[ Parent Question — LessWrong Coronavirus Agenda ]

What will the economic effects of COVID-19 be?

by Elizabeth1 min read24th Mar 202031 comments

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Covid-19
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Obviously there's a lot of potential answers to this and it's hard to comprehensive. That's okay. The goal is to make incremental progress on the broad topic and identify specific points that would benefit from further research.

Note: These questions are intended to provoke more babble than prune. But even the babbliest thing should be presented such that other people can build on it. So if you have a prediction, share the reasoning or data behind it as well.

Note 2: This question has more potential to get political than most. I’m not going to disallow that, because the political process is crucial to what’s going to happen in the next few months, but please tread very very carefully, and I’m going to be fairly aggressive at curbing potential demon threads.


Note 3/31/2020: Renamed from "What will the economic effects of a 3 week quarantine be? 3 months?" to current title, which better reflects how we were treating it.

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8 Answers

Here's my rough sketch of what might happen to large manufacturing companies due to shutdowns within the supply chain.

Costs of other people's shutdowns

Different countries / companies are likely to have different shutdown periods.

Supply chains are highly international so shutdowns in one country have huge knock-on effects. Most companies will aim to be dual sourced on critical components which require long qualification periods but this isn't always simple. Even if dual sourced, bringing up the second source to cover the loss from the other won't happen overnight, if at all.

For instance, say you buy a critical component from Italy. It's dual sourced but on an 80:20 ratio so if Italy shuts down then your the potential output drops by 80%.

In reality stock levels will often sit at 30 days so for a shorter shutdown there is some slack. However, 30 days is an average. With enough different components you're likely to be low-ish on stock for at least a couple of components and may be forced to drop output.

The other side of this is customers. Some customers will shut their production lines, others stay open. If your product in fairly homogenous this might be fine and match your incoming component levels. With a wider product range you may find that your supply line fails in the place where you most need the components.

The above will apply to a lesser extent where companies have to slow production.

Cost of your shutdown

Whilst you're shut down you aren't producing anything. This obviously has the direct impact of reducing turnover to 0 for however long you're closed. This is almost certainly the biggest impact. If the government steps in to cover this (at least partly, e.g. the UK government will pay 80% of wages) then large manufacturers shouldn't have an issue. Even if they have a temporary cash flow problem, the banks are likely to step in to help out.

Costs like renting the space that you're in might still need to be paid. However if you're struggling then whoever you're renting off doesn't really have the option to rent out to someone else in the short term so there may be some renegotiating being done (I'm less confident about this point - I'm not sure how the contracts would work out).

When you shutdown you probably already have lots of goods on their way to you by sea. My guess is that if possible people will try to get these accepted into the factory although I know some deliveries are being turned away if they have come through a high risk country.

When you reopen, everything will be a mess and the first week will be chaos (although with people working from home maybe this can be minimised with good planning). For a month or so things will be a bit muddled so efficiency won't be optimal.

You'll have some customers chasing you to get product immediately. I guess there'll be a huge demand for airfreight - maybe this is how the airlines can recuperate some of their losses?

There may need to be some working with customers and suppliers on contractual terms of payment etc. In normal circumstances these are very tightly controlled but I would anticipate that most companies will be able to take the practical approach and overcome the bureaucracy which is inherent in such negotiations, due to the exceptional circumstances. Companies which are unable/unwilling to do this are likely to suffer additional damage.

Smaller companies

The above mostly applies to smaller manufacturers but to a lesser degree.

They are likely to be lower on the list of priorities for banks to sort out emergency loans which could cause a number to go out of business. This may be the target of additional government intervention.

Supply chains are likely less complex and so have fewer critical point to go wrong. They are also probably able to switch suppliers more easily if required.

They will manage to get things sorted out more easily before and afterwards.

Smaller companies have less leverage in negotiating new contracts. In purchasing this is offset by probably being able to be more flexible. In sales this is harder if they are selling to larger companies.

Overall economy

So multiply the above throughout the economy and you get a large variation across companies depending on how the individual supply chains which they are a part of are hit. Everyone will kind of muddle through as best they can but things will be far from efficient for as long as there are significant parts of the world in lockdown, even for companies which aren't in lockdown.

The obvious cost of lockdown (lack of productivity) is likely to be the most important and other considerations are likely to be large but considerably smaller.

