What is the inflation rate during and after lockdowns?
Inflation is already hard to measure in normal times, as I discussed in Bankers are people, too (page 126-129).
But the corona crisis adds further complications. Some services are unavailable due to the corona lockdown, for example restaurant visits and air travel. To discourage hoarding, supermarkets stopped offering discounts.
The abrupt shock causes headaches for statisticians.
There are plenty of financial proposals for dealing with the corona crisis.
More government debt! Eurobonds! Helicopter money! Eliminate sovereign debt held by the ECB! Create a European investment fund!
One thing that greatly annoys me is that people don’t go into the details.
So if you want to convince me of your financial panacea, show me what it means in practice. Who are the winners and losers? What are the consequences of your plan for households, companies, banks, government finances, inflation, employment?
Two stories dominated popular economics over the past years. Both of them turn out to be useless in the current corona crisis.
Story 1: “Robots will take our jobs!”
Fact check: people lost their jobs due to shutdowns. But no robot is taking those jobs. Partly because of the nature of the crisis. We don’t want to go to crowded restaurants right now, not even if they have robot waiters. But also because robots aren’t ready. We still rely on (badly paid) people to pick fruit and to slaughter animals.
Story 2: “Crypto will replace fiat money and banks!”
Fact check: firms need cash. They don’t want bitcoin, but dollars and euros. Central banks and governments backstop the economy. This would be impossible with a cryptocurrency with a fixed supply, as I already pointed out in Bankers are people, too.
So instead of educating voters and policy makers about money, economic influencers have wasted years of popular discourse on these two sideshows.
The amount of household income spent on food varies greatly by country. In countries like the U.S., Singapore and Australia, less than 10% of consumers’ income goes to food. Households spend more than 40% of their income on food in countries like Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Algeria.
How does the coronavirus affect food affordability? Affordability is a function of incomes and food prices.
White collar workers can work from home during lockdowns. In countries with a strong social safety net, the government pays unemployment benefits to people who lose their jobs. The income loss of households due to lockdowns is modest.
On the other hand, lockdowns are devastating if they stop the informal economy and the state doesn’t support people’s incomes. Families who depend on remittances are in trouble if their relatives can’t earn and send money.
The corona crisis has hit certain sectors especially hard. Nations that depend on tourism or on the export of oil or garments face a severe dollar income shock.
The coronavirus has raised retail food prices in multiple ways.
WEIRD economists should take into account inequality before advocating lockdowns.
If you want to learn more about the impact of Covid-19 on food security, you should follow the Food Pandemic Twitter account of R. Zurayk, N. Amhaz, A.Yehya. They share a lot of news from Africa and the Arab World.
On the other hand, Michael Burry and Toby Young think that governments are overreacting. Lockdowns cause disproportionate damage to people’s lives.
All of these commentators base their recommendations on the U.S. or Western Europe. But the best response to Covid-19 might be very different in the rest of the world. Not just food affordability, but also demographics and the effectiveness of measures to contain the virus differ greatly between countries. Economists are WEIRD.