Managing Contagion: COVID-19, public health, and reflexive behavior

Vol. 42 No. 3 (2022)

Jul-Sep / 2022
Published August 17, 2022

How to Cite

Davis, John B. 2022. “Managing Contagion: COVID-19, Public Health, and Reflexive Behavior”. Brazilian Journal of Political Economy 42 (3):555-71.

Managing Contagion: COVID-19, public health, and reflexive behavior

John B. Davis
University of Amsterdam and Marquette University, Milwaukee/WI, United States of America.
Brazilian Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 42 No. 3 (2022), Jul-Sep / 2022, Pages 555-571


This paper characterizes a pandemic as a kind of contagion, and describes a
contagion as a two-level, two-direction, reflexive feedback loop system. In such a system,
expert opinions for managing a pandemic can act as self-fulfilling prophecies due to how
they influence collective belief formation. However, when multiple experts produce multiple
expert opinions that act as self-fulfilling prophecies, this can fragment a society’s response to
a pandemic, worsening rather than ameliorating it. This paper models this possible outcome
by distinguishing two competing expert opinions, appealing respectively to people in club
good and common pool types of employment/health insurance situations, and argues that to combat fragmentation of opinion about how to address a pandemic, public health policy
needs to attend to the nature of public reasoning. It argues this entails asking how just and
legitimate deliberative institutions can function in an ‘inclusive and noncoercive’ way that
allows society to reconcile competing visions regarding how to combat system-wide crises
such as pandemics.

JEL Classification: A13; H41; H70; I100.

Keywords: COVID-19 contagion self-fulfilling prophecy public health experts club goods common pool goods public reasoning stigmatization noncoercive decent society