President Trump claimed that the Covid-19 pandemic was “unforeseen”, or as Harvard’s Professor Jeffrey Frankel suggests, political leaders are seeing it as a ‘black swan’ event. That’s an event that nobody saw coming. The last one of these was the financial crash of 2008.
Perhaps countries’ responses might have been more organised had governments listened more carefully to leading epidemiologists who have been warning about the dangers of a global pandemic for decades. However, as with any event like this, hindsight is a wonderful thing. We are where we are, and we must deal with it.
There isn’t one person who cannot be aware of the effects that the coronavirus epidemic will have on the economy, because so many are already afraid of the future already due to the immediate loss of employment that came in the wake of each country’s lockdown restrictions. At the very beginning of Spain’s lockdown, unions said more than 100,000 people risked losing their jobs, and economists have warned that these temporary layoffs could become permanent. These figures refer to the big companies such as Seat, Iberia and Burger King, not the small businesses, such as bars and cafes, which have also been forced to close. And then there are the self-employed. This scenario is being replicated across Europe and in the USA.
Three scenes of impact
I believe there are three possible scenarios in relation to the economic impact:
This hasn’t happened. Economies would have had a better chance of staying stronger if we had managed to contain the infection rate to less than 500 per million. However, if you look at the average rate in the most affected countries, you are looking already at 1600 cases per million. So, it’s too late for that.
Massive injections of emergency funding is another route. The USA is pouring an historic two trillion into the economy to shore up retail supply chains, and other countries are taking similar measures, mostly to ensure that its citizens have some income. However, there is a clear problem with this approach. Government loans will only work in the short term for businesses, for two or three months at most, and then businesses will have to let staff go. This will be fine if the economy can return to business as usual by the end of April perhaps, but if it goes on longer, there will be problems.
Then there is the ‘herd immunity’ approach. The UK government suggested taking this approach when the first cases appeared, and allowing 60% of the country to become infected. They said it was what the science said, but the British people weren’t quite so keen on the idea, and it was only a matter of days before the British government stopped talking about herd immunity, and followed other countries’ actions. If a country followed the ‘herd immunity’ concept, it is likely that the crisis would continue into September/October, by which time a blanket of economic depression would have fallen over the entire world. Two-thirds of the population would be infected and the death toll would be enormous.
The economy would grind to a halt, and even a powerful economy like that of the USA wouldn’t be able to bail out businesses. The result would be a real life horror film, with social unrest, looting and crime at record heights due to unemployment. Hospitals would close their doors to all coronavirus patients, and uninfected people would fear those who were infected and violent hate acts would follow. The most vulnerable citizens, that is our elderly, would have to be moved to safe areas, while criminals would happily take advantage of the situation. Indeed, it would be like sunshine for them, as law enforcement resources would be focused on dealing with the social unrest arising from unemployment. If it sounds like one of those zombie apocalypse films that is because it is pretty close to one.
Currently we are all trying to stop the spread, but as you can see from the above scenarios, none of them guarantees us a return to the economic certainties we knew just a month ago. There will be many more predictions as the days and weeks pass: let’s hope they paint a brighter picture.
However, be warned: We are entering a new era that we might as well call ‘Global Elite Centralization’ and Covid-19 was the reset button that triggered it.