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  • rmacculloch

An Economist's Viewpoint: Our government should have vaccinated Auckland FIRST

As I've discovered the hard way, the last thing our government likes doing is involving folks, especially economists, in decision-making who it considers at odds with its own ideological viewpoint. It's also evident in many recent high-level appointments which have been made. And it is why the most senior members of this government, including the Finance Minister, still make jibes at "right-wing" folks who they consider proponents of "free market reforms".

But those of us who have studied economics learn that the best solutions to social problems often have properties that have a "left-wing" flavor to them, and yet at other times have a "right-wing" flavor to them. Take the vaccine roll-out, for example. Economics Professor Tyler Cowan, described as "one of the most influential bloggers on the right" and who was ranked as one of the world's "Top 100 Global Thinkers" by Foreign Policy Magazine, wrote last year that:

"it might be better to concentrate on administering the vaccine first in a geographically

targeted way - say a major city within a state - rather than inoculating groups by age

spread right across it. That way we could at least achieve localized herd immunity more

quickly, allowing a near‐​full economic normalization at least in certain places. We

therefore potentially reduce the economic welfare costs of the pandemic ...".

He wrote this line in an article called "Vaccine Distribution Shouldn't be Fair" in Bloomberg News. The issue of vaccine distribution has attracted economists' attention since the spread of the virus involves something the profession calls an "externality". That is, if you catch the virus you can harm someone else by passing it onto them. And vaccinations in densely populated places greatly reduce the chances of that externality occurring.

In my opinion, Tyler Cowan's advice could not have been better suited to NZ, which is dominated by a single major city, namely Auckland. It is, by far and away, the biggest and most densely populated part of the country, not to mention the hub of its economic activity. It also has, by far and away, the largest population of Maori and Pasifika.

As of today, nearly 1 million people have been fully vaccinated in this country. The population of Auckland is around 1.5 million. So had one taken Tyler Cowan's advice, then Auckland would be now be approaching 70% of its residents fully vaccinated and this lock-down crisis may well have largely been avoided.



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