Alarm signals of our authoritarian age

Martin Wolf reviews two important new books on Trump, strongmen leaders and the most disturbing political development of our times

Martin Wolf


A government-organised nationalist march in Poland in November 2018 © NurPhoto via Getty



“No powerful political actor had set out to destroy the American political system itself — until, that is, Trump won the Republican nomination. He was probably the first major party nominee who ran not for president but for autocrat. And he won.”

This comes from Masha Gessen’s book, which is on the phenomenon of Donald Trump. But a similar awareness is to be seen in Anne Applebaum’s book.

These two brilliant writers shed light on the most disturbing political phenomenon of our era: the rise of rightwing authoritarianism around the world. They both focus on the success of politicians hostile to liberal democracy in Europe and the US — a particularly shocking aspect of this development.

Both of these books are journalistic, in the best way: they tell stories.

In the case of Applebaum, these are stories of her involvement with Poland and Hungary, but also Spain, the UK and the US. She is American, but also Polish. She is a renowned historian and expert on central and eastern Europe, married to Radoslaw Sikorski, a former foreign minister of Poland. She was also a journalist in London in the 1990s, notably for The Economist and The Spectator. Today, she writes for The Atlantic.

Gessen is American, too. They (Gessen is transgender and non-binary and prefers the pronouns “they/them”) were born in Russia, grew up in the US, and then lived in Russia again as a journalist, before returning to the US. This allows for a deep comparison between Trump and Vladimir Putin, on whom they have written a well-known book The Man Without a Face. The parallels are evident: Trump admires Putin. Indeed, he would like to be America’s Putin.

Twilight of Democracy opens with a party on December 31 1999, at Applebaum’s house in Poland. Most of the guests were Polish. “You could have lumped the majority of us, roughly, in the general category of what Poles call the right — the conservatives, the anti-Communists. But at that moment in history, you might also have called most of us liberals.

“That moment has passed,” she adds. “Nearly two decades later, I would now cross the street to avoid some of the people who were at my New Year’s Eve party. They, in turn, would not only refuse to enter my house, they would be embarrassed to admit they had ever been there. In fact, about half the people who were at that party would no longer speak to the other half.”

Such distancing is “political, not personal”, she explains. “Poland is now one of the most polarised societies in Europe, and we have found ourselves on opposite sides of a profound divide, one that runs through not only what used to be the Polish right but also the old Hungarian right, the Spanish right, the French right, the Italian right and, with some differences, the British right and the American right, too.”


Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the founder of the Law and Justice conservative-nationalist party, listens to a parliamentary debate in Poland © EPA-EFE



Her theme is not just this split. It is about the role of intellectuals in supporting the would-be despots. In this, she follows Julien Benda, author of a classic book, La trahison des clercs (1927). Benda’s target were the ideologues of his time, whom he accused, in Applebaum’s words, “of betraying the central task of the intellectual, the search for truth, in favor of particular political causes”.

Applebaum is not arguing that today’s authoritarians are the same as those of the 1920s and 1930s. Today’s versions have, fortunately, neither the ambition nor the brutality of the homicidal despots of that era. Nevertheless, the new authoritarianism also needs “thinkers, intellectuals, journalists, bloggers, writers, and artists to undermine our current values, and then to imagine the new system to come.” Some of them, she adds, “used to be my friends”.

The book elucidates the regimes of Viktor Orban in Hungary and the Law and Justice (PiS) party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland. Ideologically, they are xenophobic, homophobic, paranoid, authoritarian and contemptuous of liberal democracy. Operationally, they subvert independent institutions — the judiciary, civil service, media and academic institutions. The great prize is to hold uncontestable power. Orban has by now achieved this, as has Putin.


In comparing Trump to other new authoritarians, Anne Applebaum writes how the America of today sees no important distinction between democracy and dictatorship, feels no loyalty to the other democracies, and is not ‘exceptional’


Masha Gessen describes how Trump is trying to create an autocracy: a regime in which the ruler is above the law and the ruler’s word is law. The president does not want orderly government or rational policy. He wants pageantry and adoration

How did people she knew come to support these new authoritarians? One answer, is “resentment, revenge and envy”. Replacing people of talent and principles with mediocrities who will do anything for success has never been difficult. Finding greedy people happy to join a corrupt new business elite is just as simple. She describes perceptively people who have done such things.

