The U.S. government has poured trillions of dollars in relief and stimulus into the economy in the wake of state-imposed economic lockdowns earlier this year. But a group of European researchers has taken a different look at the costs of fighting the coronavirus: what it cost to save a life.

According to a report in Agence France Presse:

Researchers from HEC Paris business school and Bocconi University in Milan have reached a sobering calculation: the closures beginning at the pandemic’s onset in March through May saved 29,000 lives — at a cost of $169 billion, or around $6 million per person.

“Governors saved lives on the one hand, but reduced economic activity on the other,” Jean-Noel Barrot, a professor at HEC Paris and member of France’s National Assembly, told AFP.

Squaring the $169 billion cost with the trillions spent on relief isn’t easy. But it may indicate that the U.S. economy was much weaker, and state and local governments less financially stable, than they appeared before the lockdowns were imposed. 

The other calculation – that each life saved cost $6 million – is a bit cold. Valuing life solely in dollar terms devalues what the late Julian Simon rightly called the “ultimate resource” – mankind’s limitless potential to overcome challenges and improve the quality of life.

That ultimate resource is on full display inside the pharmaceutical labs that are bringing highly effective coronavirus vaccines to market in record time. Still, the data provide a tangible price tag for current and future restrictions on economic activity…and whether society is willing to pay that bill.