‘The cure could be worse than the disease’
Is it worth sacrificing the economy for the coronavirus? An increasing number of experts now say that the long-term impact of Covid-19 could be more devastating than the pandemic itself.
The coronavirus pandemic has drastically reshaped our society and our economy.
Governments across the world have agreed that protecting lives is more important than protecting profit.
As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “I’m not willing to put a price on a human life.” In the UK, Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised to do “whatever it takes”.
They all agree: no one needs to be sacrificed in order to save the stock market.
But is it that simple? Many critics of government strategy point to the fact that there is not a straightforward choice. Both scenarios will likely lead to a massive loss of life.
This is because an economic collapse will have devastating consequences on all aspects of society. One leading economist has said that the UK should expect “a recession of a scale we have not seen in modern history”.
Less money means fewer jobs. The US already has a record number of unemployment benefit claimants and, in the UK, it was disclosed yesterday that nearly a million UK businesses are set to go bust by the end of this month.
Fewer jobs mean less ability for people to buy food or pay rent. During the 2008-2009 financial crash, suicide rates increased almost 5% in the US and over 6% in Europe.
So, is it worth sacrificing the economy for the coronavirus?
Yes. We know that we can save lives today by taking these draconian measures. We cannot let the virus tear through society unchecked. On the other hand, the lives that may or may not be lost due to a recession are still hypothetical.
No. The coronavirus is not an existential threat to our civilisation. A large proportion of the people dying were likely to die in the coming years anyway. The choice is between a few shorter lives now or many shorter lives in the future.
- Do you agree with the lockdown where you live?
- Write a list of the shops, restaurants, and leisure centres that you are most looking forward to visiting again after the outbreak.
Some People Say...
“Nothing like this has ever happened to the economy in our lifetimes. But bringing the economy back [...] that’s more of a reversible thing than bringing people back to life.”Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- US economist Nouriel Roubini says that the “shock to the global economy from Covid-19 has been faster and more severe than the 2008 global financial crisis and even the Great Depression”. IPPR, a London think tank estimates that 130,000 people lost their lives as the result of government policy following the last financial crisis. However, during the Great Recession of the 1930s, life expectancy in the US actually increased.
- What do we not know?
- We cannot know how many more lives would be lost to the coronavirus or as a result of an overwhelmed healthcare system if we were not staying at home. We also have no idea exactly how many lives might be lost as a result of a global recession. We also do not know if any individual economy could prosper while the rest of the world is in lockdown.
- The state of a country or region in terms of the production and buying of goods and services, and the supply of money. In short, all the work and spending that happens in a single place.
- Stock market
- The stock market is where investors connect to buy and sell investments – most commonly, stocks, which are shares of ownership in a public company.
- Possible or imagined outcomes.
- Economic term meaning a decrease in the financial well-being of a nation. It technically applies after six months of a country’s GDP (gross domestic product) shrinking. GDP is the market value of all finished goods and services produced by a country in a specific time period.
- Unemployment benefit
- Money made available by a government for people who lose their job or cannot find one. It is a key part of the welfare state.
- Excessively strict or punishing measures, often enacted by a government against its citizens’ freedoms. Named after the Athenian legislator Draco.
- Based on possible ideas or situations rather than actual ones.
- That brings into question the ability to survive or live successfully. Most crises bring about some change, but an existential threat – say, aliens invading – changes everything.