***

I wrote the above and then realised that this was based on the assumption that overall demand for your product will be the same a year after lockdown as it was a year before. For many industries this is probably true but others (e.g. some luxury goods?) might not bounce back fully or might bounce back into a different shape than before. This is a completely different question that I'm not sure how to answer.

Lessons from China

Although certainly not a perfect comparison, I've been interested in the first trends in consumer behaviour emerging out of China after 3 months of social distancing and strict quarantine in key areas.

Disclaimer: The report quoted below has limitations but is also one of the very few English sources of market data I could find so far. I still think it might be an interesting exercise to look at the data and try to ask how might the trends be different in the US.

Link to report

Sample:

  • 900 respondents, 300 people from three Tier 1 cities: Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou
  • each group was presented with 3 scenarios (Note: it seems that since the survey was conducted the reality has proven it's partly the base case (we're seeing lowering cases in China) and pessimistic (global spread).
    • optimistic (COVID mortality rate < 1%, infections dramatically reduce starting Feb)
    • base ( 40,000+ cases, 1,000+ deaths, stabilization by May/June)
    • pessimistic (numbers continue to grow, more cities become quarantined, global spread, destabilization continues until end of 2020)
    • 4 main consumer types & overall trend:
      • Young professionals - resilient in spending, most likely to start spending on travel the fastest, as things stabilize
      • Retired consumers with lower incomes - spending will drop overall with a predicted exception for packaged goods
      • Mature consumers with higher incomes - largely unaffected but predicted to lower luxury spending under the pessimistic scenario
      • White-collar mothers - most likely to reduce spending on clothing and cosmetics

Key highlights:

1. Overall consumers do not expect drastic changes in their demand, with respondents only expecting a 17% change in their budget from 2019.

2. 60% are likely to spend the same or more in the next 3 months vs the same period in 2019.

3. Under all scenarios, reduction in travel and dining out spending is the highest, but also the quickest to recover under the optimistic scenario. Especially for lower-income customers, demand for packaged goods is likely to increase the most, the worse the scenario.

4. In terms of online buying, household goods and luxury items might experience the strongest move to e-commerce, the longer the duration of the coronavirus situation.

5. Especially for high-income mature consumers, demand for electronic devices is predicted to increase under pessimistic scenario.

Some other interesting facts from China I stumbled upon:

1. Quick rebound in air travel demand - a 78% increase in the past 6 weeks

2. Negative social effects of putting 760M people in quarantine:

3. The current drop in pollution levels, if sustained over 2 months, could save 4,000 kids under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70 in China

4. Quick facts from a Twitter thread by Nicole Quinn (Lightspeed Ventures investor):

  • mental health - DAU for the Tencent's new mental health program grew from 330k before the outbreak to 36m after
  • cooking revolution - in February grocery delivery was +60%, food delivery was down 50% while recipe app usage grew +44.
  • internet use - daily internet usage/person increased from 6.1 hrs before the crisis to 7.3 hrs after

I'd be interested to brainstorm which of these trends are likely to be seen in the US/Europe in the next couple of months and what might be different.

If anyone has other sources of data (or perhaps knows Chinese and could share some local reports), that would be great!

One piece of this is how many businesses will go out of business.

My cousin, who owns a small business, suggested that 50-75% of small businesses might go under based on a couple of months of being unable to earn money. I don't know enough specifics to dissect exactly what that means but just to name some more specific questions that probably have answers:

How much operating runway do most small businesses have?

How much of that determination is based on rent, and how likely is it that they will have rent payments suspended for a month or more?

How much of that is from payroll, and how much lower will payroll costs be? Presumably much lower for businesses that are not operating at all.

Will employees return to work without difficulty in general?

What will be provided in terms of government assistance?

If a large number of small businesses go under, this will have significant downstream effects on the economy.

Will business lot rents go down?

Where will business owners transition for work?

Will some job markets be flooded? Which ones? How much will this vary by area?

27. That's the number of days that nearly half of all the small businesses in the United States can go without making any revenue.

Source: NPR https://www.npr.org/2020/03/20/819293063/our-covid-19-indicators-of-the-week

Some questions that seem relevant to my overall model here:

  • What percentage of the economy is "essential business?", according to most shelter-in-place laws?
  • What percentage should be considered "essential business" for purposes of maintaining longterm supply chains? California lists "critical manufacturing" as an essential industry but I wouldn't be that surprised if it turned out to be missing pieces that turn out to be important for longterm functioning.
  • What fraction of jobs currently "can't be remote", but which could become remote with retooling?
  • I know one person who's already been laid off. I suspect there should be numbers somewhere we can look for how many people were laid off in the first 2 weeks, which may give us some inkling of what's to come.
What percentage of the economy is "essential business?", according to most shelter-in-place laws?

