Until there is a better sense of when and how the COVID-19 public-health crisis will be resolved, economists cannot even begin to predict the end of the recession that is now underway. Still, there is every reason to anticipate that this downturn will be far deeper and longer than that of 2008.

CAMBRIDGE – With each passing day, the 2008 global financial crisis increasingly looks like a mere dry run for today’s economic catastrophe. The short-term collapse in global output now underway already seems likely to rival or exceed that of any recession in the last 150 years.

    Even with all-out efforts by central banks and fiscal authorities to soften the blow, asset markets in advanced economies have cratered, and capital has been pouring out of emerging markets at a breathtaking pace. A deep economic slump and financial crisis are unavoidable. The key questions now are how bad the recession will be and how long it will last.

    Until we know how quickly and thoroughly the public-health challenge will be met, it is virtually impossible for economists to predict the endgame of this crisis. At least as great as the scientific uncertainty about the coronavirus is the socioeconomic uncertainty about how people and policymakers will behave in the coming weeks and months.

    After all, the world is experiencing something akin to an alien invasion. We know that human determination and creativity will prevail. But at what cost? As of this writing, markets seem to be cautiously hopeful that a recovery will be fast, perhaps starting in the fourth quarter of this year. Many commentators point to China’s experience as an encouraging harbinger of what awaits the rest of the world.

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