Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Checking on COVID-19 Economics Research: BPEA Fall 2020

 It would be a full-time job to keep up with the flow of economics research on aspects of COVID-19. Those who wish to take a closer look might begin with COVID Economics, a quick-turnaround journal which published its first issue on April 3, and has now just published its 50th issue. In that issue, the editor Charles Wyplosz reports the journal has published 332 papers so far. However, the flow of submissions has been slowing, from 6-7 submissions per day back in April to 1-2 submissions per day now. 

The National Bureau of Economic Research is another useful source for COVID-19 related research. The NBER website has one page that lists COVID-related papers by the week they are released, with a typical week including 5-10 new papers, and another page that organizes the paper by broad subject area (like effects on asset markets, effects of social distancing and other measures, macroeconomic effects, and so on). 

But if your personal idea of the good life doesn't involve surfing through these hundreds of research papers, and yet you would still more than a tiny taste of what economists have been doing on this subject, a useful starting point is the set of papers produced for the Fall 2020 Brookings Papers on Economic Activity. These papers both pull together a lot of the existing research and offer additional insights. Drafts of papers, presentation slides, and video are all available. Here's a list of the papers. Each link leads to a readable short overview of the main themes of the paper, and then a link to the paper itself: 

Here are a couple of illustrative figures from the paper by Fernández-Villaverde and Jones, showing the results of the COVID-19 epidemic across countries and states. The upper right of these diagrams represent places with high COVID-19 mortality and large economic losses; the upper left is low mortality but high economic losses. The lower left is low mortality and low economic losses. The lower right is high mortality but low economic losses. 

Here's a figure showing these health and economic results for countries. Countries that have performed the worst on both dimensions (upper right) would include Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Belgium. The US is similar to Sweden and Netherlands, in having had a high level of COVID-related deaths but lower economic losses. In the bottom left are places like South Korea, Japan, China, Norway, Poland, and Denmark, with economic losses similar to the US but a much lower death rate. Taiwan is the extreme outlier, with almost no COVID-19 deaths and economic gains rather than losses (show here on the negative scale). 
Here's a similar graph at the level of US states, focusing on the monthly unemployment rate as the measure of economic outcomes. The worst outcomes in the upper right are for Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey, with both high COVID-19 death rates and high unemployment. In the upper left, some western states like Hawaii, California, and Nevada (along with Pennsylvania) had large economic losses but much lower death rates. The states with both low death rates and low unemployment in the bottom left of the diagram include Utah, Idaho, Nebraska, and Montana. 

As Fernández-Villaverde and Jones emphasize, figuring out the extent to which the better results are a matter of luck or policy (or measurement issues) is an ongoing research task. Moreover, the outcomes are still evolving. Still, graphs like these offer a way of starting to think systematically about where the health and economic effects that have followed in the wake of COVID-19 have been better or worse, and thus offer a useful starting point for additional investigation.