Another characteristic of the people she identifies is a blend of “cultural despair” with “nostalgia”. This permeates Spain’s far-right Vox party. But it is more obvious still in what she calls the “restorative nostalgia” of the Brexit campaign and Trump’s “Make America Great Again”. For them, the past is not just a foreign country: it was a better one. We want to go back there.

Trump fully shares the cynicism of the other new rightwing authoritarians. As Applebaum states, the America of its current president sees no important distinction between democracy and dictatorship, feels no loyalty to the other democracies, and is not “exceptional”.

“This America has no special democratic spirit of the kind Jefferson described,” writes Applebaum. “The unity of this America is created by white skin, a certain idea of Christianity, and an attachment to land that will be surrounded and defended by a wall.”

This is the antithesis of the traditional American creed, which was optimistic and grounded in a belief in openness to the world and the future. Yet, in the US, too, people Applebaum knew well shifted from the at least relatively idealistic conservatism of Reagan to the nostalgia and cynicism of Trump.

Twilight of Democracy is about the authoritarian right’s helpers in Poland, Hungary, Spain, the UK and the US. Gessen’s book, however, is focused on Trump. Surviving Autocracy raises two basic questions. What is Trump trying to do? Is he likely to succeed?

The answer to the first, Gessen argues, is to create an autocracy: a regime in which the ruler is above the law and the ruler’s word is law. Trump does not want orderly government or rational policy.

He wants pageantry and adoration. For him as for Putin, “power is the beginning and the end of government, the presidency, politics — and public politics is only the performance of power”.

Trump has no aims beyond staying in power. Even his tax cuts were the goal of the congressional leadership. He just wanted a “win”. His indifference to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic reveals this lack of interest in what power is for. Trump just wants to be the king of the castle.

His attitude to his predecessor’s work is illuminating. Like a conqueror, he wants more to erase it than to replace it with something better.

Is Trump likely to succeed? On this, Gessen refers to an analysis by the Hungarian sociologist Balint Magyar. The latter uses the term “mafia state” for these regimes, describing it in Gessen’s words, as “a specific, clan-like system in which one man distributes money and power to all other members”.

Magyar also, Gessen adds, “developed the concept of autocratic transformation, which proceeds in three stages: autocratic attempt, autocratic breakthrough, and autocratic consolidation”.

Such was the nature of Trumpism that the president’s closest associates could be in prison and he could be unaffected by this

The book suggests that “these terms appear to describe our reality better than any words in the standard American political lexicon”. Trump’s insistence that he is above the law, his demands for personal, not institutional, loyalty, his reliance on incompetent members of his family, his blatant self-dealing and refusal to be transparent about his financial affairs are all too characteristic of the gangster.

Gessen adds that “In Trump’s case, the takeover of state institutions has consisted of two parts: using them for personal gain and handicapping their service to the public. Obliterating divisions among branches of government has taken the shape of subjugating the Republican party. And packing the courts is packing the courts.”

Yet the Supreme Court is still not reliable, from Trump’s point of view. He still faces the possibility of electoral defeat. While the justice department must by now look pretty safe to him and the intelligence agencies largely neutered, the armed forces are not yet reliable servants of the president.

Yet institutions are never enough. They depend on people. People can be replaced by those more pliable, careerist and dishonourable. So far, Trump has not shown himself determined and capable enough to subvert America’s institutions entirely. Yet he has made progress in that direction, as the impeachment farce showed so clearly. His party is now loyal to him. That was not true with Nixon over Watergate.

The damage Trump has done to the US is already enormous. As Gessen notes, “such was the nature of Trumpism that the president’s closest associates could be in prison and he could be unaffected by this — in part because we already knew that his was an administration of swindlers and conmen, and in effect we had come to accept it”.

We cannot be sure that the incompetence shown by a Trump or a Johnson in managing Covid-19 will finish off rightwing nationalism. Orban has been far more competent. Even if Trump should lose in November, he has shown the way for those who come afterwards. And, as is true of Trump, Johnson’s lies have done huge damage to his country: his Brexit will leave the UK poorer and more vulnerable than it needed to be. 

Applebaum ends with the idea that “The checks and balances of Western constitutional democracies never guaranteed stability. Liberal democracies always demanded things from citizens: participation, argument, effort, struggle.

They always required some tolerance for cacophony and chaos, as well as some willingness to push back at the people who create cacophony and chaos.” And, as she notes, new media have done much to spread that cacophony and so to undermine democracy.

