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April 9, 2015

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"Instead of a fully free market for antibiotics, I have argued that we should think hard about how to regulate them in a way that carefully balances individual liberty and public health.”

Some natural resource economists have developed useful frameworks for analyzing how best to strike this balance. The key insight is that the efficacy of antibiotics can be viewed as an exhaustible natural resource. The types of models and policy instruments used to analyze extraction from fisheries, groundwater, and the like, can be adapted to study the depletion of this scarce resource.

Ramanan Laxminarayan and Gardner Brown wrote one of the seminal papers in this area:

Economics of Antibiotic Resistance: A Theory of Optimal Use Ramanan Laxminarayan and Gardner M. Brown Resources for the Future Discussion Paper 00–36, September 2000

Of course, any regime for allocating this scarce and potentially life-saving resource raises serious ethical issues, alongside those of economics and epidemiology. Interesting, and important, stuff.

(One might worry that getting agricultural interests to accept Pigovian taxes on antibiotics might run into political difficulties. But this should not be any harder than the challenge of getting the fossil fuel industries to accept Pigovian restraints on carbon emissions... )

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