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Tyler Cowen

The Explanation for Seemingly Irrational Covid Behavior

One simple concept from economics can help you understand people’s decisions about vaccinations or mask-wearing.

These mask norms make sense.

These mask norms make sense.

Photographer: Chris O'Meara/AP

Many reactions to Covid-19 can be explained by one simple concept: intertemporal substitution. Its awkward name notwithstanding, the idea helps to make sense of many behaviors that otherwise might appear irrational.

At the most basic level, intertemporal substitution means shifting an action or event to a more appropriate or advantageous time. A classic example from economics is that people will shop more when there are sales.