Ballpark: 40m, out of 160m total.

I made a spreadsheet, using the CA definition but numbers for all of the US. It's not perfect- some industries I couldn't find at all (communications is the biggest blank space), the divisions used by the statistics don't map perfectly to the divisions used by the CA definitions, most numbers are from 2018, etc. But it's a start.

I suspect there should be numbers somewhere we can look for how many people were laid off in the first 2 weeks,

3.3m people filed for unemployment insurance in America in the last week. The previous record was 700k in 1982, when the population was 230m

UChicago professors use survey data to estimate 1/3 of jobs can be done at home, accounting for 44% of payroll. See here, scroll down to "How Many Jobs Can Be Done At Home?"

I don't think the question can be answered as posed, because it is underspecified. In the comparative, realist case, however, I think it is overwhelmingly obvious that the impacts are positive - i.e. far less negative than not imposing them.

First, the question of economic effects is a comparative one, i.e. what will be the economic effects compared to not having quarantine. That means we're asking about how much quarantine changes the economy compared to some other policy - and which one matters greatly. If the alternative is required masks in public, maximum gathering sizes of 5 people in a room, and physical distancing enforced by large fines, the difference is far smaller than if the alternative is a request to return to status quo ante.

Second, the question is also potentially either a counterfactual one, or a realist one. That is, either we are asking what the counterfactual economic effects are if we could control reaction completely, and not implement a quarantine, or we are asking what the world realistically looks like in a world where we do not implement a quarantine now. The second case is one where two weeks from today, as the death toll in the US and elsewhere mounts to currently unimaginable to the public levels, people would be demanding that politicians reverse course - and you would have even more strict quarantine, for longer, that is less effective due to the delay. If politicians were able to withstand this pressure, this might not be relevant, but it should be clear that in the US and most other places, they simply will not - when death tolls are in the 10s of thousands, and increasing rapidly, instead of holding course, they would reimpose the quarantine, if not overreact in the other direction. That would mean ordering months of full quarantine instead of weeks and slowly relaxing them when prudent, and instead going further than public health officials recommend, creating potentially even more severe economic impact.

I basically agree with "this question really depends on what the counterfactual is." (And I personally guess the counterfactual is 'knee-jerk-quarantine response in a couple weeks that is worse than swift action on all dimensions.') 

I still think the question is useful for a couple reasons: 

Simplifying the problem

For "what policies should governments do, and/or what should people advocate for?", the ultimate answer is pretty complex, includes "what you expect the government to do by default, and what do you think the easiest thing to get them to

... (read more)

I think of we're talking about the counterfactual with the best tradeoffs, it might look something like quarantining the most vulnerable populations while having others get back to work.

The ILO (international labour Organization, a UN agency) has a report on this.

Some key findings: Estimated increase in unemployment of 5-25 million - c.f. 22 million for 2008-9 crisis

These based on assumptions of 2-8% drop in global gdp

Value add from Chinese Industrial was down 13.5% in Jan/Feb

We need a rapid test to identify people with immunity, so they can go back to work.

Quarantine is worth it, hospitals are overwhelmed, but it is failing, and will continue to fail. The sooner we can identify people who have gotten it and recovered, then put those people to work in high exposure occupations, the sooner we can restart the economy.

The classes of treatment needed here are as follows:

Rapid pcr test: expensive, and needed for surveillance of key workers, as well as contact tracing. We have this, but it won't scale.

Vaccine: this enables eradication, but is a minimum of 18 months away, and the effort may fail

Post exposure prophylaxis: something given before or immediately after exposure that stops the disease in its tracks (healthcare workers need this, if antimalarials do the job, yay we know those are safe and effective prophylactically)

Symptomatic relief: something given when early symptoms show, which pregents the development of catastrophic symptoms (the malaria drug will hopefully fit this)

Catastrophic care: more and better ventilators and ways of managing ards/cytokine storm. Gl with this, we wanted it before thia crisis.

Rapid antibody test: identifies patients who are exposed. Two weeks after a positive test, if the patient hasn't been admitted to a hospital, it will be safe to say that that particular patient will not require that level of care and is probably no longer contagious.

