Week 7

Crisis Policymaking and A Sample of Epidemic Diseases (The Italian Cholera cover up, Tuberculosis, and the 20th-century plague)

This is a pretty big week in terms of piecing together epidemic dynamics, principally developing a framework for thinking about political decision making and political power. We have seen some big examples already of the politicization of epidemics, including the co-emergence of the city-state and defensive measures to mitigate the spread of the plague. This week I provide you with three possibilities. The first is the median voter theorem, which shows why we would expect policy formation to flow from the center of the electorate (Cowen, Thomas, Spaniel, Gerard). The second models are versions of the various economic theories of regulation, which also identify demand-side factors in policy formation (Dudley & Brito). Finally, Robert Higgs sees crisis policy formation coming from the supply-side, and there is certainly no shortage of material on the remarkable executive crisis powers (Goitein, Bakke et al.). Higgs demonstrates that we should expect more that a few of these powers to go from crisis powers to permanent powers.

Once you are through that, take a look at Oster and Cowen, both of who suggest that this will end when “the public” wants it to end. So for at least one aspect of the current pandemic, the MVT may well prevail. Oster laments that fact that the risk information is incomplete, and so people who cannot make optimal choices are left without guidance on the second best. Probably a big mistake.

That’s a lot to take in, certainly, and once you have, let’s deepen our historical background by learning about the scourges of cholera, tuberculosis, and the reemergence of the plague on US shores. Who knew? I highly recommend the Snowden lecture, who Detective Columboes his way to uncover a cover up of a cholera outbreak in Naples in 1911. Unbelievable.

Introduction to Political Economy & Public Choice 

  • Tyler Cowen, “Why Politics is Stuck in the Middle,” New York Times,  February , 2010
  • Susan Dudley & Jerry Brito, “Theories of Regulation ,” Chapter 2 of Regulation: A Primer, The George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center. 2012.

Political Economy in Crisis

Food for Thought (Pick one, both recommended)

Winners and Losers:

Those Who Don’t Know History 
(Choose at least two)

  • Frank Snowden, “Tuberculosis in the Unromantic Era of Contagion,” Chapter 15 of Epidemics and Society, Yale University Press (pp. 292-301 and 321-31)
  • Frank Snowden, “The Third Plague Pandemic, Hong Kong and Bombay,”  Chapter 16 of Epidemics and Society, Yale University Press