The Government Must Pay People to Stay HomeRoundup
tags: public health, epidemics, agricultural history, livestock, animal history
Gabriel N. Rosenberg teaches at Duke University and is writing a history of livestock breeding in the United States.
Congress has just passed a $2 trillion financial assistance and economic stabilization bill. While it had overwhelming bipartisan support, conservatives have complained that its expanded unemployment insurance will encourage workers to stay out of the workforce and, thus, will be an additional drag on the economy.
But keeping workers home should be precisely the point. Yes, this legislation will help to stabilize the economy and provide material support for distressed people. But it can also reinforce the public health measures needed to stop the spread of covid-19 by providing positive incentives for people to cooperate. In this regard, the legislation is a good first step, but it may not go far enough: we should be prepared to make larger direct payments, to expand unemployment insurance further and to provide direct rent relief.
In short, we should pay people to stay home — and pay handsomely. Why? Because such a strategy works to stop an epidemic.
This vital object lesson comes to us from an unlikely source: the history of animal agriculture in the United States. In fact, the earliest effective government responses to epidemic illness in the United States came not in the context of human health, but in the context of livestock. A little known government agency, the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) in the U. S. Department of Agriculture, pioneered effective responses to addressing epidemic illness, making the United States a global leader in this area of veterinary medicine. The BAI’s approach, known as “area eradication,” used a combination of quarantines and financial incentives to completely eradicate the pathogens of targeted veterinary illnesses. It was so successful, public health officials concerned with human illnesses studied it closely and modeled smallpox eradication campaigns from it. Today, as we grapple with covid-19 we need to heed these lessons once again.
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