We need the rapid antibody test, and we need about a billion of them, do rolling tests, if someone has a positive test and thinks they had symptoms > 1 week prior, return them to work and tell them to avoid anyone with a negative test for a week, if they can.

Antibody tests are here but are not being used to reopen (worries that people will variolate to go back to work, if that's the case wtf is wrong with your economy).

Prophylaxis and symptomatic relief appears to be 'Vitamin D to mitigate the bradykinin storm': https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-77093-z "As per the flexible approach in the current COVID-19 pandemic authors recommend mass administration of vitamin D supplements to population at risk for COVID-19." Sure ok, one weird trick that actually works, nice.

Rapid PCR and in New Zealand, full g... (read more)

This is more about expanding the question with slightly more specific questions:

Currently it seems like there are many people who are not scared enough, but I wonder if sentiment could quickly go the other way?

A worst-case scenario for societal collapse is that some "essential" workers are infected and others decide that it is too risky to keep working, and there are not enough people to replace them. Figuring out which sectors might be most likely to have critical labor shortages seems important.

An example of a "labor" shortage might be a lack of volunteers for blood donations.

Other than that, logistical supply bottlenecks seem more of an issue?

It seems likely that supply will be more important than demand until the recovery phase and then a big question will be to what extent do people make a persistent change in their preferences. Going without stuff for a while might cause some reconsideration about how important it actually is. An example might be that more people learn to cook and decide they like it, or maybe they try Soylent or whatever. Or, perhaps exercising in a gym is less important for people who get into an exercise routine at home or outside?

Maybe private ownership of cars and suburban living (enforcing social distance) get a boost, along with increased remote work making it more practical. The costs of lower density living might not seem so pressing?

5 Related Questions

Parent Question
Sub-Questions
3William Walker1yOne thing we can do is eliminate inventory taxes... this is one reason that companies were forced into just-in-time. We currently punish people for being prepared for any emergency ;)
4Answer by Elizabeth1yArticle claims beer and soda are endangered by the reduction in driving. CO2 comes mostly from ethanol production, which is on the decline. https://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/beer-may-lose-its-fizz-as-co2-supplies-go-flat-during-pandemic.amp [https://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/beer-may-lose-its-fizz-as-co2-supplies-go-flat-during-pandemic.amp]
2alkexr1yBeing self-sufficient and robust as a national economy is accepting a competitive disadvantage relative to a global just-in-time supply chain in times of prosperity in exchange for a competitive advantage during a crisis. Selection pressures will push economies accepting this tradeoff towards being actively interested in a world with more crises.
2CellBioGuy1yYou ascribe too much agency to the great hulking amoebas that human societies are.
2orthonormal1yThe idea that having insurance from another bank counts as passing a stress test doesn't match any source on the first page of Google search results for "stress test banks"; the more specific ones mention that the requirement is maintaining at least 4.5% capital (as Dodd-Frank requires) on hand at the peak of the stress test scenario. Is there a source which says that banks are using massive insurance policies to pass these in place of capital?

Found my source.

