Asia's response to the pandemic has rested largely on fiscal policy with monetary policy playing a facilitating role to varying degree. Fiscal policy is the subject of the second post in this series. The first post looks at factors influencing the impact of the pandemic on GDP growth, specifically, infection incidence, mobility loss due to transmission mitigation measures, and export decline.
Asian economies have been hit differently by the pandemic and have responded differently by way of fiscal and monetary policy. The first post in this series traces differences in economic impact to differences in infection incidence, mobility loss due to transmission mitigation measures, and export decline. This post on fiscal policy and the next on monetary policy look at macro policy responses within the context of policy space.
Why have the economies of Asia fared so differently under the pandemic? In 2020, the economy of the Philippines contracted by 9.5 percent and that of India by 8.0 percent. Meanwhile, Bangladesh achieved growth of 3.8 percent, Taiwan 3.1 percent, Vietnam 2.9 percent, and China 2.3 percent.
This post looks at three channels through which the pandemic impacted economic activity: infection incidence; mobility loss due to transmission mitigation measures; and export decline. Subsequent posts consider fiscal and monetary policy responses.
The logic is straightforward that policy interventions that seek to break the chain of COVID infection also lower economic activity. Frictions in value creation result from limiting operations for dining and entertainment outlets, curtailing travel, or in general making mobility more stringent. Such disruptions destroy jobs and businesses. Longer term, human and social capital will deteriorate through school closures and reduced business and personal contact . In this reasoning, there is a tradeoff between social safety and economic performance. Call this the stringency effect. The dilemma for policy-making then is a choice between COVID safety and economic prosperity where one comes at a cost to the other.
In reality, however, this tradeoff is offset by an opposing force. Even absent stringency effects, COVID-19 is simultaneously a negative supply shock and a negative demand shock because output will fall from ill health and mortality in the workforce. With heightened concern over COVID, consumption will decline due, for example, to: heightened job insecurity and lowered consumer confidence; increased savings; and lowered propensity to take vacations or eat restaurant meals. Increased risk aversion will depress entrepreneurial activity and reduce investment. In this reasoning, combating the pandemic helps lift economic activity. The higher is social safety, the greater is confidence that life will return to normal, and thus the higher will be economic growth. The correlation here is positive between social protection and economic prosperity. Call this the shock effect.
Co-Authors: Shiela Camingue-Romance; Irfan Qureshi; Shu Tian.
To halt the spread of Covid-19, Asian countries have imposed varying forms and degrees of restrictions, ranging from nationwide lockdown – e.g., India and Malaysia – to much more targeted policy responses – e.g., Japan and Korea. The diversity of restrictions across the region reflects the diversity of technological, administrative, and other country-specific factors. For example, Korea did not have to resort to stringent restrictions because it has a technologically advanced contact tracing system. But the Korean experience is unlikely to be relevant to countries that do not have advanced technology and strong administrative capacity.
Japan has, for several decades, experienced a toxic combination of an aging and shrinking population, slow growth, and very large fiscal deficits and debt. Looking forward, Japan’s potential growth is expected to approach zero, in large part owing to its demographic profile (see IMF).
These interrelated issues have led policy-makers in Japan on a search for meaningful structural reforms to raise potential growth and offset the impact of eventual fiscal adjustment. One area that has received significant attention has been the Japanese labor market, which is characterized by low female labor force participation; a significant duality between heavily-protected workers and “non-regular” workers with few protections and lower productivity; and limited flexibility regarding working conditions and modalities (Figure 1).