These books do not cover many aspects of the new reality: how does the authoritarianism they describe fit into the global shift in that direction? What is the role of economic and cultural change in driving support for rightwing authoritarians? How far is nationalism a reaction against globalisation?

The authors have not written works of detached scholarship, but a cry of alarm and a call to arms. They warn of the ease with which ambitious politicians may subvert liberal democracy, with the help of people who should know better.

We have been warned.

FINANCIAL SYSTEM – A HUBRISTIC SWINDLE

by Egon von Greyerz



Zeus punished the hubristic King Sisyphus to roll a huge boulder up a very steep hill in Hades.

Before Sisyphus reached the top, the stone rolled down and he had to start all over again.

Hubris is serious sin that seldom goes unpunished. The arrogance and uber-confidence which TPTB (the powers that be) have displayed in leading the world to ruin will clearly be severely punished. But sadly the punishment will affect the whole world and not just the Elite that caused it.




BANKERS AND GOVERNMENTS HAVE INFLICTED INCREDIBLE DAMAGE

It could be argued that blaming one group for the coming global collapse might be unfair. The world economy has always oscillated between boom and bust and is thus a natural phenomenon like the seasons. But the main difference this time is the incredible damage that governments, central bankers and bankers have inflicted on the world.

In 2006 when the Great Financial Crisis started, US Federal debt was $8.5 trillion and today it is $26.5t. In 14 years debt has more than trebled. GDP in 2006 was $14t and is now $21.5t. So debt to GDP has gone from 60% to 123%.

This is what is called running on empty. US debt creation has nothing to do with investing in productive assets. With the debt to GDP ratio doubling in 14 years it is clear evidence that all the printed money is not going into the real economy but is supporting a bankrupt financial system which has kept the money to prop up their own insolvent balance sheets and to remunerate the top executives with fantasy money.

PRINTED MONEY TO FATTEN CORPORATE EXECUTIVES

The printed money has also gone to inefficient mega-corporations which have leveraged their balance sheets with total borrowings going from $3t in 2006 to $7t today. During the same period, US companies have spent in excess of $6t in share buybacks. So instead of investing in the business, companies have borrowed money in order to buy back their own shares with the purpose of inflating the share price and executive remuneration in options and stocks.

This is hubris of the highest degree. Ignore investing to grow the business. Instead leverage the company to the hilt to inflate the share price and compensation for the top echelon. Will this corporate arrogance go unpunished? The executives will hardly roll a big boulder up a hill in Hades but when the US and global economy collapses and social unrest spreads, the have-nots are not going to treat the haves kindly.

GLOBAL SAND CASTLE BUILT ON MMT

As I have stated many times, it is absolutely guaranteed that the global sand castle resting on worthless debt will crumble. Timing is always tricky and central banks have performed the most outstanding act of wizardry since 2006.

By increasing global debt from $125t in 2006 to $270t today, they have drowned the world in so much worthless money that virtually nobody has understood that it is all fake money and fake wealth that has been created.

Actually, nobody understands it, not even Nobel prize winners who believe that MMT or Modern Money Theory is the solution to everything. You wonder how anybody can believe that creating money out of thin air can actually create wealth. But since so many have benefitted why worry.

The Elite has become mega wealthy (measured in fake money) and the masses have a perceived improvement in living standards with more gadgets like cars or iPhones. What few realise is that it all comes from debt. Either increased personal debt or more government borrowing.

BIGGEST SWINDLE IN HISTORY

You can fool most of the people for quite a long time and sadly the world will only realise that all of this was only possible due to the biggest swindle in history. Charles Ponzi or Bernerd Madoff was kindergarten stuff compared to this mega-fraud.

And soon the chickens will come home to roost. Timing is always tricky. It could all happen very quickly as my good friend Alasdair Macleod has described in many excellent articles on KWN. Or it could take 1-2 years longer. Alasdair foresees a bank and currency collapse before the end of 2020.

He is not a sensational man but rather a conservative Englishman who has a deep knowledge of both currency and economic matters. Above all he understands history. There we are in full agreement. The majority of economists and bankers think it is different today because they are alive. But they will soon be proven wrong again.

FINAL CURRENCY COLLAPSE COMING NEXT

Whether we go back to for example the Roman Empire in the 3rd century or John Law around 1720, we can see how history repeats itself over and over. Virtually all economic collapses involve a total debasement of the currency.

