The economic consequences of the pandemic of 2120

Greetings reader from 2120, I see that you are trying to work out what the economic consequences of the unfolding pandemic in your time will be – and so are looking up information on the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020. I am a random person from 100 years earlier, and I am here to guide you on this journey.

Gulnara has done a great job of highlighting the broad way to view this pandemic and understand how such a shock works through the economy – but I think it is important that I give you some cautious advice about applying the 2020 lessons to your time.

Ultimately you can’t just take the economic consequences of a past pandemic (even if this virus itself looks similar) and state that this will be the consequence of it now – a lesson we have learned when looking at the Flu of 1918-20 in our time. However, I want to talk through some key issues to help you think about it.

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How many New Zealand jobs can be done from home?

The pandemic confined the vast majority of us to work from home during the quarantine period. However, there are certain types of occupations such as masseuse and hairdresser that can not be performed from home. Inspired by the recent NBER paper on how many jobs can be done at home,

I have calculated rough estimates for New Zealand regarding the labour markets capacity to work from home.  Applying the same industry correspondence to New Zealand (based on LEED data) and using the US weights (so assuming the same ability to work from home by industry) I have calculated that 31%-36% of jobs can be done from home.

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How is monetary policy useful given the COVID-19 shock?

In my last post I noted that the “supply or demand shock” framing for COVID-19 could be useful, but hid important elements – namely even when there is a real shock if we aren’t noticing rising factor prices (eg wages) there is a demand element.

Given current concerns most focus is on the question of how to deal with the consequences of a disaster now – in a way that doesn’t lower productive capacity in the future.  This is a good frame, and the New Zealand discussion has been strong relative to a lot of other countries.

However, even though a lot of the stores are closed now “demand” management is not just about that future – it needs to occur now as well.  As a result, monetary policy does have a role.

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Why are all the shops so close to each other?

Gulnara keeps telling me that she needs to go shopping – but of course there is a nationwide quarantine so she’s stuck at home listening to me.

Although I feel some sympathy with her situation, I was worried that I will get dragged all around the place when we do go shopping in the future – and so we’ve gone online to look at Google Maps to figure out where we’ll need to walk. Having a look it appears we won’t have to walk around that far – as the clothing and perfume stores are all right next to each other.

So why is this?

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Liquidity crises, wealth, and the government balance sheet

The events of the last two months have brought financial liquidity issues into sharp focus. As firms shut down for an indefinite period in response to the Coronavirus, the question on many people lips is “will this firm be able to survive without cash income?”

If they have large amount of cash in the bank, the answer is likely to be yes. Yet most firms don’t have a large amount of cash in the bank. Rather, they have large amounts of productive assets – sometimes physical assets like machinery and equipment, and sometimes intangible assets like good business routines, long standing customers, or patented technologies. These assets will produce them with cash incomes in the future – but only if they can survive until then. 

So how can we think about this issue?

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Is COVID-19 just a supply shock?

In this post I want to have a bit of a brainstorm around the real shock we are facing with COVID-19 in the country. The key idea I wanted to think about was what type of shock this is – a supply shock, demand shock, or both!

Note that this is a public health crisis – and I recognise that these issues take precedence. But it is still important to think through the economic consequences, at least to understand what they are.

Three compelling tweets make the case for why the focus should be on supply, demand, or on some combination of both:

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