What regulators spotted a couple of years ago is that banks were buying very focused packages of insurance that would pay off in exactly the scenarios of the stress tests. They had no commercial reason whatsoever, and were in fact probably quite expensive pieces of insurance to purchase. But it meant that the bank could, with a really straight face say, 'Well, you know what? In this stressful scenario we'd be totally fine.' And what's going on under the table is, 'Yeah, because our bet that this scenario would happe
... (read more)
2orthonormal1yThat's unfortunate to hear, and it seems like it could have been different. In the case of food supply chains, though, it would be just a literal matter of counting and not accepting IOUs for food in lieu of actual physical food.
1sh4kesbeer10moYou miss (amongst others) division of labour and specialisation / non-uniform skills. In your example the GDP might not be a good measure because every participant can stand on either side of each transaction, which makes it kind of a zero sum game. It is well known that economic interchange is not a zero sum game (citation needed, could not come up with a precise one). Extrapolating this, you would need to be able to stand on each side of all interactions that lead to the global GDP. Your example even breaks down when you assume that the bread-baking neighbour is baking bread not only for you but for others, too. In that case economies of scale come into play which favour specialisation towards one baking all the bread and others (maybe investing into better lawnmowers and their handling skills) mowing the lawns.
2Dagon10moSure, I absolutely agree that that specialization and trade very often makes all participants better off. I only claim that not all financial transactions are this, and I claim that many beneficial behaviors are not tracked financially. Financial aggregates are only a proxy for what we want, and our current common measures have been Goodhart-ed to the extent that they're actively misleading on many topics. I hold little hope for adding other measurements, and I recognize that Goodhart will apply to them as well, but it would be nice if people were more cognizant that money != value.
3Answer by Max Hodges1yI think you make light of the fact that 861,664 families lost their homes to foreclosure in 2008
2Viliam1yMy experience seemed in the opposite direction. The government was like: "stop buying face masks, you worthless muggles will waste them on yourselves, and there will be not enough left for doctors," and my neighbors on Facebook were like: "so I am staying at home with nothing much to do, and I happen to have a sewing machine, so if anyone would like to have a nice face mask for $X, just send me a private message; there are also kid-sized ones with pictures of cute animals". And in a few days I brought home a full bag of them. So it's like industry: 0; government: 0; random agenty individuals: 1. Many shops and restaurants who didn't do this before, now offer online shopping. Sometimes starting with amateur solutions like: "I am not allowed to let people enter my restaurant these days, but cooking and selling food is technically still allowed, so if you send me a private message, I can meet you in front of my restaurant and sell you the food in a box". And a month later you see an official web application that obviously needs some more testing, but hey, it mostly works, and now you can pay online and come for the product. Not only food, but also other products which are considered non-essential, so it is not allowed to open the shop, but buying online is allowed, and this hybrid "you pay online, then you knock on my door and I give you the box in front of my shop" is technically considered online shopping. I think it is likely I could buy a handmade cocktail on Facebook. The problem is, this is mostly black market. My neighbors who sell the face masks are almost certainly violating dozen different regulations. But they can relatively safely assume no one would snitch on them. (Because they trade with neighbors; and because they provide something that is considered necessary but difficult to obtain using the official channels.) Offering home-made cocktails would probably be more risky. In the economy full of regulations, trading on the market has a non-trivial fi
8Answer by Elizabeth1yPrediction: Births will decline precipitously (BOTEC: 20%-60%). A normal recession [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/5mWjazfyLCka6Knk2/what-happens-in-a-recession-anyway#fJgmcixYkukqdmcP2] sees a drop in birth rates of ~9%, although that is typically made up mostly of delays rather than entirely foregone children. Due to fear around interaction with the medical system, I expect it to drop much more than that. BOTEC: ~40% of births in the US [https://abcnews.go.com/Health/cdc-40-percent-us-births-unintended/story?id=16840288] result from unplanned pregnancies. If no one took any additional precautions due to covid and everyone who was planning a pregnancy chose to postpone, that would decrease births by 60%. In reality I expect some "unplanned" pregnancies to be planned out of existence as people take more precautions, and some people to plan pregnancies even given the circumstances (disproportionately older women whose fertility window is running out, although births using fertility treatments will decline), but 60% is still a good upper bound. I expect at least as many people to prevent pregnancy due to covid as prevent pregnancy during a recession, so there should be a minimum of 2x as many foregone or delayed births. With rounding, that's a 20% floor.
1PeterMcCluskey1yI don't see any signs that inflation calculations are expected to become less honest. There are certainly lots of opinions about how well the CPI measures what we want it to measure, but it has worked pretty well for Fed policy issues in the past, and I expect that to continue.

Technically the current recession won't be an official recession until the end of Q2, after two months of GDP decline. But this won't be a recession like any other we've seen in the 21st or 20th Centuries, so let's not quibble over definitions.

We've never before seen 10 million jobs lost in two weeks. And still haven't. The actual number is likely far higher, but most unemployment is run by the States, and many States have antiquated systems that couldn't handle the application load. Here in April it's months too... (read more)

Trends in divorce continue basically unabated

This paper, the only long-time-scale survey I could find, reports a minor negative correlation between unemployment rates and divorce. However looking at their graph, the relationship is obviously mild.

Image

For posterity: I expected there to be a large, detectable drop in divorce rates during recessions and then a spike as soon as the recession ended.

Religious Service Attendance Stays Flat

I was really surprised to find a single academic paper in the last 40 years on religiosity and economic conditions, which was not available online. It reports a "strong" countercyclic effect in religious participation in evangelical Protestants but procyclic effect in mainline Protestants, in the 2001 recession. Meanwhile a Pew poll and a Gallup poll show no change in religious participation during the 2008 recession.