We are now in the very final innings of a global currency collapse. All major currencies are down 97-99% in real purchasing power (gold) since 1971. August 15, 1971 was a significant date for the currency system. That was the day when Nixon pulled the rug of the dollar and thus all currencies since they were tied to the dollar.

With gold no longer backing the currency system and irresponsible governments issuing unlimited amount of debt, this was the beginning of the end of the current currency system.

The second leg of the currency race to the bottom started in the early 2000s and since then all currencies are down around 80-85%.

GOLD WILL NOT LOOK BACK

Gold made a temporary peak in 2011 and resumed the uptrend in 2016. The massive amounts of money that have been printed since 2006, and accelerating now in 2020, have not yet been reflected properly in the gold price. But this is what is coming next.

Prospects for a currency collapse have never been greater for the West. This means that the prospects for gold are absolutely outstanding.

NO PHYSICAL TO BACK UP PAPER GOLD

But there are more factors that affect the gold price. There is a massive shortage of physical gold in the futures markets and LBMA system. As gold goes up and the holders of gold ask for physical delivery, there will be no gold available to settle the paper claims. There are only two potential outcomes.

A default of the LBMA system which would also mean a total bank collapse. They will attempt to settle the claims in paper money but that will also lead to defaults eventually.

It is of course possible that central banks print trillions of dollars to save the banks so that they can buy the gold. The problem is that there is no gold available at current prices but only at multiples of the current price. And the more money central banks print, the less it will be worth and the more the gold will cost. So a real Sisyphean task that is guaranteed to fail.

INSTITUTIONAL GOLD BUYING

Another important factor is that only 0.5% of world financial assets are in physical gold. As inflation goes up and the bubble assets like stocks, bonds and property collapse, private and institutional investors all want to own gold. Institutions will need gold to protect against inflation and risk.

Let’s say that an institution wants to buy around $120m worth of gold and that multiplied a few hundred times for all the institutional demand. Instead of getting 2 tonnes at $1,900 per ounce they will get 200 kilos at $19,000 per ounce.

So they have got their $100b of gold but at a price 10x higher. As production can’t be increased, higher demand can only be satisfied by a higher price.

There is of course a total of 170,000 tonnes of gold in the world, including 50% in jewellery and 35,000 tonnes in central bank gold. But only a minuscule percentage of this gold will be available at current prices. Bigger quantities will cost multiples of today’s price.

Annual production of gold and scrap gold is all absorbed every year and we have reached peak gold.

Currently Swiss refiners are seeing low demand but this is only the lull after a very hectic period and before the next big move down in stocks and up in the metals.

FOUR FACTORS TO DRIVE THE GOLD PRICE

To summarise, the gold price will be fuelled by four incredibly strong factors:

Major debasement of currencies due to money printing

Substantial shortages of gold in LBMA and Futures markets

Major new private and institutional gold investors entering the market

Only smaller quantities of gold available at current prices

Silver is likely to move 3x as fast as gold but remember that it is very volatile and the corrections will be vicious. If you want to sleep well at night, own only gold.

Still with the gold/silver ratio historically high at 93, an allocation of 75% physical gold and 25% in silver, is what we advise our clients currently.

Bigger quantities of precious metals should preferably be stored outside your country of residence and outside the financial system. It is very risky to store wealth preservation assets in a bankrupt banking system whether in the bank’s general vault or in safe deposit boxes.

Gold and silver are in the acceleration phase. The trend will be strongly up but with the normal corrections.

The time when you can buy gold below $2,000 and silver below $25 is very limited.

The Future of Coronavirus: A Modest Proposal

George Friedman’s thoughts in and around geopolitics.

By: George Friedman


When the coronavirus became a significant threat in the United States, I posited a model comprising three parts – the medical, the economic and the social – overseen by a political component. The problem as I saw it then was that the medical solution would take time to implement, before which there would be economic dislocation followed by a recession and then a depression. The longer it lasted, the worst things would get, the government stimulus and relief packages notwithstanding.

The key problem was the social, because the only medical solution available was that the entire structure of social life be redesigned to limit the spread of the virus. Social distancing and lockdowns struck hard at social life, from shutting down schools to prohibiting social interaction among youths and forbidding gatherings among adults.

However necessary, it has transformed society into a dangerous place. Every person we encounter is a threat, your best friend may carry, unknown to him, the thing that may kill you.

These disruptions in ordinary human intercourse impose a price on society and on institutions.

