Weekly Selection 13 March 2020

Willem Buiter, The Wealth and Health of Nations

(Project Syndicate, March 10, 2020)

Until very recently, most analysts on the sell-side were being remarkably complacent about the economic impact of the pandemic. As Citi’s former chief economist explains, it remains uncertain but is potentially disastrous. A possible return to subsistence production, even if temporary, could be immensely damaging economically. The global economy is now at the stage where output and production are entering a material and possibly persistent decline, due to the disruption of established channels for market transactions (reads in 6-7 min).

Philippe Legrain, The Coronavirus Is Killing Globalization as We Know It

(Foreign Policy, March 12, 2020)

This article argues that although much of the disruption created by the pandemic may be temporary, it could have a lasting impact on globalization because it reinforces other trends that are already undermining it. In particular, it may deal a blow to fragmented international supply chains, reduce the hypermobility of global business travelers, and provide political fodder for nationalists who favour greater protectionism and immigration controls (reads in 5-6 min).

Umberto Eco, Best Invention; How the Bean Saved Civilization

(The New York Times, April 18, 1999)

This article is more than 20 years old, but as one would expect from the polymath who died in 2016, it is brilliant. Eco reminds us that it would be a good thing if we learned to learn something from the Dark Ages. As the article makes clear, life in the Dark Ages was incredibly tough and characterized by a great deal of uncertainty, misery and repeated pandemics. It is only in the past 50 years that humankind has overcome its natural condition of fragility. This is the reason why some philosophers and social scientists describe the current pandemic as “return to normal” (reads in 10-13 min).

Mia de Graaf, Photos show why hand sanitizer doesn't work as well as soap and water to remove germs

(Business Insider, March 6, 2020)

Proper hand washing can be effective in slowing the pandemic. Recent research conducted at MIT concludes that (1) improving the rate of hand washing at just 10 major world airports could significantly slow the spread of a viral disease, and (2) the greater the improvement in people's hand washing habits at airports, the more dramatic the effect on slowing the disease. This article shows how to do it properly (reads in 5-6 min).

Jon Henley, Coronavirus: nine reasons to be reassured

(The Guardian, March 7, 2020)

At a time when it feels as if the sky is falling in on us, it is important to put things into perspective: context is key and today’s world is better placed to deal with the pandemic than we might think. Read on to get a good sense of what the nine reasons are (reads in 5-6 min).