This chapter discusses the potential impacts of the spread of COVID-19, and the restriction policies that it has triggered in many countries, on conflict incidence worldwide. Based on anecdotal evidence and recent research, we argue that imposing nation-wide shutdown policies diminishes conflict incidence on average, but that this conflict reduction may be short-lived and highly heterogeneous across countries. In particular, conflict does not appear to decline in poor, fractionalised countries. Evidence points to two potential ways in which COVID-related restriction policies may increase conflict: losses in income and magnified ethnic and religious tensions leading to scapegoating of minorities.
Many regulations with first-order economic and environmental consequences have to be adopted under significant scientific uncertainty. Examples include tobacco regulations in the second half of the 20th century, climate change regulations and current regulations on pesticides and neonicotinoid insecticides. Firms and industries have proved adept at exploiting such scientific uncertainty to shape and delay regulation. The main strategies documented include: hiring and funding dissenting scientists, producing and publicizing favorable scientific findings, ghostwriting, funding diversion research, conducting large-scale science-denying communication campaigns, and placing experts on advisory and regulatory panels while generally concealing involvement. In many cases, special interests have thus deliberately manufactured doubt and these dishonest tactics have had large welfare consequences.
Largely and unduly neglected by economists, these doubt-manufacturing strategies should now be addressed by the field. Here, we first present a simple theoretical framework providing a useful starting point for considering these issues. The government is benevolent but populist and maximizes social welfare as perceived by citizens. The industry can produce costly reports showing that its activity is not harmful, and citizens are unaware of the industry’s miscommunication. This framework raises important new questions, such as how industry miscommunication and citizens’ beliefs are related to scientific uncertainty. It also sheds new light on old questions, such as the choice of policy instrument to regulate pollution. We subsequently outline a tentative roadmap for future research, highlighting critical issues in need of more investigation.