This “like-no-other” Covid-19 pandemic is clearly a dangerously unique event, with ongoing severe economic and social consequences all around the globe. Nassim Taleb has famously described the Black Swan and more recently, BIS researchers pointed to the Green Swan in reference to the impact of climate change.
But the Covid-19 Swan is quite a combination of colours. It is an ongoing emergency situation, with fear often overcoming hope while anxiety heightens amid a decline in living standards.
As a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is taking hold of Europe, the European Union, with its high welfare and healthcare standards, seems to be able to withstand it better than the US.
But if in terms of public health this may be true, in economic terms EU politicians and policymakers should use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to understand that the EU risks falling behind the US and China — and to take measures to prevent that.
Despite central banks keeping interest rates at the lowest levels in history and buying debt like there’s no tomorrow, the mountain of debt is not getting any smaller. Emerging markets are, as usual, the place where people are looking for the first signs of trouble.
UK chancellor Rishi Sunak seems to be trying to build for himself the image of a man who is not afraid to “tell it like it is” when the situation requires it. But his actions show that he is prepared to sacrifice long-term economic development for a short-term boost for his Conservative party.
If after the great financial crisis of 2007-2009 the word “extraordinary” characterised monetary policy, the Covid-19 pandemic calls for a much stronger adjective: “unprecedented”.
As the world has never before been faced with an instance when virtually all economic activity stopped for a certain period of time, this is an appropriate word. However, in monetary policy really very little can be said to be truly “unprecedented”.
For example, take modern monetary theory (MMT) — a theory about how to have your (monetary) cake and eat it, which (simplistically) states that if a country can print its own currency, that country will never default on its debt because it can create as much currency as it wants to and use it to pay back the debt.
Major central banks, to a certain degree, have already begun versions of MMT.
Before the new coronavirus pandemic, one of the main ways in which the UK’s Conservative Party boosted consumer confidence was pushing house prices up with the aid of various taxpayer-funded schemes such as Help to Buy.
But as the damage done by Covid-19 to the economy heaps pressure on the public purse, should the taxpayer still generously fund schemes that mainly serve to boost house prices and the fortunes of a few big companies and their already well-off clients?
The fact that chatter about a wealth tax is increasing to the point where it could become reality in the UK should not be a surprise. But it would be a very odd thing for a Conservative government to be the one to actually implement it.