Ian Bremmer: Global hardships post-COVID-19 & need for policy solutions

We have consistently been underplaying just how long it's going to take to get to something that feels more like normal.

Getting industry moving again is important. But manufacturing in the United States is a comparatively small piece of the economy. What you really need are people going out and consuming. The services, where most people in America actually work - retail clerks, driving, don't simply restart. Even when the government opens up, companies are going to be concerned about litigation. Even if the government provides some sort of emergency blanket saying, the companies aren't going to get sued, individuals aren't going to behave the way they used to. What is it going to take to get somebody to get on a plane, to go on a vacation or go on a business trip? The bar is going to be higher. You're going to want it to be essential. Most travel that most people do is much more a question of personal choice than absolutely critical. Especially as companies are getting more used to conducting business by phone and by video.


The same thing is going to be true in entertainment and hospitality. To get sports going again, it's not going to be about sports stadiums, it's going to be about what can you show on television? Sports stars basically locked up in group quarantine with regular tests, but they're not interacting with large groups of fans and the fans aren't out in large numbers. Can restaurants run with 50% of of their normal clientele, plus takeout and delivery? Can taxi drivers make money with far fewer people that are prepared to actually get into cabs on a daily basis? It's not like any of these were incredibly profitable to begin with. And can they increase prices suitably to make reasonable income when you have consumers across the board that are doing worse?

Banks? Same thing. The banks are in much better situation than they were in 2008, 2009, in part because of the new regulations, greater credit that they have to keep capital, take less risk. When they're not making money, when small businesses are not profitable, defaulting on their credit cards, when consumers are less capable of engaging in bank services and paying for them, at some point those start crashing.

What worries me is - I'm not an economist, it's not about how the economy is going - that our political leaders are going to need a much greater capacity and willingness to provide economic support, relief, before we get the stimulus and then stimulus for a period of at least two to three years. All the congressmen I'm talking to in the House and the Senate, they're thinking about being able to still be constructive through November, which is getting a lot harder because, in this environment, what you really want is lots of fast money. If you make mistakes and if it isn't all efficient, that's less important than just getting the cash out there in the economy.

In the first few months, that's what we've basically done. That's going to be harder to do as we get to November. But, I'm thinking about the longer term, the before a vaccine that works. But the economy still isn't functioning. We've just done 20% debt to GDP in the United States. Are we prepared to do it again? What are the implications of that? What do we have to cut? What happens when state budgets start becoming much more constrained? They have to make cuts, too. This sounds hard in the United States, much harder in Europe, which wasn't growing as fast before this crisis. Doesn't have as much capacity after this crisis. And much less capacity to make debt mutualization, fiscal transfers, because those are across countries and individual governments. Some would have to change their laws to do that. Their people don't want to see it. It's incredibly unpopular, at least in the United States. If we have to give money from New York to go to Kentucky, we don't think about it that much. It's not like you're going to vote your New York governor out because Kentucky is making more. In Europe, that is the way it works.

It gets worse when you look at emerging markets, which themselves have much more economic difficulty. There people are much closer to subsistence. The need for bailouts are much greater. International support is likely going to be largely absent. And for those that are saying, "China is going to do much better, they are going to come in when the Americans and Europeans are focusing domestically," so far, leaders of financial institutions have been incredibly disappointed that China is not offering much at all. They're doing some very significant press campaigning, saying how strong their economy is, there are no more hospitalizations in Wuhan - not sure I believe that - but they're leaning into the press. They're leaning into their communications strategy. And if they send out any free masks or ventilators or much more likely, they sell, they're making press around that, too. The latter is hardly a humanitarian effort.

But the international bailout out that's going to be necessary, the Chinese aren't going to be there at all. I believe that even though there's no global response, no coordination, no international leadership, the first six months of this crisis in terms of the health care challenges, the human challenges that need to get resources to make sure that we stop this peak of mortality and new cases from exploding to the moon, I think at the very least, the advanced industrial economies and China are capable to respond to that effectively. And I think we're showing that. But I think what happens after that on the economic side, we're going to start to see the developed economies fall down. We are going to see the emerging markets with no capacity at all. The dangers for me aren't this summer, they're more about towards the end of the year, next year as bills come to be paid. And as the hardships that individual citizens are facing after being dislocated from an economy that we've shut down, no longer has the ability to keep living in the way they used to.

It's not a good news story. I want to look at where we can move that's more promising, how we can take lessons from this that will put human beings in a better place. There are stories like that. The fact that we now have massive collaboration around the world to work on treatments and even to work on vaccines. And humanity will in all likelihood, respond more effectively in that regard to this virus than anything we've seen in the history of humanity. That's a positive story.

When we think about the quality of human life coming out of this crisis, it's not about winners and losers. There are sectors that will do better than others. Anyone that's watching this on a smartphone or through Zoom, the tech sector is doing well. But for the first time in our lifetimes, every country in the world is going to come out of this worse than they went into it. Quality of life is going to go down for a while. Some submerging markets. People that were joining the global middle class are going to be falling out of it. There is going to be more absolute poverty, more hunger. Those of us in more fortunate conditions have to push harder for policy solutions that recognize just how hard humanity is going to have it coming out of this. Life isn't going to look as easy, as comfortable, and the majority of the planet is going to have a much harder time than advanced industrial economies.

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