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Internal and External Effects of Social Distancing in a Pandemic

Author

Listed:
  • Maryam Farboodi

    (MIT)

  • Gregor Jarosch

    (Princeton University)

  • Robert Shimer

    (University of Chicago)

Abstract

We develop a quantitative framework for exploring how individuals trade off the utility benefit of social activity against the internal and external health risks that come with social interactions during a pandemic. We calibrate the model to external targets and then compare its predictions with daily data on social activity, fatalities, and the estimated effective reproduction number R(t) from the COVID-19 pandemic in March-June 2020. While the laissez- faire equilibrium is consistent with much of the decline in social activity that we observed in US data, optimal policy further imposes immediate and highly persistent social distancing. Notably, neither equilibrium nor optimal social distancing is extremely restrictive, in the sense that the effective reproduction number never falls far below 1. The expected cost of COVID-19 in the US is substantial, $12,700 in the laissez-faire equilibrium and $8,100 per person under an optimal policy. Optimal policy generates this large welfare gain by shifting the composition of costs from fatalities to persistent social distancing.

Suggested Citation

  • Maryam Farboodi & Gregor Jarosch & Robert Shimer, 2021. "Internal and External Effects of Social Distancing in a Pandemic," Working Papers 2021-78, Princeton University. Economics Department..
  • Handle: RePEc:pri:econom:2021-78
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    COVID-19; social activity; reproduction number; economic epidemiology; optimal control; externalities;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health

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