stiglitz294_JOSEPH PREZIOSOAFP via Getty Images_vaccineprotest Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

COVID-19 and Human Freedom

In a pandemic, one person’s actions affect the well-being of others. And whenever there are such externalities, the well-being of society requires collective action: regulations to restrict socially harmful behavior and to promote socially beneficial behavior.

NEW YORK – The upsurge of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the United States serves as a bitter reminder that the pandemic is not over. The global economy will not return to normal until the disease is under control everywhere.

But the US case is a true tragedy, because what’s currently happening here is so unnecessary. While those in emerging markets and developing countries are longing to get the vaccine (with many dying because they cannot get it), the US supply is ample enough to provide a double dose – and now a booster shot – to everyone in the country. And if almost everyone got vaccinated, COVID-19 would almost surely just “fade away,” as former President Donald Trump memorably put it.

And yet not nearly enough people in the US have been vaccinated to prevent the highly contagious Delta variant from driving case numbers in many areas to new highs. How do so many in a country with seemingly well-educated people act so irrationally, against their own interest, against science, and against the lessons of history?

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