Updated: Jul 3, 2020
We are staring down the barrel of a pandemic at the minute. As if that weren’t bad enough, the economy has also gone to the dogs. How we react should pull on history’s great success stories when fighting an economic depression.
Coronavirus has come about at a time we were already forecast to go into some form of economic downturn. These recessions and minor depressions are rather common and come as a matter of routine. However, Coronavirus has undoubtedly accelerated what would be a minor downturn, into a full-scale depression. As I wrote in a previous piece, Coronavirus is something of a shot across the bow for the world. I mean that in the sense that, whilst this is an awful moment in human history, it is by no means the end.
We are not at the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.
Ultimately, we have to draw on lessons learnt in this pandemic, to implement sound policy during our next global health crisis. Likewise, we have to look back into history to gauge the dos and don’ts on healing an ailing economy.
Economics is by no means an exact science. It is led by ideology and speculation, more so than it is by hard data and objectivity. In a similar vein, there is, and will never be, a silver bullet for fixing an economic depression. What may work in one instance, would likely not work in another. Just like each human body, each economy will react to different injections and stimuli differently.
Though, one proposal that appeals to me, particularly in this case, would be an act of fiscal stimulus. Expanding, I mean that the state should, in true Keynesian fashion, pump lots of money into the inevitably deprived UK economy. However, my proposal here only focuses on one single piece of post-Coronavirus fiscal policy: Direct Fiscal Stimulus.
What does Direct Fiscal Stimulus mean?
Well, it’s as simple as putting money in the hands of the people. I know, crazy commie stuff, right?
Well, not really. After the housing market crashed in 2008, and during the ensuing depression, in an attempt to recover its economy quickly, the Australian government gave roughly $960 (AUD) to each tax-paying citizen. The only catch was that they had to go out and spend it. Naturally, our antipodean cousins were all too happy to oblige.
The benefits of simply putting more money into the economy meant that both bigger and smaller business could benefit. There are no use cutting taxes for businesses when the bigger chains will benefit, but the smaller, independent businesses won’t – because no one’s buying anything.
Now, add into the equation the fact that, unlike other depressions in recent history, the nature of the Coronavirus pandemic has meant that people across the world have to isolate themselves. They are literally required not to go to work in some areas. In my mind, is the hairdresser in your town, the family-owned butchers and the newsagents who, because of the general reluctancy to spend, will be failing to make ends meet. My mind is not with the Amazons, the Googles and the Apples of this world. Sure, they’ll take a hit, but it’ll be nothing but a ding in their metal-clad suits.
Politically, I might add, this proposal would be an absolute storm of positivity. Especially if governments framed it as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Instead of marketing it as a dry 'economic stimulus', governments could market it as a citizen’s solidarity payment.
We all got through it together, now here’s some money to go and buy something that will lift your spirits.
Not only would it seem like a kind gesture from the state to the people, but it would also be an act of recognition – and a great unifier for the nation.
I mentioned they did this in Australia. So, to what extent did it help to fix the issues in post-crash Australia? Well, as I said, economics is never an exact science & with so many measures taken during the 2008-09˜, it’s difficult to conclude with any major certainty whether or not it helped. However, the Australian GDP increased faster than most in the 5-year period following the crash & many Australians swear that the money given to them by the government was key to that speedy recovery.
A sign of the times
As we move into the 2020s, we’re beginning to see the emergence of a new line of economic thinking. That’s not to say neoliberalism has been dispatched quite yet, but there is a new line inbound. For me, this new epoch has been ushered into the political mainstream by Andrew Yang – whose run for the Democratic nominee in 2020 was built on Universal Basic Income.
This is relevant because UBI is now being talked about in the political mainstream as a way of putting money into people’s hands while they’re out of work. I like the idea, but it doesn’t solve a whole lot whilst everybody’s trapped at home.
Nevertheless, when taking into consideration that UBI is being spoken of in the hallways of power, the proposal of a one-off payment to citizens in order to boost morale and the economy seems slightly less zany.
Once this is over, people will emerge from their homes with newfound despair; an economic depression. Let’s combat it in a way that helps us all.
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