The Oakland Municipal Auditorium in use as a temporary hospital during the 1918 flu pandemic. The lockdown measures being taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic are causing economic turmoil. Faced with this, President Donald Trump balked at the prospect of continuing those measures long-term, tweeting, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”
, And, of course, the pandemic is not a perfect proxy for what’s happening right now. It came at the end of a world war and killed huge numbers of working-age people. The different nature of the modern economy, with its communications technology, global supply chains, and dependence on services other than manufacturing, makes it difficult to understand how these responses will translate a century later. But as with a lot of coronavirus research, uncertainty is unavoidable. The past can still be a useful guide, if not an exact template. And that past shows clearly that lockdowns don’t inevitably lead to worse economic outcomes — and that there’s a strong chance they’re the best option for both lives and the economy.