covid-19,-united-states-and-lockdown,-how-are-the-opinions-of-economists-measured?-part-2
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In a previous article we said that understanding how economists think about the measures to be taken to reduce the damage of the COVID-19 pandemic is not easy. The best we have at the moment, probably, is an aggregation of the ideas of a few dozen leading economists carried out by a collaboration between Fivethirtyeight and the Chicago Booth School of Business. Of course, the scientific community of academic economists is much wider, so this kind of evidence must be interpreted with caution. The panel of interviewees and interviewees, it should be remembered, is not always composed of the same people.

Having clarified this, as anticipated there‘a large majority of those who were heard consider any closure measures necessary, because in the long run, the economic woes caused by an out of control epidemic are likely to be far greater – not to mention the massive death toll that would follow.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, we have now had almost a year to deepen our knowledge of the virus, and today, although there is still a lot to discover, at least we know a lot more than last spring. In this sense, even the opinion of economists may have evolved on the basis of new evidence. Going back then, did they say the same things as now or other things?

Overall, the prevailing opinion of the people surveyed in this survey does not seem to have changed much. An article in the Financial Times last April, in full first wave, spoke of a “surprising degree of consensus among the best economists in favor of lockdowns.”

Abandoning heavy lockdowns as long as the risk of a return of contagion remains high would lead to greater economic damage than keeping the closures, was the idea that 80% of American respondents agreed, with some unsure but not a single person against. Among European economists, 65% believed that non-essential business closures and major restrictions on the movement of people would likely be better for the economy in the medium term than less aggressive measures. “Just 4% disagreed,” notes the author of the article.

In a later version of the panel, in July, economists interviewed had to judge which nation they thought would first return to the level of economic activity it had before since the pandemic. 90% of them pointed to China, where the confirmed deaths have been just a few thousand and the epidemic has therefore remained under control.

Certainly the responses did not indicate particular confidence in the response from the United States or the European Union. According to Jonathan Wright, professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University, this answer depends on three factors: China’s growth has been very rapid in the first place, and then that country has fiscal stimulus tools not available in less centralized economies like the US or Europe. But part, it should be emphasized, also depends on the Chinese government’s reputation for publishing particularly favorable data at times. “In the end,” Wright recalled, “if they don’t like real data they can always tweak it a bit.”

The same questionnaire asked economists what, in their opinion, was the greatest risk factor for the lack of future economic growth. The option most often indicated was that of need to stop the reopenings due to a still too high circulation of the virus among the population. Also in this case, in addition to policies to support local communities, the prerequisite of keeping the spread of the virus to the minimum possible for the rest of the economy to function is emphasized.

“As long as there is an exponential growth in infections, I am not surprised that there is consensus for the need for lockdowns,” the president of the Center for Economic Policy Research Beatrice Weder di Mauro reminded the Financial Times. Many economists, we read in the article, defer to the judgment of epidemiologists and public health experts to understand when the infection can be said to be under control. “We should remove the restrictions as soon as possible, once there are enough tests and measures to contain the virus”, di Mauro concluded, “but for the moment the problem remains health and not economic”.

Several months later, the situation still remains similar – at least in all those countries where the contagion is not yet under control and indeed we are now witnessing a new wave.




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