Publication in the European Journal of Health Economics by Lukas Schuelke ’21 (ITFD)
Last year I worked on the article, “Estimating the additional costs of living with a disability in the United Kingdom between 2013 and 2016,” which was based on my undergraduate dissertation and which just got published in the European Journal of Health Economics.
In the United Kingdom, more than 20% of the population live with a disability. Past evidence shows that being disabled is associated with functional limitations that often cause social exclusion and poverty. Therefore, it is necessary to analyse the connection between disability and poverty. This paper examines whether households with disabled members face extra costs of living to attain the same standard of living as their peers without disabled members. The modelling framework is based on the standard of living approach which estimates the extra income required to close the gap between households with and without disabled members. We apply an ordered logit regression to data from the Family Resources Survey between 2013 and 2016 to analyse the relationship between standard of living, income, and disability, conditional on other explanatory variables. We find that households with disabled members face considerable extra costs that go beyond the transfer payment of the government. The average household with disabled members saw their weekly extra costs continually increase from £293 in 2013 to £326 in 2016 [2020 prices]. Therefore, the government needs to adjust welfare policies to address the problem of extra costs faced by households with disabled members.
ITFD master project by Ashley Do, Nicolas Legrain, Nadine Schüttler, and María Soares de Lima ’21
Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing BSE master projects. The project is a required component of all Master’s programs at the Barcelona School of Economics.
The purpose of this paper is to examine aggregate and cross-sector allocations of foreign aid flows in the aftermath of epidemics and to determine whether latent effects can be observed in the following year.
Using data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Bilateral commitments of Official Development Assistance (ODA) from 2005-2019, we employ an Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) model based on the structural gravity framework to account for spatial interactions between donor and recipient countries.
Our results show that epidemics have a positive and significant effect on bilateral foreign aid across all sectors and that aid to the Humanitarian sector is less conditional on pre-existing relationships than others. Results for latent effects on aid vary by sector.
We further find that isolating epidemics in our analysis suggests that certain diseases prompt a different aid response wherein aid to non-health sectors falls.
We find that epidemics do indeed engender changes in foreign aid behavior.
To be specific, epidemics have a positive and significant effect on foreign aid commitments to all sectors. Our results are unable to shed light on the hypothesis of reallocation between sectors. However, they do illustrate that aid to both health-related and non-health-related sectors increases.
Aid in this context is also persistent. That is, our results, robust to numerous checks, show that the positive effects of epidemics may be observed not only in the year of the outbreak but also in the following year.
By analyzing each disease independently, we further find that certain diseases prompt a different aid response and may suggest the presence of a foreign-aid reallocation due to epidemics.
However, our study does not measure the effectiveness of aid which is necessary for the design of productive policy measures that could save countless lives. Naturally, this presents new opportunities for research and raises important questions regarding the optimal allocation of aid given shocks to global health. That is, does increasing aid to all sectors serve as an effective one-size-fits-all solution? Or would a more efficient policy consist of donors reallocating aid across sectors to account for short and long-term changes in the demand for healthcare caused by an epidemic?
Giulia Mariani ’12 (International Trade, Finance, and Development)
Gradual institutional change analyses have allowed drawing a more flexible line between stability and transformation when examining how institutions evolve over time, particularly in the absence of major critical junctures or exogenous shocks. Yet, the explanatory power of the theory has been undermined by a lack of attention to the overlapping boundaries of the modes of gradual institutional change, a relatively static model of agency, and conceptual confusion regarding what the modes of change exactly are.
In our recent article “Discursive Strategies and Sequenced Institutional Change: The Case of Marriage Equality in the United States” published in Political Studies, Tània Verge and I argue that addressing these shortcomings requires investigating the agent-based dynamics underpinning gradual institutional change and bringing to the fore the role of ideas. Indeed, ideas and discourses can have a constitutive impact in the creation, maintenance and reform of institutions, and actors strategically reframe problems and redirect solutions to influence both the process and the outcome of policy reforms.
Employing marriage equality in the United States as a case study, we show that the modes of gradual institutional change can be studied simultaneously as processes that unfold over time, often in a sequential fashion, as outcomes of these processes, and as strategies pursued by actors to steer, impede or undermine policy change.
