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When Bioterrorism Was No Big Deal

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  • Patricia E. Beeson
  • Werner Troesken

Abstract

To better understand the potential economic repercussions of a bioterrorist attack, this paper explores the effects of several catastrophic epidemics that struck American cities between 1690 and 1880. The epidemics considered here killed between 10 and 25 percent of the urban population studied. A particular emphasis is placed on smallpox and yellow fever, both of which have been identified as potential bioterrorist agents. The central findings of the paper are threefold. First, severe localized epidemics did not disrupt, in any permanent way, the population level or long-term growth trajectory of those cities. Non-localized epidemics (i.e., those that struck more than one major city) do appear to have had some negative effect on population levels and long-term growth. There is also modest evidence that ill-advised responses to epidemics on the part of government officials might have had lasting and negative effects in a few cities. Second, severe localized epidemics did not disrupt trade flows; non-localized epidemics had adverse, though fleeting, effects on trade. Third, while severe epidemics probably imposed some modest costs on local and regional economies, these costs were very small relative to the national economy.

Suggested Citation

  • Patricia E. Beeson & Werner Troesken, 2006. "When Bioterrorism Was No Big Deal," NBER Working Papers 12636, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12636
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w12636.pdf
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    Cited by:

    1. Guy Michaels & Ferdinand Rauch, 2013. "Resetting the Urban Network: 117-2012," CEP Discussion Papers dp1248, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    2. repec:fip:fedpei:00020 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Philipp Ager & Casper Worm Hansen & Lars L√łnstrup, 2015. "Shaking up the Equilibrium: Natural Disasters, Immigration and Economic Geography," Discussion Papers 15-17, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    4. Ager, Philipp & Hansen, Casper Worm & L√łnstrup, Lars, 2018. "Shaking Up the Equilibrium: Natural Disasters, Economic Activity, and Immigration," Discussion Papers of Business and Economics 2/2018, University of Southern Denmark, Department of Business and Economics.
    5. repec:eee:exehis:v:64:y:2017:i:c:p:62-81 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Jeffrey Lin, 2012. "Geography, history, economies of density, and the location of cities," Business Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, issue Q3, pages 18-24.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J10 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - General
    • N11 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913

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