I recommend Carmen and Vincent Reinhardt’s excellent piece on the present economic downturn at Foreign Affairs. Their thesis: we may be in the middle of the first truly global depression and digging out of it may be a long, hard slog because there are really no bright spots. Read the whole thing. So much of it is good it’s hard to excerpt. Some snippets:
Although dubbed a “global financial crisis,” the downturn that began in 2008 was largely a banking crisis in 11 advanced economies. Supported by double-digit growth in China, high commodity prices, and lean balance sheets, emerging markets proved quite resilient to the turmoil of the last global crisis. The current economic slowdown is different. The shared nature of this shock—the novel coronavirus does not respect national borders—has put a larger proportion of the global community in recession than at any other time since the Great Depression.
Although dubbed a “global financial crisis,” the downturn that began in 2008 was largely a banking crisis in 11 advanced economies. Supported by double-digit growth in China, high commodity prices, and lean balance sheets, emerging markets proved quite resilient to the turmoil of the last global crisis. The current economic slowdown is different.
In its most recent analysis, the World Bank predicted that the global economy will shrink by 5.2 percent in 2020. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently posted the worst monthly unemployment figures in the 72 years for which the agency has data on record. Most analyses project that the U.S. unemployment rate will remain near the double-digit mark through the middle of next year. And the Bank of England has warned that this year the United Kingdom will face its steepest decline in output since 1706. This situation is so dire that it deserves to be called a “depression”—a pandemic depression.
Although any kind of prediction in this environment will be shot through with uncertainty, there are three indicators that together suggest that the road to recovery will be a long one. The first is exports. Because of border closures and lockdowns, global demand for goods has contracted, hitting export-dependent economies hard. Even before the pandemic, many exporters were facing pressures. Between 2008 and 2018, global trade growth had decreased by half, compared with the previous decade. More recently, exports were harmed by the U.S.-Chinese trade war that U.S. President Donald Trump launched in the middle of 2018. For economies where tourism is an important source of growth, the collapse in international travel has been catastrophic.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to these political and social problems. But one prudent course of action is to prevent the economic conditions that produced these pressures from worsening. Officials need to press on with fiscal and monetary stimulus. And above all, they must refrain from confusing a rebound for a recovery.
I’ll only add one observation. The American consumer, on whom so many countries around the world depend as a fundamental economic strategy is Hors de combat. I’m worried about our increasing position as the world’s greatest extender of credit. Our high unemployment rate does not make us a particularly attractive target for immigration although that may not make any difference as people in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America become increasingly desperate.