Our results reveal that proponents and opponents of marriage equality have deployed discursive frames to legitimize institutional change to take off sequentially in a progressive direction — through the modes of “layering“ and “displacement“ — and in a regressive direction — through the mode of “conversion“.
Throughout this sequenced process, opposing actors have not only adjusted their discursive strategies to both their rivals and the targeted institutional venues, but have also shifted roles as change and status quo agents. Indeed, our study shows that the actors contesting the institutional status quo in one stage may become the actors defending it in a subsequent phase of the institutional change process, and vice versa. Thus, we argue that traditional, static conceptualizations of agency should be problematized and, rather than as resistance to gender-friendly reforms, opposition to marriage equality should be understood as a proactive mobilization to transform existing institutions.
The recent US Supreme Court decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (2021) in favor of a Catholic foster care agency that refuses to work with same-sex couples, should then be understood as a victory of the years-long conservative strategy to undermine LGBT couples’ newly recognized right to marry.
Lastly, our study highlights the role of private actors as ideational entrepreneurs in the adoption and implementation of “morality policies,“ such as marriage equality. While morality policy scholars have so far predominantly examined how governmental actors shape policymaking, we show that the discursive strategies deployed by LGBT advocates, religious-conservative organizations and other private actors, such as foster care agencies, florists, and bakers, created new opportunities to influence policy debates and tip the scales to their preferred policy outcome.
Our speakers were Prof. Ottmar Edenhofer, Director and Chief Economist of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and Prof. Cameron Hepburn, Director of the Economics of Sustainability Programme and Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Oxford. Johanna Schiele, McCloy-fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, moderated the event.
Steffi gave an interview to CEPR’s Tim Phillips about the team’s research:
Policies to avoid zombification of the economy
In an accompanying VoxEU column, the authors discuss the risks that government responses to COVID-19 could “zombify” the economy.
“A representative consumer survey in five EU countries indicates that many consumers do not miss certain goods and services they have cut down on since the COVID-19 outbreak,” the authors explain in their column. “Fiscal policy must recognise that some firms will become obsolete in the altered post-COVID-19 environment. To achieve a swift recovery, these obsolete firms must be allowed to fail fast so that resources can be reallocated to more efficient uses. Instead, fiscal support should be laser-like in targeting those households who are particularly hard hit by the crisis. Such support should be oriented towards helping displaced workers retrain and find new jobs.”
Prospective economic developments depend on the behavior of consumer spending. A key question is whether private expenditures recover once social distancing restrictions are lifted or whether the COVID-19 crisis has a sustained impact on consumer confidence, preferences, and, hence, spending. Changes in consumer behavior may not be temporary, as they may reflect long-term changes in attitudes arising from the COVID-19 experience. This paper uses data from a representative consumer survey in five European countries conducted in summer 2020, after the release of the first wave’s lockdown restrictions. We document the underlying reasons for households’ reduction in consumption in five key sectors: tourism, hospitality, services, retail, and public transports. We identify a large confidence shock in the Southern European countries and a permanent shift in consumer preferences in the Northern European countries. Our results suggest that horizontal fiscal support to all firms risks creating zombie firms and would hinder necessary structural changes to the economy.
Alexander Hodbod ’12 (International Trade, Finance, and Development). Counsellor to ECB Representative to the Supervisory Board, European Central Bank (DGSGO-SO), Frankfurt, Germany.
Cars Hommes. Professor of Economic Dynamics at CeNDEF, Amsterdam School of Economics, University of Amsterdam, and research fellow of the Tinbergen Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Senior Research Director (Financial Markets Department), Bank of Canada.
Stefanie J. Huber ’10 (Economics). Assistant Professor at CeNDEF, Amsterdam School of Economics, University of Amsterdam, and research candidate fellow of the Tinbergen Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Isabelle Salle. Principal Researcher at the Bank of Canada (Financial Markets Department), research fellow at the Amsterdam School of Economics, University of Amsterdam, and research fellow of the Tinbergen Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Recap of Professor Jordi Galí’s ECB Forum presentation by Maximilian Magnacca Sancho ’21 (ITFD)
On November 11, 2020 the first day of the ECB Forum on Central Banking began with three exciting talks on how shifts in the global economy have changed the game for central banks worldwide. Among the distinguished guest speakers at the Forum was UPF, CREi, and Barcelona Graduate School of Economics Research Professor, Jordi Galí. While the ECB had him slated to speak on the “Inflation Objective, Structural Forces, and Central Bank Communication,” Professor Galí spent his presentation focusing predominantly on inflation targeting at central banks and whether it should be revised going forward.
