Updated: Jul 16, 2020
COVID-19, Market-Failures and Free-Riders
Keywords: Economics; Morality; Climate Change; Market Failure
“And the days are not full enough And the nights are not full enough And life slips by like a field mouse Not shaking the grass."
- Ezra Pound
As the days go by, it seems to become ever more distressing to articulate any thoughts around the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only do the infection and death toll appear to show no sign of slowing down (Bing, 2020), but also the backlash in economic damage is now swiftly unraveling with dreadful implications (Rainey & McCaskill, 2020). If this wasn't enough, scientists are now also warning of an exponential rise in the number of people becoming increasingly aware of what an exponential function is (The Derringer, 2020).
Much has been written in the past few weeks about SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) and what it means for the future of our economic system (Alexander, 2020), sustainability (Irvine, 2020), climate and pollution (Gerretsen, 2020), and the chance to remake a 'new normal' (Baker, 2020). I take all of these positions with the seriousness they warrant and would add my two cents.
COVID-19 has shaken the globalized and interconnected foundations of our civilization and thrown our immature inclinations for transhumanism out the window (for the time being at least). Similarly, this virus is lifting the veil and revealing the full extent of our hubris in assuming that Homo sapiens had been divorced from the laws that constrain biological life. When the dust settles, if there is a lesson to learn from this crisis is that there are always consequences to unrestrained growth (more on this in Where's Wally? (Abegão, 2020)).
In the face of all of the adverse sequela from this virus, I would still argue for the existence of one obscure blessing in disguise.
Previously, I had invited some reflection into the question of "should we fly in the age of climate change? (Abegão, 2019). Beyond pure theory, I began to challenge the need for frequent flying, especially for whimsical and frivolous reasons, such as weekend sightseeing. As a result, it has been almost two years since I took a flight, and during that time I engaged in something called a 'market failure.' Allow me to clarify.
In economic circles, a market failure occurs when individuals acting in their rational self-interest do not produce the optimal or desired outcome for the collective. In other words, a market failure takes place whenever the individual in a group ends up with a worse result than if they had not acted in rational self-interest. This can occur either because the individuals are subjected to too many costs or receive too few advantages (Chappelow, 2019a).
Let us return to the example of voluntary abstention from international air travel. Individuals who forego these high impact CO2 actions (Wynes & Nicholas, 2017) are committing themselves to the collective challenge and responsibility of restraining the emission of greenhouse gases that build up the detrimental effects of climate change (Rieder, 2016). When I choose to relinquish that flight and decide to stay home for the weekend, I renounce my opportunity to experience a distinct culture and human history. I waived my freedom of mobility, in exchange for a moral commitment.
Top personal high impact actions to address climate change by their cost in tons of CO2 per year. From the right, having two children, one child, live car-free, avoid a trans-atlantic flight