The Cost of a Lockdown

Recent events in Brussels had me wondering: what is the impact of shutting down a city for a few days? In the wake of the Paris attacks, Brussels (the capital city of Belgium) was largely in the state of lockdown as authorities hunt down suspects and work to mitigate what they describe as an “imminent threat.” I was personally surprised that such a large city would be voluntarily shuttered for any significant amount of time, so I decided to poke around into the economic costs of making such a decision.

The situation reminded me of the lockdown of Boston during the 2013 hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers. I found an article published by CBS News that directly addressed the question of the economic impact of the shutdown. Their verdict? Minimal. You should go read it for more details, but the gist of their reasoning is that many purchasing decisions put off by the lockdown will simply be made another day instead of simply never occurring, many people nowadays can take care of responsibilities at work by telecommuting, and cities regularly experience these types of interruptions in the form of snowstorms of other natural phenomena.

The seemingly manageable cost a temporary lockdown raises another question: what threat level is necessary to mandate a shutdown? When it is “worth it” to tell everyone to just stay home? This question, I don’t have an answer to.

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