For posterity: I'd predicted an increase in attendance.


People die a little less often, especially in nursing homes.

Note: data is for the United States only

Deaths go down during recessions; according to Ruhm 2002, a 1% decrease in the unemployment rate is associated with an average 0.4% rise in total mortality (about 13,000 deaths, relative to the average of ~2.8m). This is counterintuitive, because wealth is associated with longevity (e.g. Chetty et al. 2016) . There were a lot of potential explanations for this centering on how work was dangerous and didn’t leave time for health, but it turns out most... (read more)

3PeterMcCluskey1yRobin Hanson has blogged a bit about the healthy-recession puzzle: less exercise [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2011/09/recessions-cut-exercise.html]; he also mentioned nursing employment somewhere that I can't seem to find.

Here's a very compressed summary and some links on standard economic theory around recessions. Of course economists argue about this stuff to no end, so take it all with a grain of salt.

First, there's a high-level division around what causes recessions. Two main models:

  • Real shocks: a hurricane, war, virus, etc directly decreases economic output.
  • Sticky prices + volatile currency: contracts are denominated in dollars, so if the value of a dollar goes up relative to everything else, lots of debtors/employers/etc are unable to pay.

The former is the d... (read more)

6Vaniver1yOne interesting point on this front is that the cost to road work and infrastructure improvements is lower now than it normally is, so if you figure out a way to do construction work safely, you could justify above-baseline investment in some major capital sinks. (It's unclear to me how licensing restrictions come into play here; you have millions of unemployed, but you might not be able to use them to build and repair bridges and roads.)

Effect of Economic Downturns on Fertility

The effect of economic downturns on births is surprisingly complicated. On one hand, people have less money and kids are expensive*, which you would expect to lead to fewer children. On the other hand, a reduction in employment expectations reduces the opportunity cost of children, which you would expect to lead to more.

For the rest of this article, I will by default be referring to WEIRD countries.

Based primarily on Economic recession and fertility in the developed world and spot checking its sources, my conclusi... (read more)

micpie's answer here is good! I don't have a lot to add to it.

Here are a few related reference-links* and a tiny bit of commentary.

... (read more)
7Answer by Elizabeth1yBill Gates is on it. [https://www.businessinsider.com.au/bill-gates-factories-7-different-vaccines-to-fight-coronavirus-2020-4]
2Raemon1yWell that's reassuring.
1Kenny1yFrom this comment [https://siderea.dreamwidth.org/1607569.html?thread=13370001#cmt13370001] on a post to which I recently linked on this site [https://siderea.dreamwidth.org/1607569.html?thread=13370001#cmt13370001]: So, as a sort of sub-question to this one: What are the costs, benefits, and logistics of opening new facilities for the entire supply chain for vaccine facilities?
2ChristianKl1yAccording to the main investor in CureVac, there current plan is to make the vaccine generally available at the end of the year: https://www.focus.de/finanzen/boerse/weil-biotech-leben-rettet-curevac-investor-im-fruehsommer-koennen-wir-mit-dem-test-des-impfstoffs-am-menschen-beginnen_id_11829181.html [https://www.focus.de/finanzen/boerse/weil-biotech-leben-rettet-curevac-investor-im-fruehsommer-koennen-wir-mit-dem-test-des-impfstoffs-am-menschen-beginnen_id_11829181.html]
2ChristianKl1yThey said that currently they can produce 10,000,000 per campaign and with the new facility they can produce 1,000,000,000 per campaign in the press call. Unfortunately, they didn't specify how long a campaign is going to last. Last year they got some funds to develop a portable facility (The RNA Printer) that can produce 1,000,000 doses in two weeks.
2Davidmanheim1yUnfortunately, 1bn doses is likely no more than a quarter of the world's need - less if COVID is stopped more places.
16 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:59 AM

Assumption: we shouldn't expect to be able to make strong quantitative predictions unless we also expect to be able to get rich playing the markets.

That leaves qualitative predictions about things that might change. What sort of predictions of this sort were made during other crises? How did they pan out? Who has a surprisingly good track record? Can we solicit from them? What surprising actions are they taking at present? What can be inferred from that?

You can still make quantitative predictions with uncertainty. Note that beating the market isn't impossible (someone has to make the market efficient) and even if you don't have enough data to beat the market, that just means you make your confidence intervals larger. The point of Bayesian epistemology is that even large uncertainty can be quantified.

