Kriza kot nobena doslej

Mnogi še vedno ne razumejo, kako resna je ta kriza. Dejstvo je, da pandemije ni mogoče zaustaviti brez da bi zaprli vse za določen čas, če se želimo izogniti milijonom mrtvih. Tudi tisti, ki so se dolgo upirali (ZDA, V. Britanija in zdaj še Singapur) sprejemajo najbolj drastične ukrepe karanten. Nihče ni otok. Ta pandemija ni kot vojna, kjer se lahko nekatere države izolirajo in živijo mirno naprej. Hipotetično, in zgolj hipotetično, bi se mu lahko izognili, če bi hermetično zaprli meje za nekaj mesecev. Toda to pomeni konec trgovine s tujino, konec uvoza in konec posla za izvozni del gospodarstva. Kar pomeni, da smo – kar se gospodarstva tiče – v istem scenariju, kot če uvedemo karantene

Paul Krugman je situacijo slikovito označil “kot da bi države svoje gospodarstvo dale v umetno komo“. Problem je še večji, ker bo tudi nadaljevanje lahko podobno, saj ni jasno, kako uspešno bo gospodarstvo okrevalo po komi.

When Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian economist who is the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, spoke at a conference organized by the World Health Organization on Friday, she didn’t mince her words about the economic effects of the coronavirus. “This is a crisis like no other,” she said. “Never in the history of the I.M.F. have we witnessed the world economy coming to a standstill.” If anything, Georgieva was understating things. The I.M.F. was founded in 1945. But even in the decades before its establishment, which featured the Great Depression, nothing matches the size and suddenness of the shock that COVID-19 has dealt to the global economic system. Upwards of three billion people around the earth are living under stay-at-home orders and other restrictions on movement, and great swaths of industry and commerce have shut down. Already, more than ninety countries have applied to the I.M.F., which serves as a lending bank for troubled countries, for emergency assistance. And it looks like the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.

Economists are now competing with one other to produce the most dire forecast. Earlier this week, Goldman Sachs caused a bit of a stir by predicting that the jobless rate could rise to fifteen per cent in the second half of this year, and that G.D.P. would contract at an annual rate of thirty-four per cent in the April-to-June quarter. But Friday’s jobs figures, coupled with an alarming report that 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, made Goldman’s projections seem relatively modest. On Friday, Ian Shepherdson, of Pantheon Macroeconomics, predicted that the next jobs report will show employment falling by between fourteen million and eighteen million and the unemployment rate rising to between twelve and fourteen per cent—all in one month!

Until not long ago, figures like these would have been inconceivable. (As a point of comparison, the peak jobless rate in the Great Recession was ten per cent.) The failure to anticipate anything like this is hardly surprising: the plunge reflects something new to the modern world. As the Times’ Paul Krugman has noted, authorities in the United States and other countries have chosen to place their economies into the equivalent of a medically induced coma. Even without the stay-at-home orders, fewer people would be travelling voluntarily or entering crowded spaces, and the financial markets would probably be going haywire. But the enforced shutdowns have had a huge impact.

To extend Krugman’s metaphor, the big question now is whether governments can manage the coma and revive the patient after the epidemic wanes. Crucial to this process are the life-support measures that governments and central banks have introduced over the past few weeks, culminating in the $2.2 trillion stimulus package that Congress passed last week.

Is there a simpler way to support businesses and pay people to stay at home for the duration of the crisis without casting them out of jobs and onto unemployment insurance? In other countries, including Denmark and Britain, governments are providing support payments to businesses directly rather than working through the banking system. Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, two economists at the University of California, Berkeley, proposed a similar scheme for the U.S., in a paper they published a few weeks ago, calling for the federal government to act as the “payer of last resort.” The Trump Administration rejected this idea, but if the Paycheck Protection Program flounders there will be pressure to resurrect the Saez-Zucman plan and apply it to all companies affected by the virus, not just small and medium-sized ones.

In an article at Bloomberg View on Friday, Narayana Kocherlakota, a former governor of the Fed, pointed out that furloughed workers are performing a public service by staying at home—they are helping to prevent the spread of the virus—and he called on the government to provide them with generous “staycation payments” for the next few months. “Paid staycations would be expensive,” Kocherlakota wrote. “Over a six-month period, they might cost as much as $2 trillion. But the government is able to borrow extremely cheaply. It should be using that power to minimize the pain and suffering implied by a high unemployment rate.”

Vir: John Cassidy, The New Yorker

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