His presentation spoke directly to an ongoing debate amongst academics and financial-market watchers, as there have been structural changes in the economy since the last update of the ECB’s policy in 2003. Structural changes are a normal function of an economy as it progresses along with society, though it has some troublesome side effects. Most concerningly, they reduce the effectiveness of policy in alleviating economic downturns by influencing the transmission mechanisms of monetary policy. This raises the challenge for policymakers in picking the best policy.
These structural changes ultimately centre around one crucial variable that is influenceable by central banks. The Steady-State Real Interest Rate, colloquially known as R*. Central banks will be constrained by this rate and hit the zero lower bound sooner if they withhold from changing the inflation target – as argued by Jordi Galí in his presentation. A lower R*, as is being observed, necessitates a higher inflation target so that monetary policy (done through a changing of the interest rate) will have less incidence of the zero lower bound and thus reducing the chance of ineffectiveness.
This is obviously an urgent issue faced by policymakers worldwide during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis from the forefront of monetary economics research, yet what Professor Galí was able to do was bring it back to the basics of economics. He emphasised how the models are built on assumptions, and if assumptions change – as the data indicate they have – then the framework for thinking about these issues need to be updated.
In this spirit, Professor Galí proposed three potential policy changes for central bankers to consider in light of the ECB strategic review: he proposed more countercyclical fiscal support; changing to average inflation targeting; or a higher inflation target from its current position of “below or at 2%”. He acknowledged the challenges and potential pitfalls of all these policies, while also speaking to their potential improvement upon the current policy.
It was great to see a Barcelona GSE professor invited to speak at such a prominent and interesting event held annually and frequented by policymakers and academics working on some of the most challenging issues in central banking. It highlights the quality of research that is being done at Barcelona GSE and the quality of the professors conducting that research being sought after by policymakers.
ITFD master project by Emma Howard, Kean Murphy, Wouter Nientker, Karim El-Ouaghlidi, and Harry Schmidt ’20
Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing BSE master projects. The project is a required component of all Master’s programs at the Barcelona School of Economics.
Using a dynamic panel fixed effects model, we find that increases of ODA of above 2% of GDP have significant effects on the economic growth of African countries in the immediate aftermath of severe natural disasters. This is a surprising result because we do not find that ODA in times of relative stability has a significant effect on GDP. This suggests that debt relief, at least through the channel of significant increases in ODA, is an effective instrument in promoting post-disaster recovery, even though its effectiveness in raising economic growth more generally is limited. Since increases in ODA inflows of above 2% of GDP only occurred after 1/3 of the disasters we studied, we recommend that international financial institutions concentrate ODA flows on countries that had been afflicted by severe disasters.
One of the biggest challenges facing developing Sub-Saharan African economies is their vulnerability to severe natural disasters such as droughts and floods. Not only do they face on average over 50 disasters a year, but their economies’ over-reliance on agricultural production and weak institutional capacity cause them to experience the effects of these disasters particularly acutely. Worryingly, this vulnerability is likely to rise in the coming years, as the earth warms and climate change increases the number and severity of extreme climatic events.
While it is difficult for countries to prevent natural disasters, since they tend to arise from exogenous climate conditions, they can take steps to mitigate these adverse consequences through post-disaster rehabilitation. To do so, governments require sufficient fiscal space so that they can borrow and spend without jeopardising budgetary sustainability. However, many African countries suffer from persistently high levels of debt, with 33 of the 39 countries in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries scheme located on the continent. This constrains government spending on humanitarian relief and reconstruction, which can leave countries unable to recover from the devastation.
In view of these twin trends – African economies’ vulnerability to natural disasters and their crippling levels of debt – any channel that reduces a country’s debt burden and hence increases its fiscal space should theoretically encourage faster economic recovery. This suggests that debt relief can be a vital policy instrument in mitigating the negative effects of natural disasters. However, corruption and inefficient resource allocation mean that its effectiveness may be constrained in practice. To explore the role of debt relief further, we employ a dynamic panel fixed effects model across the most severe 25 floods and 68 droughts in Africa from 1978 to 2013. As a robustness check, we also include an Anderson-Hsiao style GMM estimation procedure. We define debt relief as any policy that reduces the need for governments to issue new debt or repay existing debt, particularly in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In the context of this paper, this includes debt forgiveness, debt rescheduling and/or increased official development assistance (ODA). Furthermore, we run two different specifications of debt relief: first, using a dummy variable which indicates any instance of the aforementioned forms of debt relief; and second, using a continuous variable for ODA inflows alone.
