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How can we measure welfare and quality of life?

Why is your field of study important?

My research deals with society’s biggest problems: climate change and covid-19. As an environmental economist I focus on improving the design of effective emission regulation.

Currently, however, I study the societal impact of the covid-19 pandemic and infection prevention measures. Although Covid-19 is not an environmental problem, there are many similarities between the two.

Both are related to negative effects from our behavior, either because we spread disease through the way we engage with each other, or because we emit climate gases through the way we work, live and spend our money. Likewise, both have a negative effect on society and our way of living.

What do you want to change in business or society?

I want to improve decision-making by making sure politicians look at all relevant knowledge before they make a decision.

For example, the covid-19 response is blindly focused on not overwhelming the capacity of hospitals. In response to this risk we are asked to distance socially and work from home, some of us even risking our jobs.

Another option would be to expand hospital capacity. If we could treat more people, there might be less need for social distancing. The fact is that we don’t know whether expanding hospital capacity would be a better solution because no one has investigated it yet.

What is the biggest challenge in your work?

Currently, I’m concerned with how infection prevention measures reduce quality of life.

Loss of traditional economic costs such as productivity is easy to measure, but things like loneliness or wellbeing are so difficult to monitor that they are often ignored entirely.

For an economist the social costs and health loss caused by the pandemic are as important as economic costs. Both are vital for the welfare of our society.

What is your most important advice for economics and business students?

Work hard. I promise there is a great return for every page you turn in that never-ending course book. So, don’t give up. You are improving, even though it is hard to notice the progress within you.

Who is your greatest role model?

I admire economics professor Emily Oster at Brown University, because she is fearless when investigating the status quo.

An example is her work on the recommendations for pregnant women. She argues that medical advice is too standardized and not based on good science. For example on alcohol consumption where she says there is no evidence that even small amounts of alcohol are harmful.

Confronting the established facts like that takes courage. At the same time, she empowers women by explaining the data so that they themselves can choose what risk to take.

She also admits it openly when she makes mistakes. A characteristic I would like to see in more researchers.

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