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Will the Economic Strategy Work?

Because even thriving companies can be killed in a matter of weeks by a recession of the magnitude now confronting the world, advanced-economy governments have reacted in a remarkably similar fashion to the COVID-19 crisis. But extending liquidity lifelines to private businesses and supporting idled workers assumes a short crisis.

PARIS – With the COVID-19 crisis bringing France to a halt, Insee, the French statistical institute, puts the drop in economic activity relative to normal at 35%. It reckons that the fall in household consumption is of a similar magnitude.

These numbers imply that each additional month of lockdown reduces annual GDP by three percentage points. And sectoral situations are obviously worse: business output is down 40%, manufacturing output down 50%, and some services sectors have come to a complete standstill. Ex ante estimates for Germany and the United Kingdom are similar, and, if anything, corresponding numbers may be larger in economies with a smaller public sector.

Because even thriving companies can be killed in a matter of weeks by a shock of this magnitude, governments have reacted in a remarkably similar fashion. To prevent bankruptcies, they are extending liquidity lifelines to private businesses in the form of massive credit guarantees and the deferral of tax payments (many of which will never be collected). Germany, for example is rolling out €400 billion in public guarantees to make sure that its banks will roll over outstanding loans to businesses. Overall, eurozone fiscal liquidity schemes for business and employees amount to 13% of GDP.

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