2020年4月7日 星期二

And now for something completely different

Kudos to economists willing to rethink their prior views.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Author Headshot

By Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

Many people, predictably, have reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic by insisting that it makes the case for whatever policies they were advocating before. Conservatives who believe in the magical power of tax cuts insist that we should respond to a pandemic by, you guessed it, cutting taxes. Anti-immigrant groups insist that it shows that we must stop immigration. Bernie Sanders supporters insist that for some reason it means that Democrats should turn away from Joe Biden. Advocates of a universal basic income insist that it shows why we need U.B.I.

So it’s kind of impressive, amid this orgy of confirmation bias, to find many mainstream economists — and, with a slight delay, the Democratic leadership in Congress — acknowledging that coronavirus economics really is different, that it calls for policies that are different from the usual recession-fighting playbook.

For the record: even if you believe that cutting taxes would greatly increase Americans’ incentive to work hard (which you shouldn’t), tax cuts aren’t the answer when millions of workers are necessarily idle because of a lockdown meant to limit viral infection.

And the coronavirus slump actually makes the case against universal basic income, even though part of that $2 trillion not-a-stimulus bill did involve sending everyone a check. What’s happening now is that a large number of American workers — maybe as many as one in four — have lost their income because of social distancing. These workers have bills to pay; they need replacement income close to what they were making before. The rest of the work force doesn’t need anything comparable.

ADVERTISEMENT

And if you just send everyone a check, it will be either grossly inadequate for the newly unemployed, impossibly expensive, or both. Universal income, independent of circumstances, won’t do the job.

So what should our economic policy be? Over the past week or so mainstream economists have largely converged on the view that we should focus not on economic stimulus — we want part of the economy shut down for the time being — but on disaster relief for those losing their incomes.

What’s striking is that this is the answer coming even from Keynesian economists like Larry Summers, Olivier Blanchard, and yours truly, who generally favor fiscal stimulus in the form of spending to fight slumps, and have been urging the U.S. to take advantage of low interest rates to do a lot more public investment. You might have expected this gang of nerds to use the current slump as an excuse to pursue their (our) favorite policy.

But hard thinking about the nature of the current crisis says that infrastructure spending, however desirable it may be, doesn’t address the immediate issues. Enhanced unemployment benefits and aid to small businesses do get at the heart of the current problem. So that’s what serious economists are recommending, and Democrats in Congress have mostly come around to the same view.

ADVERTISEMENT

Making your policy recommendations contingent on what’s actually happening in the world may not sound like a terribly hard test of intellectual integrity. But given the political world we live in, I’m actually impressed and gratified to see so many economists rising to the challenge.

Quick Hits

Mathematical models of the economy may seem abstruse, but they help clarify our thoughts. Here’s the state of the art on pandemic economics modeling.

My informal take on the issue, done before I saw that lovely model (which, FYI, has a definite Krugman 1998 feel.)

But unemployment insurance is creaking under the strain; in New Jersey it relies on programs nobody knows how to write anymore.

Economists overwhelmingly support the lockdown.

ADVERTISEMENT

Feedback

If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at krugman-newsletter@nytimes.com.

Facing the Music

Come for the music, stay for the catYouTube

Video performances from home are solace in these times.

Need help? Review our newsletter help page or contact us for assistance.

You received this email because you signed up for Paul Krugman from The New York Times.

To stop receiving these emails, unsubscribe or manage your email preferences.

Subscribe to The Times

|

Connect with us on:

facebooktwitterinstagram

Change Your Email|Privacy Policy|Contact Us

The New York Times Company. 620 Eighth Avenue New York, NY 10018

On Tech: Passover goes on, with screens

Religious families lean on technology this month to recreate disrupted rituals.

Passover goes on, with screens

Nicolas Ortega
Author Headshot

By Shira Ovide

On a recent Tuesday morning at their usual time, more than a dozen women in New Jersey huddled with their rabbi — virtually. Like so many houses of worship, Highland Park Conservative Temple is closed.

