social and economic aspects of the coronavirus pandemic

It’s hard to even begin blogging about something so vast and ever-shifting. This post is just going to be a short pointer to a couple of the best pieces I’ve seen covering the social and economic angles of the pandemic.

First, on the social, Eric Klinenberg has an op-ed in the NYT, “We Need Social Solidarity, Not Just Social Distancing.” Klinenberg has studied previous crises (like the 1995 Chicago heat wave) and public infrastructure (libraries), which makes him ideally positioned to offer insight onto the current situation. Of Chicago, he writes:

In Chicago, social isolation among older people in poor, segregated and abandoned neighborhoods made the heat wave far more lethal than it should have been. Some 739 people died during one deadly week in July, even though saving them required little more than a cold bath or exposure to air-conditioning. There was plenty of water and artificial cooling available in the city that week. For the truly disadvantaged, however, social contact was in short supply.

Second, macroeconomist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas wrote up a short document with some back of the envelop calculations about just how bad the economic fallout from the crisis could be, titled “Flattening the Pandemic and Recession Curves”. Tragically, the social distancing we need to “flatten the curve” for medical reasons will extend the damage to businesses, and will require government to respond by flattening the associated recession curve (in Gourinchas’ terms). He argues that in particular, governments should do three things:

“(a) to ensure that workers can remain employed -and collect their paycheck- even if quarantined or forced to stay home to look after dependents. Temporary layoff assistance is a key component. Without it, it is even unclear whether public health advisories can be followed. Households need to be able to make basic payments (rent, utilities, mortgages, insurance).

(b) to ensure that firms can weather the storm without going into bankruptcy, with easier borrowing terms, possibly temporarily waving tax or payroll payments, suspending loan payments, or providing direct financial assistance where needed;

(c) to support the financial system as non-performing loans will mount, so as to ensure the crisis does not morph into a financial crisis.”

And he provides this helpful chart as a companion to the “flatten the curve” diagrams being circulated widely right now:

That’s what I’ve got for now. What are the most useful analyses you’ve seen so far? And is there anything else you’d like to see posted here? There are a ton of resources for moving classes online that have been circulating, and we could collect them but I think others have that covered (e.g. SKAT’s here, and my favorite bit of advice is here: “Please do a bad job of putting your courses online.”). There’s a lengthy Coronavirus syllabus/list of academic resources that’s circulating. And Shamus Khan is coordinating something awesome for helping parents find quality content for the kids now that schools are closing. What else can we do here? We’d love to see guest posts from demographers, medical sociologists, STSers, and anyone who wants to offer their insights into the current moment.

Author: Dan Hirschman

I am a sociologist interested in the use of numbers in organizations, markets, and policy. For more info, see here.

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