The cost of lockdowns and shutdowns shows why we need to reign in executive power

In our new report ‘The Cost of Lockdowns and Shutdowns: Part I: Counting the economic costs of government policy responses to COVID-19‘, my colleague Martha Njolomole and I write:

In March 2020, COVID-19 hit Minnesota. State and local governments enacted several measures intended to slow the spread of the virus, chief among these being “lockdowns” of individuals and shutdowns of certain “nonessential” businesses. Both at the state level and nationally, the economy contracted at the fastest rate on record and unemployment rocketed. More than two years on, economies across the United States are still recovering.


We estimate that Minnesota’s government policy responses to COVID-19 cost each resident $1,866 in lost GDP by the end of the first quarter of 2021, or $7,464 for a family of four: this was the 15th biggest hit in the United States.

In her new report ‘The Cost of Lockdowns and Shutdowns: Part II: How school closures became a policy decision that held Minnesota students hostage‘, my colleague Catrin Wigfall writes:

In March 2020, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz shut down the state’s public education system, impacting over 838,000 K-12 public school students.

She finds:

As of the start of the 2022-2023 school year, fewer than half of Minnesota students are proficient in math (44.6 percent), as measured by the state’s Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs). Just under 50 percent of students can’t read at grade level.

The state’s 2020 graduation rate was 83.8 percent, yet only 45 percent of those graduates were performing at grade level in math the previous year as 11th graders. Based on spring 2022 test results, only 36.3 percent of Minnesota 11th graders are proficient in math.

These measures incurred huge costs, the true scale of which will only become apparent in the years to come. And these costs were inflicted upon Minnesotans arbitrarily by the state’s Governor, Tim Walz.

Gov. Walz declared a state of emergency on March 13, 2020 and this was repeatedly renewed, finally ending on July 1, 2021. The purpose of emergency powers is to enable the governor to respond to crises immediately until the legislature has time to convene. They are not intended to allow one person to rule the state by decree more or less indefinitely, certainly not when those decisions imposes such costs as we document in our reports.

Currently, a peacetime emergency can be extended by 30 days unless a majority of both chambers vote to cancel it. This needs to change. In 2021, the state Senate passed a bill which would require a majority of both chambers to approve the governor’s request for a peacetime emergency for it to be extended by 30 days. This bill should be brought back and passed.