FTE professor and University of Arizona economic historian, Price Fishback, writes that the current crisis has brought into focus the tradeoffs between quarantines and economic freedom.
For an excellent book about the history of these tradeoffs in the United States, read Werner Troesken’s The Pox of Liberty: How the Constitution Left Americans Rich, Free, and Prone to Infection (University of Chicago Press, 2015, on Kindle).
Troesken traces the history of how governments at all levels of the American federal system dealt with three deadly and recurring diseases: smallpox, yellow fever, and typhoid. All of the issues the world is facing today to avoid horrid deaths are discussed in Troesken’s book: inadequate testing, the absence of vaccines, attempts to develop vaccines, tradeoffs between economic losses and quarantines, the uncertainties that the disease might return in the future, and inadequate medical facilities.
Troesken shows how the clauses of the U.S. Constitution that expanded freedoms served to make it more difficult to prevent disease in the short run. Yet, in the long run these same clauses provided expansive opportunities for a wide range of governments, people, and organizations to increase incomes and find ways to solve the disease problems.