Weekly Selection 6 March 2020

Simon Wren-Lewis, The economic effects of a pandemic

(Mainly Macro, March 2, 2020)

This is a simple and palatable article written by an economist with some experience in modeling the economic consequences of a pandemic. Naturally, it is full of “ifs” and assumptions. For example, if schools close for around 4 weeks that can multiply the GDP impacts (in principle quite limited) by as much as a factor of 3, and if they close for a whole quarter by twice that. An important insight: most of our consumption is “social”, and the question is: how much of it will be a permanent loss? A must-read in our opinion (reads in 7-8 min).

Anne Applebaum, Epidemics Reveal the Truth About the Societies They Hit

(The Atlantic, March 2, 2020)

The historian explains from Bologna (Italy) how a nation’s response to disaster speaks to its strengths, but also to its dysfunctions. She refers to “The Plague” – the novel that Albert Camus wrote in 1947. Although often read as an allegory, it also wonderfully describes people’s reactions. She reminds us that all of a sudden the value of expertise (which populists despise) becomes crystal clear - “Suddenly, facts matter”. Applebaum also highlights the criticality of a public-health culture that inspires confidence (reads in 7-8 min).

Vivian Mang, ‘When Can We Go to School?’ Nearly 300 Million Children Are Missing Class

(The New York Times, March 5, 2020)

The consequences of the coronavirus will be multifaceted, unprecedented and profound. Here is an example. There are already 300 million children missing class, prompting the UN to declare that: “the global scale and speed of the educational disruption from the coronavirus epidemic is unparalleled.” Closing schools seems inevitable, but will have untold repercussions for children and societies at large (reads in 6-7 min).

Rivka Galchen, How South Korea Is Composting Its Way to Sustainability

(The New Yorker, March 2, 2020)

This is a longish (20min), well-written article that explains how and why South Korea became a world leader in reducing food waste. High tech helps a great deal: automated bins, rooftop farms, and underground mushroom growing help clean up the mess + RFID chips used in some municipalities to insure that households pay in proportion to the amount of waste they produce. The thirteen thousand tons of food waste produced daily in South Korea now become one of three things: compost (30%), animal feed (60%), or biofuel (10%).

Yuki Noguchi, Enjoy The Extra Day Off! More Bosses Give 4-Day Workweek A Try

(NPR, February 20, 2020)

When the coming global pandemic is over, it will change many things that we take for granted. The four-day workweek might be one of them. At a time when Covid-19 is forcing an increasing number of employees to work less or remotely, many companies around the world have already started to embrace this seemingly radical idea. The concept is gaining ground in places as varied as New Zealand and Russia, and it's making inroads among some American companies. Employers are seeing surprising benefits, including higher sales and profits (reads in 4-5 min).