Socialization was dangerous, but there are also dangers in giving up these things.

Consider a child of five or six. Among the most important things the child learns at school is that the world he has entered outside his home is far less impressed by him, and capable of being aggressive. Learning to live in a world like this takes a lifetime for some, but the most important thing in early education is learning how to deal with others like you.

That cannot be learned over Zoom. Learning to carve out your place among first graders is the first chapter that leads you to learning your place in later life. It teaches you how to exist and flourish in society.

By the time you are, say, 12, you have learned many lessons, some to your joy and others to your sorrow. I learned in the second grade that crying in public is not something boys do. It was my first lesson in courage.

And I also learned that a girl called Evelyn was wonderful, although it took me many years to learn why this was so. Going to school, year after year, teaches you about life, brick by brick.

Yes, I learned to read and count, but the most important thing I learned was that my parents' love did not extend to others, and that some were friends and others enemies and others competitors.

The lessons can be delivered over Zoom, but the sound and smells of an alien world cannot.

Some of this can be skipped, and homeschooling can provide socialization in other ways, but children must be with children and must be with them a long time. What school teaches is how to live in the world; a child who is raised in isolation in a home will not learn that.

A family is not the world, and growing up with only that as a point of reference will leave you either a lost soul or an egomaniac – or both. A year probably doesn’t hurt much, but with all the uncertainty surrounding the delivery of a potential vaccine, and with the continued insistence that social isolation is the safest path, a year can grow into several.

Emerging into the world filled with other children who have never been in a crowd of children opens the door to massive social dysfunction. Over time the cost of this can be staggering.

As expected, the social system is rebelling. The opening of a bar was the opening of a universe that had been closed. The crowds on a Florida beach certainly knew what they were risking. What brought them there was not only the desire for the water but an uncontrollable need to be in a crowd, and hear yelling and music and feel the sense of bumping into some.

Avoiding disease spread is of course vital. But humans are social animals, so when avoiding disease collides with social necessity, a vast cost is incurred on all sides. There are those who make no compromise in fighting disease, and others who are entirely opposed to abandoning a robust social life. Over time, neither of them can win.

But we might be able to approach the matter differently than we have. Death is rare to uncommon in those below the age of 70, after which death is a possibility if far from a certainty.

For those below the age of 70, the cost of contracting an unpleasant disease but regaining a social life may well be worth it.

This is particularly true of school-aged systems. Those over the age of 70, therefore, should quarantine themselves rather than having all society quarantine.

Given the trillions already spent, the government can be generous in providing them with a graceful retreat. And of course anyone of any age may choose to quarantine.

But quarantine is not for the entire society but rather those that must be protected because of the increased risk of death.

While this is my suggestion, my prediction is that social distancing will break down because it creates a life that is untenable. Social distancing would be fine if it had a reasonable terminal date, but it doesn’t. It would hold if there were confidence that a medical solution would soon come.

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But if it doesn’t, then the only safety will be in an unprecedented and enormously difficult way of life. Humans are not designed to live this way and will refuse to do so into a potentially vast or endless future. Life is the minimization of risks, and risks are coming now in multiple directions.

Society is already starting to break down. It can break down in a disorderly fashion, as has been the case, or in an orderly one. The current situation cannot be the permanent condition of our lives, and right now there is every reason to think it will be very long.

I am not a medical expert by any means. My expertise is in being human. I’ve done it for a long time. Watching my grandchildren grow up living life through Zoom makes me more afraid for their well-being than the coronavirus.

This disease is not going to go away soon, but the current treatment regime must be redefined.

It increases medical risk but will reduce social risk. Social risk cannot be dismissed or postponed.

It is here and will grow.

The Open Secret to Reopening the Economy

Having reopened prematurely from the initial COVID-19 lockdowns, areas that now have surging infection rates are a testament to all that has gone wrong in the pandemic. The lesson from day one still holds: until the virus is defeated, there can be no return to normal.

Anne O. Krueger

krueger29_ Dia DipasupilGetty Images_social distance


WASHINGTON, DC – The future of the world economy is becoming clearer. At the outset of the pandemic, there were lively disagreements over whether the lockdown and other measures were warranted, or whether the economic costs were too high. Now, it is increasingly evident that economic activity will resume fully only after lockdown restrictions have been given time to work.

Otherwise, COVID-19 will continue to spread, making a sustained and rapid economic recovery all but impossible until the arrival of effective, widely available vaccines.

