On Friday May 8, 2020, the Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics released the unemployment rate for April 2020: 14.7%. During the Great Depression, the unemployment rate is believed to have reached 25%. During the Recession which began in December 2007, unemployment topped out at 10% in October 2008. One note about the current 14.7% rate — experts question whether it captures the full level of unemployment as the circumstances of the pandemic mean that many who are currently not working are not in a position to “actively” seek work. Additionally, unemployment is not borne equally across all populations, posing particular challenges in some industries, regions, socio-economic groups, and communities.
Estimates suggest that “[e]merging markets and developing countries have about $11 trillion in external debt and about $3.9 trillion in debt service due in 2020.” A Brookings Institution posting highlighting these numbers argued that the debt problem is not limited to a few countries: “One indication that the problem is widespread is that already 90 countries have approached the IMF to access emergency financing instruments. It seems clear that this is not just a low-income or an African country problem.” The posting advocates immediate, comprehensive and coordinated action. The major global financial players share similar concerns. At their April 15, 2020 virtual meeting, G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors agreed, among other actions, to suspend debt service for the poorest countries. The World Bank and IMF have announced their own relief actions. Others have advocated stronger relief measures including cancellation, not merely suspension of certain debt payments.
An updated version of the Working Paper, Regulating in Pandemic: Evaluating Economic and Financial Policy Responses to the Coronavirus Crisis by Hiba Hafiz, Shu-Yi Oei, Diane M. Ring, and Natalya Shnitser has been posted. The Working Paper is revised and updated to incorporate the CARES Act (H.R. 748) as well as recent action by the Federal Reserve, the Department of Labor, and other agencies.
As the first three legislative packages addressing the COVID-19 crisis are being implemented, attention now turns to Phase 4. Here, much focus is on funding and supporting infrastructure development, growth and planning. Will this be the moment that the U.S. seriously considers the idea of a National Investment Authority? Two scholars (Robert C. Hockett and Saule T. Omarova) outlined, analyzed, and advocated this idea three years ago, in “White Paper: A National Investment Authority” (Feb. 2018, originally March 2017) and Omarova updates that analysis today for the COVID-19 world, in “Why We Need A National Investment Authority.” In a 2017 review of Hockett and Omarova’s white paper, Shu-Yi Oei (one of the organizers of this tracker site) presciently recommended the article to readers, identifying its two important contributions: “First, a policy proposal for the creation of a National Investment Authority (NIA), a hybrid, public-private entity that directs private financial capital to fund long-term infrastructure and development projects; and second, a theoretical re-envisioning of what public goods are and how to provide them.” If you didn’t read it then, you should now.