Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Department of Mathematics and Statistics

The Political Economy of Infectious Disease Outbreaks

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

Time: 10:30-11:30 a.m.  Place: Zoom Online

Speaker: Troy Day (Queen's University)

Title: The Political Economy of Infectious Disease Outbreaks

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Abstract: People's incentives during an infectious disease outbreak influence their behaviour, and this behaviour can impact how the outbreak unfolds. Early on during an outbreak, people are at little personal risk of infection and hence may be unwilling to change their lifestyle to slow the spread of disease. As the number of cases grows, however, people may then voluntarily take extreme measures to limit their exposure. Government leaders also respond to the welfare and changing desires of their constituents, through public health policies that themselves shape the course of the epidemic and its ultimate health and economic repercussions. In this talk I will use ideas from the study of differential games to model how individuals’ and government leaders’ incentives change during an outbreak, and the epidemiological and economic consequences that ensue when these incentives are acted upon. Motivated by the current COVID-19 pandemic, I focus on physical distancing behaviour and the imposition of stay-at-home orders. I show that there is a fundamental difference in the economic and health consequences of an infectious disease outbreak depending on the degree of asymptomatic transmission. If transmission occurs primarily by asymptomatic carriers, then government leaders will be incentivized to impose stay-at-home orders earlier and for longer than individuals would like. Despite such orders being unpopular, however, they ultimately benefit all individuals. On the other hand, if the disease is transmitted primarily by symptomatic infections, then individuals can be incentivized to stay at home earlier and for longer than government leaders would like. In this case, politicians can be incentivized to impose back-to-work orders that, despite being unpopular, will again ultimately be to the benefit of all individuals.

This is joint work with David McAdams, Fuqua School of Business and Economics Department, Duke University.