The American “National Bureau of Economic Research,” which poses as a non-partisan advocacy group, in collaboration with the  “Committee to Unleash Prosperity,” a poorly veiled pro-economic conservatism lobbying group, has released a new report whose “findings” seem predetermined by their poor methodological choices.

Their “working paper” attempts to quantify the quality of outcomes for states’ responses to the COVID pandemic, and its suggested purpose is to measure the effects of lockdowns on both health and economic outcomes.

However, the addition of education (measured by days missed) as a weighted part of their state rankings was a deceptive tautological trick, which did not measure the effect of lockdowns, but essentially predetermined that states with lockdowns (and thus school absences) would receive the lower scores regardless of their other measures.

They were also not shy about the endogeneity between their shifting measures for “lockdowns,” at times quantified by economic performance instead of a real measure like days of enforced stay at home orders, and at other times by school absences.

With no actual measure for lockdowns, this meant that rather than measuring the effect of “lockdowns” on those variables, the only relationships they measured were between outcomes: school closures, aggregate economic performance, and health outcomes, three variables with no direct connection with one another.

As such, this analysis reveals startlingly little, other than that states who maintained the most open policies and disregarded COVID control measures not only suffered poor health outcomes, their economic performance was also frequently poor, likely due to the massive social turmoil, supply chain, and labor crises it precipitated.


Their manipulated methodology shows itself most clearly in Florida, which had middling rankings for both health and economic outcomes with abysmal GDP performance showing massive losses, yet scored 5th in the country simply because there were virtually no school closures.

In fact, the only real findings when one looks at the compiled rankings are that those states that were least affected in terms of both economic and health outcomes seem to share one thing in common, low population density, which clearly affected the severity of the spread more than any of the abysmal efforts made by the state.

One need not conduct poorly designed comparisons of states to examine the relationship between COVID policies and economic outcomes. One need simply look at GDP growth rates between countries with enforceable border rules.

The evidence from that is abundantly clear. The vast majority of countries faced large GDP declines in 2020 when the pandemic hit, other than a handful of the least developed states, and those who maintained strict border controls: including most obviously Taiwan, Vietnam, isolated island states like Nauru and Tuvalu, and even China.

The takeaways have been obvious, and humankind has been aware of this for nearly a thousand years, that closing borders and strictly enforcing quarantines stops the spread of contagions. When breaches occur, lockdowns and careful tracing can eliminate domestic spread, as Taiwan indicated clearly in 2021.

As long as countries think long term, remaining aware of the large possibility that Omicron will not be the last strain, and put the value of human life ahead of short term economic interests, the policy prescriptions are clear for those governments interested in the public good rather than enriching their national elites, at the expense of the old and weak.