has been
successfully used in the NHS for 20 years. It should now be extended to all fields of public policy.
There’s a bit too much reliance there on expressed preferences rather than revealed to my taste but that’s partly because some of the LSE mind-programming didn’t take hold with me.
But still, the time to release the lockdown is when the net benefit of doing so is greater than the cost of doing so. Yes, this does mean some people die. But then life has a value, it is necessary to place that value against the other things that we humans also value.
We can even make adjustments for that bruised finger and millions of Chinee point but it’s still true, our aim is to maximise the value that humans in aggregate can enjoy from being in this time and place.