When in doubt about a financial crisis, ask financial experts. That’s what NPR did about the current state of monetary affairs because of the coronavirus pandemic. No one piece of advice can with total certainty help us to survive the simultaneously occurring catastrophic events of pandemic and economic meltdown. However, economists do have a number of ideas about what to do not only in combating Covid-19 but also in keeping the financial ship of state from sinking.
Below are some of their solutions. Common threads include avoiding layoffs at any cost, supporting workers—particularly those at the low end of the pay scale—and the health care system with necessary cash and supplies and swift and decisive action by the federal government, and some other interesting ideas:
11. Limit the harm to the most vulnerable workers.
According to Megan Greene, a global economist and senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, protecting the least among workers—both hourly workers and owners of small businesses—has to be a priority.
10. Federally support a work-sharing program.
Greene points out that cutting hours, rather than laying off workers, has worked successfully in other countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, with the government stepping in to provide either a tax credit or unemployment insurance to make up for some of the lost wages.
Not only does this cut the payrolls of small- and medium-sized businesses during the crisis, so they can survive, once the crisis has passed those businesses can ramp up more quickly.
9. Contain the health care crisis.
According to Penny Goldberg, an economics professor at Yale University and former chief economist of the World Bank Group, it’s vital to move strongly and quickly to help health care do its job—as well as to reassure people that the government will “reinvigorate the economy post crisis.”
8. Move massive resources to the health care sector.
Goldberg says that not only must economic policy increase the supply of masks, sanitizer, alcohol, respirators and ventilators, the government must step in and use the Defense Production Act to treat the situation as a war, to move quickly and get needed supplies where they need to be as quickly as possible.
And in a war, copays, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs should be waived, with everyone getting the care they need whether they can pay for it or not.
7. Ban evictions, foreclosures and bankruptcy filings, and put out the cash payments to everyone as quickly as possible.
In line with keeping citizens healthy and functioning, Goldberg adds that such financial emergencies must be dispensed with.
It’s more important to get cash into the hands of all people quickly than it is to “get it right” with regard to focusing only on those in dire need.
6. Avoid layoffs at any cost.
People who lose jobs and have no assurance that they’ll have a job to go back to when the crisis is over will be demoralized; according to Goldberg, if people aren’t shown that we’re all in this together, “we are risking not recession but complete collapse of civil order.”
5. Institute aggressive fiscal stimulus after the crisis.
Goldberg advocates this move to reinvigorate the economy and calls it “imperative.”
4. Take drastic steps for public health.
Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of sustainable development at Columbia University, suggests that a complete lockdown, coupled with rapid testing and tracing capacity, will break transmission of the virus. In addition, the health sector has to be supported to cope with the current surge of illness.
3. Government funds to pay for essential health and social support.
Sachs also says it’s essential to provide emergency and immediately available federal financing for states and cities providing money for the health sector and the social support of the lockdown, with health and social workers, protection equipment, isolation areas, and other necessary measures.
2. Federal provision of cash and credit backing to keep workers supported.
According to Sachs, expanded unemployment compensation and tax credits to keep workers on payroll are also necessary, with most of it debt financed.
1. Continue to find ways to support workers at the low end of the pay scale.
Gita Gopinath, chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, points out the immediate financial hardship faced particularly by workers hardest hit by social distancing. They must be first in line for cash and tax credit assistance just to keep going, and given better support by longer-duration, higher-paying unemployment insurance.