For people celebrating cherished holidays this month, the coronavirus outbreak is forcing them to balance the religious imperative to come together with the public health imperative to stay apart.

Like others, the Highland Park congregation of nearly 400 families is leaning on technology to recreate the disrupted rituals of life as best they can.

The big topic of the women’s meeting was how to manage Passover, which begins Wednesday evening. Some of the women, most of them older, worried about the risk of shopping for food that meets Passover guidelines.

Rabbi Eliot Malomet was firm but compassionate about the necessity to avoid the typical Passover dinner, or Seder, packed with loved ones. Household-only or holiday gatherings through webcams would have to do this year.

“We’re going to sit at the Seder and cry and get through this,” he said.

The Highland Park temple has been holding online services, including a twice daily minyan, a gathering to recite prayers. Rabbi Malomet is planning a brief online greeting before the traditional Passover dinner.

Rabbi Malomet had to overcome a few early missteps with virtual worship. The first day of minyan over Zoom — or “zoominyan,” as he called it — attendees created a racket, until he figured out he could mute everyone’s microphones.

The rabbi also implemented new etiquette for virtual worship: No making breakfast during the 7 a.m. service, for example.

Rabbi Malomet said connecting virtually is a poor substitute for in-person interaction, but he is trying to use technology to keep an eye on people who need help with practical or emotional needs.

For many Jews, there’s no question that Passover would take place, even in altered form. There’s a long history of Jewish religious traditions practiced under dire circumstances.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We will be fine,” Rabbi Malomet said. “It will sting a little, and for people who have endured terrible loss it will be a lot, but we will get through this.”

At the women’s meeting, normal interactions peeked through the coronavirus anxieties. There were congratulations for a woman whose grandson got engaged. The meeting was derailed when one participant set her video-call background to an image of the Golden Gate Bridge, and others tried to figure out how to do it, too.

The women said they were glad to connect, even over webcams. “It’s lovely to see you all,” one said. “This will make my day.”

If a friend forwarded this to you, please sign up here.

ADVERTISEMENT

Software isn’t magic but…

Last week I wrote about how technology is not a silver bullet to predict disease. It can, of course, still be a useful tool.

One of the odd and unsettling symptoms of Covid-19 — a loss of one’s sense of smell — might make it useful for spotting coronavirus flare-ups early.

The New York Times contributing Opinion writer Seth Stephens-Davidowitz recently mapped Google searches related to loss of smell, and found they overlapped with coronavirus prevalence rates by state.

This symptom is unusual in our typical illnesses. That makes our Doctor Google searches about it a possibly useful predictor of coronavirus hot spots in certain areas, David Lazer, a computational social scientist, told me recently. More research is needed to understand the link between search behavior and health status, he said.

I wrote about 2014 research by Dr. Lazer and others that found Google search data failed to accurately spot seasonal flu outbreaks. The Google predictions were wildly off base — including a conclusion that searches related to high school basketball were flu predictors. (Like the flu, basketball season happens in winter.)

One perennial challenge of researching illness through our internet searches is that habits change as we learn about symptoms and search for them more regularly. There are also demographic differences in search behavior.

In his seasonal flu research, for example, Dr. Lazer said that men tended to be better predictors of seasonal flu trends than women. Men were less likely to search for personal health information in Google on a regular basis. When they were typing symptoms into Google, it was more likely that they were doing so while sick.

Before we go …

Hugs to this

Surgeons hosted a socially distanced cello and piano recital at a New York hospital on Monday. I felt better, for 40 seconds.

We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at ontech@nytimes.com.

If a friend forwarded this to you, please sign up here.

Need help? Review our newsletter help page or contact us for assistance.

You received this email because you signed up for On Tech with Shira Ovide from The New York Times.

To stop receiving these emails, unsubscribe or manage your email preferences.

Subscribe to The Times

|

Connect with us on:

facebooktwitterinstagram

Change Your Email|Privacy Policy|Contact Us

The New York Times Company. 620 Eighth Avenue New York, NY 10018