Casey Mulligan, 28 January 2021

The spread of COVID-19 in the US has prompted extraordinary steps by individuals and institutions to limit infections. Some worry that ‘the cure is worse than the disease’ and these measures may lead to an increase in deaths of despair. Using data from the US, this column estimates how many non-COVID-19 excess deaths have occurred during the pandemic. Mortality in 2020 significantly exceeds the total of official COVID-19 deaths and a normal number of deaths from other causes. Certain characteristics suggest the excess are deaths of despair. Social isolation may be part of the mechanism that turns a pandemic into a wave of deaths of despair; further studies are needed to show if that is the case and how. 

David Welsch, 01 December 2020

The science behind mask usage and its ability to reduce airborne particles seems clear. Despite this, many individuals are sceptical that wearing masks can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and many refuse to wear one even when required. This column examines the effect of mask usage using county-level data from the US, employing an instrumental variable approach. The findings show that increasing the amount of individuals who frequently or always wear a mask when within six feet of people by 1% could reduce COVID-19 deaths by 10.5%, which translates into approximately six deaths in the average county. 

Michel Serafinelli, Guido Tabellini, 06 January 2018

Innovation is often concentrated in certain geographic areas, or ‘creative clusters’. This column uses novel data on famous births to explore the dynamics of creativity in European cities between the 11th and 19th centuries. The results show that creativity tends to precede economic prosperity, and that city institutions that protect personal and economic freedoms are conducive to radical innovation in a variety of domains.

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