Professor Ananish Chaudhuri explores Covid-19 policy decisions, their implications, and cognitive biases in pandemic decision-making in his new book.
Why did governments around the world impose strict lockdowns when they weren’t part of their pandemic response plans, and why were people so supportive of them?
These are a couple of the questions Professor Ananish Chaudhuri discusses in his controversial new book Nudged into Lockdown? Behavioural Economics, Uncertainty and Covid-19.
With an overview of the policy debates around Covid-19, the book offers an alternative thought-provoking perspective on the topic, as well as suggestions for policy-making during future pandemics and other crises, says Chaudhuri.
“The strong support for lockdowns was surprising since, before this, the consensus in the epidemiological community seemed to be that large-scale lockdowns or quarantine were not effective or desirable in combating infectious diseases,” he writes in the first chapter.
The experimental economics professor goes on to detail the impacts of lockdowns on economies and the public and says the aggregate costs of lockdowns far exceeded any benefits, both in Aotearoa New Zealand and other countries around the world.
“Worldwide, there was tremendous emphasis on calling upon epidemiological expertise without an adequate appreciation that Covid-19 was not merely an epidemiological crisis; it was an economic, social and moral crisis that required multi-disciplinary expertise to assess and address different facets of the pandemic,” he writes.
“COVID-19 WAS NOT MERELY AN EPIDEMIOLOGICAL CRISIS; IT WAS AN ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND MORAL CRISIS THAT REQUIRED MULTI-DISCIPLINARY EXPERTISE … “
Professor Ananish ChaudhuriUniversity of Auckland Business School
The economist says that New Zealand’s drop in gross domestic product per capita as a result of lockdowns translated into reduced life expectancy for all citizens resulting in a loss of millions of life years, far exceeding the life years lost due to Covid-19.
In fact, far from saving lives, Chaudhuri claims that a single-minded focus on the pandemic may have prevented deaths due to Covid-19, but at the cost of much higher deaths from other causes.
The author references a study published in 2021 by Christian Bjornskov, professor of economics at Aarhus University, Denmark, which analysed data from 24 European countries. The study found those nations that imposed more stringent lockdowns ended up suffering more deaths than otherwise.
Chaudhuri says that as countries diverted scarce resources from other uses toward fighting Covid-19, it seemed clear to him that there would be losses elsewhere in the economy, in the form of lower gross domestic product, job losses and lowered life expectancy, loneliness due to reduced social interactions, inadequate treatment and screening of other diseases, delayed or abandoned vaccinations for children, mental health problems and self-harm, and adverse academic and social impacts on children shut in their homes and unable to go to school.
“To an economist like me, who is trained to look for such trade-offs, this seemed evident.”
Chaudhuri also provides a critical perspective on the role of cognitive biases in decision-making during the Covid-19 pandemic drawing on research in economics, psychology, political science, neuroscience and evolutionary theory.
“MY AIM IS TO MAKE BOTH POLICY-MAKERS AND MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC LOOK AT THIS ISSUE WITH A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE.”
Professor Ananish ChaudhuriAuckland Business School
He explains complex scientific information regarding Covid-19, vaccines, and policy responses to highlight issues at the centre of policy-making during the pandemic.
And although Nudged into Lockdown? is written in an academic style with references and footnotes throughout, Ananish says it’s easy to read and digest.
“You don’t need a background in economics, anyone can read it.”
The author says that in publishing the book, he hopes to provide an alternative perspective, to ask questions that may not have been asked and, in doing so, provide some insights that can influence policy-making, not only regarding the current pandemic but for future pandemics, recessions, and other economic and social disasters.
“My aim is to make both policy-makers and members of the public look at this issue with a different perspective.”