For years, the economics profession has suffered from a stubborn reluctance to adopt a more multidisciplinary approach. But now that the COVID-19 pandemic is transforming economic life the world over, the profession has no choice but to leave its comfort zone.
LAGUNA BEACH – With the coronavirus devastating one economy after another, the economics profession – and thus the analytical underpinnings for sound policymaking and crisis management – is having to play catch-up. Of particular concern now are the economics of viral contagion, of fear, and of “circuit breakers.” The more that economic thinking advances to meet changing realities, the better will be the analysis that informs the policy response.
That response is set to be both novel and inevitably costly. Governments and central banks are pursuing unprecedented measures to mitigate the global downturn, lest a now-certain global recession gives way to a depression (already an uncomfortably high risk). As they do, we will likely see a further erosion of the distinction between mainstream economics in advanced economies and in developing economies.
Such a change is sorely needed. With overwhelming evidence of massive declines in consumption and production across countries, analysts in advanced economies must reckon, first and foremost, with a phenomenon that was hitherto familiar only to fragile/failed states and communities devastated by natural disasters: an economic sudden stop, together with the cascade of devastation that can follow from it. They will then face other challenges that are more familiar to developing countries.
Consider the nature of the pandemic economy. Regardless of their desire to spend, consumers are unable to do so, because they have been urged or ordered to stay home. And regardless of their willingness to sell, stores cannot reach their customers, and many are cut off from their suppliers.
The immediate priority, of course, is the public-health response, which calls for social distancing, self-isolation, and other measures that are fundamentally inconsistent with how modern economies are wired. As a result, there has been a rapid contraction of economic activity (and therefore economic wellbeing).
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