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Lessons for the Age of Consequences: COVID-19 and the Macroeconomy

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Mortality and economic data show how constraints to government spending and a skepticism of redistributive policies have made the pandemic far worse

Based on comparative empirical evidence for 22 major OECD countries, I argue that country differences in cumulative mortality impacts of SARS-CoV-2 are largely caused by: (1) weaknesses in public health competence by country; (2) pre-existing country-wise variations in structural socio-economic and public health vulnerabilities; and (3) the presence of fiscal constraints. The paper argues that these pre-existing conditions, all favorable to the coronavirus, have been created, and amplified, by four decades of neoliberal macroeconomic policies – in particular by (a) the deadly emphasis on fiscal austerity (which diminished public health capacities, damaged public health and deepened inequalities and vulnerabilities); (b) the obsessive belief of macroeconomists in a trade-off between ‘efficiency’ and ‘equity,’ which is mostly used to erroneously justify rampant inequality; (c) the complicit endorsement by mainstream macro of the unchecked power over monetary and fiscal policy-making of global finance and the rentier class; and (d) the unhealthy aversion of mainstream macro (and MMT) to raising taxes, which deceives the public about the necessity to raise taxes to counter the excessive liquidity preference of the rentiers and to realign the interests of finance and of the real economy. The paper concludes by outlining a few lessons for a saner macroeconomics.

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