Surprisingly, when we run our first specification, we find that debt relief in general does not have a statistically significant impact on economic growth. Additionally, ODA inflows in times of relative stability do not have significant effects on economic growth. Instead, they only reduce debt-to-GDP growth, suggesting that they are merely used by governments to pay off existing debt. This is in line with previous research by both Mejia (2014) and Raddatz (2009), who found at most weak evidence that either debt relief in the aftermath of disasters or ODA in general is effective in boosting economic growth.
In contrast, we find that increases in inflows of ODA of above 2% of a country’s annual GDP, when provided in the year of or immediately after severe disasters, do have statistically significant positive effects on economic growth (see Figure 1). These findings are similarly observed when we interact our ODA variable with the continuous measure of disaster severity. For a given level of ODA, the effectiveness of post-disaster ODA increases in the severity of the underlying disasters. Furthermore, ODA inflows no longer have statistically significant effects on debt-to-GDP growth. This suggests that, unlike in regular times, ODA flows are used fruitfully by governments after disasters to bolster economic recovery rather than to pay off existing debt.
This is a notable result because it suggests that debt relief, at least through the channel of ODA, is an effective instrument to promote post-disaster recovery. This result differs from that found by previous research because we focus on ODA increases that a) were larger than 2% of GDP and b) occurred in the aftermath of severe natural disasters. This helps us isolate the specific role of ODA in promoting post-disaster recovery from its general effectiveness as a form of economic stimulus to boost growth.
Our findings suggest that policymakers in international financial institutions such as the OECD or IMF should step up efforts to increase ODA inflows to developing countries when severe natural disasters hit. This not only has the direct effect of reducing the loss of lives, but is also vital for poverty reduction by ensuring that these countries return rapidly to their existing balanced growth path. Otherwise, countries risk experiencing persistent economic slowdown and skyrocketing debt due to the disasters, which would in turn lead to a vicious cycle of mounting debt and stagnant growth. Instead, increased ODA flows can substitute for the domestic shortfall in resources available to countries to rehabilitate the economy by providing emergency relief to citizens and rebuilding damaged infrastructure.
Current attempts at mitigating such disasters are relatively limited: in our sample of 92 severe disasters in Africa between 1978 and 2013, large increases of ODA greater than 2% of GDP only occurred after 32 of these disasters. This is surprisingly infrequent, especially considering that we focus only on the largest of disasters which should have ample international media coverage. As highlighted above, larger increases in ODA have greater cumulative effects on the economy, especially for more severe disasters. As this effect is not observed when we study ODA inflows in times of stability or inflows below 2% of GDP, we recommend that existing ODA programmes prioritise large flows to countries which have just suffered from severe natural disasters. This is because the marginal benefit of these targeted flows in promoting development is likely higher than general flows to countries that are relatively stable.
Finally, although our paper focuses on floods and droughts in Africa, we believe that our results can be generalized to other types of disasters. Although further research is needed to fully establish the causal mechanism by which debt relief improves post-disaster outcomes, it is likely that it will have a similar positive impact in rehabilitating economies that face disasters which leave them with high levels of debt and significantly lower budgetary revenue. Most notably, it suggests that significant increases in ODA flows can play a vital role in helping developing economies devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing them to mitigate its adverse effects.
ITFD master project by Maria Dale, Giacomo Gattorno, Andre Osorio, Rebeca Peers, and Kerenny Torres ’20
Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing BSE master projects. The project is a required component of all Master’s programs at the Barcelona School of Economics.
How does a sudden migrant crisis affect criminal activity, and through which mechanisms does this effect take place? We approach this topic by studying the effect of Venezuelan migration on crime rates in Colombia, in the context of the recent migrant crisis that made more than 1.2 million Venezuelans cross the border.
