Is the Coronavirus Crash Worse Than the 2008 Financial Crisis?

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In May 2018, President Donald Trump restructured and downsized the pandemic preparedness unit. Of course, it seems ill-judged in retrospect. But he was not the first president to do so. The National Security Council’s (NSC) global health security unit was set up under Bill Clinton in 1998. Years later, first George W. Bush and then Barack Obama would shut it down, only to reestablish it shortly afterward. The fact is that bureaucracies have never known how to treat low-probability, high-stakes biomedical risks like pandemics. They sit awkwardly within the conventional silos of modern government and models of risk assessment.

If this is true for the NSC, it is even more so for those charged with economic policymaking. Among the tail risks widely discussed in economic policy circles, a deliberate shutdown of national economies on the grounds of a public health emergency has never been seriously considered. Of course, we’ve spoken of “contagion” in financial crises, but we’ve meant it metaphorically—not literally.

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