The other coronavirus contagion concern

The other coronavirus contagion concern

As governments around the world put their countries on lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus, there is a growing fear that the global economy and financial system could soon experience another kind of contagion. This week, as the scope of the outbreak became clearer, dire economic data from China and forecasts of a looming global recession started rolling in. Some experts are even starting to use the dreaded D-word, drawing comparisons with the 1929 financial and economic crash that led to the Great Depression.


Coronavirus, and the responses to it, pose two major risks to the economy and financial system. The first is the hit to companies' sales and profits, and workers' wages and jobs. The worse the outbreak, and the harsher the social and economic clampdown needed to manage it, the worse the economic hit will be. Airlines are already warning they may face bankruptcy by May without government assistance. Carmakers and other large manufacturers are closing assembly lines. Millions of restaurant and other service industry workers that are forced into lockdowns may soon be out of jobs and unable to pay bills, student loans, and make rent or mortgage payments. That's one reason stocks have been hammered this week, despite attempts by the US Fed and other central banks to stem the bleeding and shore up confidence.

The second big risk is harder to pin down – that's the risk of financial contagion. Companies going bankrupt and firing workers is bad enough, but it can become an even worse problem if it creates a domino effect where companies can no longer pay back loans, generating losses that could shake confidence in banks and the broader financial system.

Offsetting the coming economic shock would reduce the risk of wider financial contagion, but will require governments around the world to unleash huge resources: both fiscal stimulus to help workers and companies (Italy has already suspended mortgage payments and declared a holiday on household bills, while President Trump has promised support for the airline industry and is now considering sending cash directly to Americans) – and possibly other measures to ensure the smooth operation of the financial system that go beyond what central banks have done to date.

The catch: Decisions about whom to bail out and whom not to will be every bit as politically fraught as they were in 2008-09, when governments around the world were forced to intervene to prevent a much worse collapse – and during a US election campaign, to boot. This time, though, the political wrangling will also take place during an ongoing pandemic that is already stretching many governments around the world to their limits.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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