Our study focuses on border provinces, where the presence of non-economic migrants is higher and potential assimilation problems could be exacerbated. Building on the fact that Venezuelan migration to Colombia happened due to apparently exogenous reasons and is unrelated to economic outcomes in the latter, we are able to study the causal effect of this large migration wave on crime rates.
Our results show that Venezuelan forced migration had no significant effect on overall crime, but a positive and significant effect on personal theft in Colombian border provinces. Furthermore, migration had a positive and significant effect on personal theft victimization rates of both Venezuelans and Colombians, while only having significant effects on the criminalization rates of Venezuelans. These results are robust to different specifications and controls, and two placebo tests provide strong evidence in favor of our empirical strategy and results. Finally, we link our findings with the overarching criminal context in Colombian border provinces, and develop relevant policy recommendations based on our findings.
In this paper we analyzed the impact of the Venezuelan migrant crisis, which saw more than 1.2 million Venezuelans cross the border, on crime rates in Colombian border provinces between 2014 and 2018. We focused on the border provinces to study the particular effects of non-economic migration, as we find that migrants in this area did not target areas with specific characteristics but just settled in the closest center to get food, medicine and essential services. This settlement decision strictly based on closeness to border is also illustrated by the figure below: not only is the highest share of foreign-born population in the Colombian regions concentrated in our area of study (the 7 border provinces), but within these border provinces there is also a clear concentration in municipalities on the physical border with Venezuela.
The main contribution of our study was presenting compelling and robust evidence on no significant effect of Venezuelan forced migration on overall crime, but a positive and significant effect on personal theft in Colombian border provinces. By also analyzing both the direct and indirect mechanisms through which this migration inflow can have an effect on different crime rates, we’re able to establish a causal effect of migration on both personal theft victimization and criminalization rates of Venezuelans, while only having significant effects on the victimization rates of Colombians.
Besides our key findings, other results hint at a more holistic narrative: migration also had a positive and significant effect on both homicide and personal injury victimization rates of Venezuelans. What could be driving these effects? As seen previously, Venezuelan migrants settled in municipalities right across the border from Venezuela – which, coincidentally, are municipalities where criminal organizations have a large presence: criminal organizations are present in 23 of the 42 municipalities on the border, and in 39 of the 81 municipalities where the change in proportion of Venezuelan migrants between 2014-18 was above the average.
In these high migration municipalities, as a consequence of criminal activity, homicide rates tended to be much higher at baseline than in other municipalities. Moreover, we see some evidence of discrimination in homicides – after controlling for all relevant socioeconomic covariates, being Venezuelan seems to have a significant and positive effect on being a victim of homicide.
This additional information could help construct the following holistic narrative and recommendations:
A large wave of migrants arrived in low-income border provinces with little (formal) employment opportunities, and some had to resort to small-scale theft to make a living, which explains the positive effect of migration on Venezuelan personal theft criminalization rates
Driven by both opportunity and attractiveness of targets, this caused an increase in personal theft victimization rates for both Colombians and Venezuelans, although it was much higher for the former than for the latter.
However, these municipalities were controlled largely by criminal organizations, which started threatening Venezuelans and forcefully recruiting them in large numbers. This could help explain the positive and significant effect of migration on both homicide and personal injury victimization rates of Venezuelans.
These findings imply that government policies should focus on reducing the vulnerability of Venezuelans by providing swift access to the formal labor market, either in border provinces or nationwide, so that Venezuelans can avoid resorting to small-scale theft and escape forced recruitment and exploitation from criminal organizations.
Elliot Jones ’18 (Macro) and Maximilian Magnacca Sancho ’21 (incoming ITFD)
Maximilian and Elliot connected through social media due to the Barcelona GSE connection and started working together on this piece due to shared research interests.
The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way that we live our lives. As time passes it is becoming apparent that even once the lockdown policies have been eased and some level of normality has been resumed, the new world that we live in will be different to the one we knew before. This article focuses on emerging trends within the UK that have largely taken place as a result of COVID-19, or in some cases the pandemic has simply accelerated a trend that was already occurring. We then look to offer a range of public policy solutions for the recovery period where the overarching objective is to increase wellbeing in society in a sustainable way. These are focused towards the UK but several could be paralleled to other advanced economies.
