Upfront costs would be hard to justify if the virus were quickly snuffed out.
So in January, the early phase of the outbreak, Chinese firms began by scouring the world for masks rather than by making more of their own.
It took government action to change that. Officials offered subsidies to firms producing safety gear: promising not outsized gains but an avoidance of losses.
China went from making 20m masks per day before the crisis—half the world's output—to nearly 120m by the end of February.
Profit, narrowly defined as the income earned from making masks, also fails to explain corporate motives. Regulation has been crucial.
Companies in China could not resume operations until all their workers had masks, so automakers,
phone manufacturers and oil giants all added mask-production lines. And big companies also want to look like good corporate citizens.
Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to America's president, accused 3M, one of the world's biggest manufacturers of high-end masks, of putting money before people.
In fact, 3M has stuck to its list prices and doubled its production.
Pricing is usually the best way to allocate resources, by revealing who is willing and able to pay for something.
But there is no doubt now that masks are most essential for medical workers. Ordering large supplies at fixed prices is the right policy.
The public benefit of a functioning health system far outweighs any harm in impeding sellers from maximising their profits.
This was a point made to the University of Chicago's survey by one of the dissenting economists,
who argued that it was fair to cap prices after a natural disaster.
"Efficiency is less important than distribution under such transitory conditions," said Angus Deaton, now a Nobel laureate.
In a global health crisis, his argument is even more compelling. Conventional morality—the revulsion against price gouging—trumps conventional economics.
1.snuff out 消灭
Every time a new flicker of resistance appeared, the government snuffed it out
She resumed her career after an interval of six years.
3.stick to 坚持
Perhaps he should have stuck to writing.
He has been internationally renowned as the "Father of Fibre Optics" and is now a Nobel Laureate.