Asia Economics Blog


Moderator:  Calla Wiemer (

The Complicated Question of COVID-19 vs The Economy

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.

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