But first, before we get to the policy solutions, briefly, what have been the main economic and wellbeing effects that we have seen as a result of COVID-19? In 2020, it is expected that the fall in overall economic output is going to be larger than during the financial crisis in 2008. Much of this is due to the level of decline in economic activity as a result of the UK governments lockdown policy. This was a necessary decision in order to reduce the spread of the virus and ensure the health service still has capacity to treat those that have unfortunately caught the disease. However, it has led to a significant liquidity shock for both households and businesses. Large portions of the labour market are now out of work and levels of consumer spending have declined rapidly (Chart 1). Alongside sharp falls in measures of economic performance, measures of wellbeing have declined rapidly as well (Chart 2). Increases in measures of uncertainty have mirrored increases in anxiety. While, social distancing policies are having a large impact on measures of happiness.
The UK government responded to the shock posed by COVID-19 with a range of policy interventions to provide funding to those that have been most impacted. At a macro level, the long-lasting effects of this crisis will be more pertinent if economic activity does not respond quickly after the government’s schemes have ended. Large portions of UK businesses have limited cash reserves to fall back on in a scenario where demand remains subdued for some time. However, even if the recovery period is strong there will still have been some clear winners and losers during this crisis. Younger workers, those on lower incomes and those with atypical work contracts are the ones that have been most heavily impacted (Chart 3). Whilst those on higher incomes, that are more likely to be able to work from home, have increased their household savings during this period, due to less opportunities to consume.
The policy solutions outlined below aim to be complementary of one another and look to amplify observed trends that are positive for wellbeing and to provide intervention where trends have been negative for wellbeing:
Climate at the centre of the response: This is less a policy recommendation and more a theme for the response. However, our message here is that increased public spending projects, focused towards green initiatives should be combined with a coherent carbon tax policy which influences incentives and helps to support the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy.
Labour market reforms: The government should look to develop a centralised job retraining and job matching scheme that supports workers most impacted by COVID-19, helps to encourage structural transformation towards emerging industries and increases the amount of highly skilled workers in the UK workforce.
Tough decisions on business: Some businesses will require further assistance from the UK government in the form of equity funding, rather than the debt funding seen so far. This should be done on a conditional basis, requiring all these businesses to comply with the UK’s climate objectives and should only be provided to businesses in industries that are expanding or strategically important to the UK economy.
Modernising the regions on a cleaner, greener and higher level: Looking to build on the governments ‘levelling up the regions’ policy to reduce regional inequalities, our policy consists of government funded infrastructure policies that include green investments for regions outside of the UK’s capital.
Harbouring that rainbow effect: Building on the increased community spirit that has been observed during the pandemic, this policy solution looks to increase localised community funding to maintain social cohesion and support those with mental health issues.
Lastly, as the policy recommendations focus on expanding public investment to support the recovery, it is important to consider what this means for public debt sustainability in the UK. The conclusion is that as a result of the low interest rate environment, the most efficient way out of this recession is to borrow and spend on projects that will increase resilience to future shocks and support the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy.
Please click on the link below to read about this in more detail. Comments are welcome.
In my all-time favourite book ‘Antifragile’, Nassim Taleb divides the world into 3 categories- fragile, robust and antifragile. He refers to fragility as the state of being that involves avoiding disorder and disruption for fear of the mess that threatens to disrupt your life: you think you are keeping safe, but really you are making yourself vulnerable to the shock that will tear everything apart. Robustness is the ability to stand up to shocks without flinching, without changing who you are. But you are antifragile if shocks make you better able to adapt to each new challenge you face. You are antifragile if you can opportune from disruptions, to be stronger and more creative. Taleb thinks we should all try to be antifragile!
On March 11, 2020, declared a world pandemic, the COVID-19, is an epitome of the chaotic disruption Taleb was referring to. The onset of this crisis got me pondering whether populations, institutions, financial bodies, governments and policy-makers -i.e. the world as a whole will be able to be resilient in the face of the aftermath of this crisis? Do we have the acceptance, courage and strength besides the technical, innovative and problem-solving skills to start afresh and turn this disequilibrium around into the most memorable salvation story we have ever seen? Or will we succumb to this dooming, seemingly apocalyptic spiral, and lose everything we take for granted in our day-to-day lives? When the noise of this unprecedented shock dies, will we be left at the inception of a brand new system that will push us to rethink policies, and rewrite mandates that shape, govern and structure the world?