Assumption: we shouldn't expect to be able to make strong quantitative predictions unless we also expect to be able to get rich playing the markets.

Not really. It's perfectly possible to make accurate quantitative economic predictions.

1. I think we are all relatively confident that by 2021-01-01 more than 100k deaths will be attributed to COVID-19 (globally). Even though the market has certainly "priced it in", that change in prices doesn't change the underlying reality. There are economic realities, such as the number of people who are likely to be unemployed, which are not meaningfully influenced by changes in asset prices.

2. We know that tourism revenue will be greatly depressed over the next few months. Carnival Corporation, for example (the largest cruise ship operator), will probably make 80% less money than it would have had the pandemic not happened. I know this because the price was at $52 and now it's at $13. Asset prices *are* strong quantitative predictions! I agree that we're unlikely to be able to make predictions which beat those of the market. But epistemically that's great news! You now have a mountain of asset prices to make predictions with. e.g. VIX futures are still expensive, the market is expecting the situation to evolve rapidly.

Assumption: we shouldn't expect to be able to make strong quantitative predictions unless we also expect to be able to get rich playing the markets.

I'm confused about your distinction between quantitative and qualitative. The way I understand "quantitative", there isn't profit to be made off of every such prediction-- for example, if copper alloys become widely used in hospitals and consumer products for its antimicrobial properties, the impact on copper prices would be tiny, and the companies making these products are privately traded.

That prediction is qualitative. Widely (unknown), and unknown time parameter, unknown how much tiny is, unclear which companies would win.

I think the line of thinking here is probably to first separate what is internal economic activities and relationships (think the plumber fixing your clogged drain) and what are external activities and relationships (think international supply chain type settings).

The internal relationships will, for the most part be waiting, though expect to see some movement in who and domestic market shares.

The longer any quarantine goes on the more impact will be seen on the external activities and relationship -- loss of exports will be picked up by producers outside the quarantine area where possible. Those relationships may persist resulting in changes in structure of international trade patterns.

The other impact will be on the margin between domestic and international. This might be more difficult to tease out.

Perhaps another aspect is about which country or area is quarantined and when. It's not clear when one says quarantined for X period of time if we're talking about one country/area or some entire group of related countries. China is coming out of it's quarantine now but reports are that it is still suffering from the quarantines in other countries in terms of its export potential.

A 30% probability version: the US bungles the crisis so badly and so thoroughly, the pandemic and the shutdowns will last months and result in a domino effect causing a downturn comparable to the Great Depression and lasting years. In the meantime, China will recover and rebound quickly and offer a support package to bail out the ailing West, an equivalent of the Marshall plan. Just like the latter heralded several decades of US domination, the former will commence the new Pax Sinica, Chinese domination over the world, with unclear but not necessarily negative consequences.

Interesting. Where is 30% coming from? Also, do you mind if this gets moved to Answers?

Sure, you can move the comment around as you see fit. 30% ballpark because China appears to be much more competent at minimizing the impact, and the US is still not even acknowledging the number of cases they likely have, and are doing half-measures, which is the worst possible approach. Yet, even with a likely depression coming, there are too many uncertainties as to how the situation might develop. If I was 90% sure, I'd probably buy stock options or bet on Chinese currency firming up against US dollar.

China is not going to recover and rebound quickly if they have no herd immunity. They're either going to have to be on permanent war footing, decide that the number of deaths they will face is acceptable. All the best epidemiology modeling I've said points to a resurgence in cases in any country that does a complete lockdown (a la China) for only a few months.

Just look at the Neil Ferguson study if you want an understanding of the likely impact of various interventions.

We were headed for a big recession anyway

Always odd to me when people lead with a comment like this, since recessions are essentially unforecastable due to the nature of market pricing. [1]

This comment seems heavy on claims, but I'd like to at least see some of the reasoning behind it. Why will female employment go up? I suspect employment in general will go down, so predicting an increase is surprising.

[1]: https://www.themoneyillusion.com/stop-predicting-recessions/

I've moved this to [edit by Raemon: "comments"] because it doesn't show reasoning (a requirement I've now made explicit, but which wasn't at the time it was posted). Happy to move it back if that's addressed.

(This is still showing as a comment, not an answer.)

(This was originally an answer, Elizabeth moved it to comments)