When the coronavirus first began to spread beyond China, triggering an immediate, sharp reduction in the level of economic activity and employment where lockdowns were imposed, epidemiologists tried to educate the public (and the authorities, in many cases) about what would come next.

They warned that the virus would not be sufficiently contained until its R number –the average number of people infected by a sick person – is less than one.

At exactly one, each sick person infects one other, and the number of COVID-19 cases remains constant over time. An R number below one, scientists explained, could be achieved much faster with tighter restrictions and effective testing and contact tracing to isolate positive cases.

In locations where shelter-in-place orders and other measures have been all-encompassing, outbreaks have been stabilized, and the R number has dropped within just two or three weeks. In some places, COVID-19 cases surged exponentially early on, leading to self-quarantine being more common. And because a high percentage of people in hotspots complied with the lockdown recommendations and tracing and testing (likely out of fear), the epidemic curve was quickly dampened.

By contrast, in locations where lockdown restrictions were initially mild or nonexistent, fewer people took steps to avoid contact or prevent transmission of the virus, or were more casual about such precautions, and cases duly increased. To be sure, additional location-specific factors have influenced the spread of COVID-19.

But the clear takeaway from around the world is that the scope of lockdown restrictions, and the degree to which they are followed, is the single-most important factor in weathering and then recovering from the pandemic.

Unfortunately, in the United States, in particular, popular resistance to restrictions mounted just when continued public compliance was needed. Some politicians and commentators insisted that the economic costs of saving a life were too high relative to the costs inflicted on those suffering a loss of income or medical care for other conditions. This burst of public pressure won the day. Despite epidemiologists’ warnings, the initial lockdown restrictions were relaxed too soon in many US states.

Worse, as soon as these reopenings began, many people returned immediately to their old habits, ignoring recommendations for social distancing, avoiding crowds (especially indoors), wearing a mask, hand washing, and other preventive measures. Factories reopened, and many retail establishments and other services resumed operations, albeit at reduced capacity.

For a short time, output and consumer spending rose significantly, and the unemployment rate started falling (though it remained high). But in most cases, these reopenings started with an R number close to or above one, which guaranteed that as soon as people started relaxing precautionary measures, the number of infections would begin to rise again.

The result is a lose-lose scenario. Current conditions are conducive to neither a sustained improvement in economic activity nor a sustained reduction in COVID-19 cases. If health workers, medical equipment, and testing capacity had been available and properly allocated, public-health authorities might have been able to undertake contact tracing and quarantining on a level sufficient to curb the spread of the virus.

That is what happened in countries like Germany, New Zealand, and South Korea, as well as in cities like New York, which has gone from being the hardest-hit place in the US to achieving an R number of around 0.4-0.5.

For testing to be effective, results must be provided quickly, to alert carriers of the virus who might otherwise come into contact with others. The problem is that testing materials and equipment have been in short supply, especially in hotspots. Now that the R number is rising at an alarming rate, some US hospitals are already overwhelmed, and, with their workers falling ill, some reopened factories have had to close again. The authorities in highly affected southern and southwestern states are already reversing their earlier relaxation of restrictions and imposing additional ones.

But even in places where people have adhered to precautionary measures and the R number has not risen significantly, the growth rate of consumption has started to decline. Consumers simply cannot be confident that any reopening will be sustained, and businesses see too much uncertainty to commit to longer-term investments. The tragedy is that if the lockdowns had been effective and enforced everywhere, a quick V-shaped recovery would have been entirely possible. But that didn’t happen, and now the recent upswing appears to be faltering.

The best hope for the global economy is that everyone will recognize that the epidemiologists were right all along. The premature relaxation has inflicted unnecessary additional costs, both in terms of health and economic wellbeing. Public adherence to restrictions on a scale sufficient to bring R number below one would be the best form of economic stimulus imaginable.

An R number well below one would mean that when restrictions were removed, consumers and businesses could have confidence that the resulting economic (and health) upturn would continue. A return to normal economic and social activity would happen quite rapidly.

The twin goals of defeating the virus and reviving the economy are not contradictory but rather one and the same. The virus will dictate the pace at which we can safely resume economic activity.

And it is the public’s adherence to preventive measures that will determine the pace at which the virus is defeated.


Anne O. Krueger, a former World Bank chief economist and former first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is Senior Research Professor of International Economics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and Senior Fellow at the Center for International Development at Stanford University.