The outbreak of this global health crisis saw a strong backlash against globalization in the form of acceleration of trends underway. Before COVID-19 slammed the global economy earlier this year, China had adopted selective international exchange rates for political incentives. This had consequently led to US-China trade wars involving up to 25% tariff imposition on Chinese imports.
In March, COVID-19 contributed to this backdrop by declining the number of cargo ships setting off for the United States by 10%. The cost of shipping goods by air nearly doubled, restricting trade further. In order to contain the outbreak of the rapidly spreading virus, countries were forced to close their borders to foreign visitors which severely restricted the movement of people worldwide.
With no signs of the situation returning to normalcy, countries are desperately trying to be “self-sufficient” by ordering factories at home to produce ventilators, banning exports of face masks, and localizing pharmaceutical supply chains even at the cost of added expenses. The declaration of a potential suspension of immigration into the U.S by the President seemed like a final nail in the coffin for the era of globalization.
The world’s response to COVID comes across as ratifying Trump’s argument for protectionism and supply chain controls. This alludes to a pressing question in such uncertain times: Will the world remain flat after the curve flattens after all? Let’s first look at what does it mean for the “world to be flat”? In the book, ‘The world is flat’ by Thomas L. Friedman, the author endorses his view of the world as a level-playing field, wherein all players have equal opportunity and the world is a global market where historical and geographic boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Globalization has persisted in different forms for decades. In my opinion, just like the dotcom bubble, 9/11 debacle, 2008 financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic too, is a temporary shock, which will perhaps change the face of globalization but not sink it. In the near future, we will likely either have a vaccine or much of the world will be infected by the virus. Either way, the current restrictions will neither be needed nor sustainable in the long run.
For instance, by the time the curve peaks, most countries will perhaps already have bought or produced enough inventory. In that case, will it really make sense to use tax-payers money on incurring exorbitant production costs to set up ventilator factories at home when their supply is already bolstered by sufficient purchase? Evidently, medical supply chains will change less than politicians currently promise!
But even after the shock evanesces, COVID-19 will heavily influence the decision-making process with regards to investment and relocation. Many argue that the crisis was an exemplary demonstration of increased risks associated with globalised supply-chains. A flip-side to the dispute is that in the quest to maximize profits and reduce the risk of localized disruption from the crisis, if anything, firms might only expand production lines across the world, creating employment more evenly, and promoting eventual global recovery. In fact, the renowned economist, Obstfeld, who served as IMF’s chief from late 2015 through 2018, said that “While global supply chains will undoubtedly change in a post-crisis economy, much of that change will be in the form of diversification, not on-shoring.”
While layoffs and increasing unemployment in a post-crisis recessive economy are inevitable, they will not mark the end of outsourcing. Turning to autarky-like economies will be too costly to be sustainable for countries world-over. There will be plenty of opportunities to employ people in jobs that demand highly skilled labour to meet the needs of the recovering economies. This will pave the way for Globalisation 3.0, described in Friedman’s book as individuals focusing on finding their foothold in the present global competition and making significant global collaborations. In fact, skill up-gradation of this form, to ensure relevance as demanded by the need of the hour, will push humans towards becoming antifragile, as recommended by Taleb.
However, “Outsourcing is just one dimension of a much more fundamental thing happening today in the world”, Friedman claims. Experts often view globalization from a one-dimensional perspective- physical goods and services crossing borders. But in fact, many intangibles- data, value, ideas, innovation frequently cross borders. In his book, Friedman emphasizes that “You don’t need to emigrate to innovate”. “Globalization in recent times has created a platform where intellectual work, intellectual capital, can be delivered from anywhere. It could be disaggregated, delivered, distributed, produced and put back together again — and this gave a whole new degree of freedom to the way work is done, especially work of an intellectual nature.” In light of this view of global integration, I believe that the world is going to get flatter. With workforces across nations getting training on Zoom video conferencing, to extensive sharing of knowledge in research on medical advances, the spillover of ideas and innovation is going to witness only an onward spur. The quantity and value of data transmitting between countries are increasing and with the high-value data processing replacing supply chains as the predominant channel of global economic exchange, I see this only increasing further.
So is the world after coronavirus tending to globalization or deglobalization? I think it depends on where you look. COVID can make it harder to ship Chelsea fan-club merchandise around the world, but no quarantine can contain cryptos from crossing borders!