While nearly every nation has mandated panic measures such as lockdowns and economic shutdown, Sweden has used a more relaxed, voluntary approach with guidelines rather than regulation. They even encourage people to go outside and <shock> have fun together.
By doing this they have effectively set themselves up as the “control case” i.e. the business as normal situaiton against which other cases can be compared.
Stockholm Business Region, a state-funded company that supports the city’s global business community, estimates that rises to at least 90% in the capital’s largest firms, thanks to a tech-savvy workforce and a business culture that has long promoted flexible and remote working practices.
“Every company that has the possibility to do this, they are doing it, and it works,” says its CEO Staffan Ingvarsson.
His words cut to the heart of the government’s strategy here: self-responsibility. Public health authorities and politicians are still hoping to slow down the spread of the virus without the need for draconian measures.
There are more guidelines than strict rules, with a focus on staying home if you’re sick or elderly, washing your hands, and avoiding any non-essential travel, as well as working from home.
Sweden has so far reported nearly 3,500 cases of the virus and 105 deaths.
“We who are adults need to be exactly that: adults. Not spread panic or rumours,” Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said in a televised address to the nation last weekend.
“No one is alone in this crisis, but each person has a heavy responsibility.”
High level of trust
A majority of Swedes watched and approved of his speech, according to a nationwide survey for Novus, a major polling company.
Meanwhile, there is a high level of trust in public authorities in Sweden, which many believe is driving locals to adhere to voluntary guidelines.
Demography may also be a relevant factor in the country’s approach. In contrast to the multi-generational homes in Mediterranean countries, more than half of Swedish households are made up of one person, which cuts the risk of the virus spreading within families.
Meanwhile, Swedes love the outdoors and officials have said that keeping people physically and mentally healthy is another reason they’re keen to avoid rules that would keep people cooped up at home.
“We have to combine looking at minimising the health effects of the virus outbreak and the economic impacts of this health crisis,” says Andreas Hatzigeorgiou, CEO at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.
“The business community here really thinks that the Swedish government and the Swedish approach is more sensible than in many other countries.”
‘History will be the judge’
But as Swedes watch the rest of Europe grind to a halt, others are starting to question their country’s unique approach.
“I think people are prone to listen to the recommendations, but in this kind of critical situation, I am not sure that it’s enough,” says Dr Emma Frans, an epidemiologist based at Swedish medical university The Karolinska Institute.
She’s calling for “clearer instructions” for people on how they should interact in public places such as shops and gyms.
And while business is ticking over for some, others are struggling. Around the corner from Mariatorget’s busy bars, popular hipster barber shop Honest Al’s has seen customer numbers plummet, despite efforts to improve safety by staggering staffing and appointments.
“My wife is also having her own company, so we pretty much depend on ourselves. Business is bad. I still have bills to pay. We’re gonna have to call the banks,” says owner Al Mocika.
He’s putting his money on Sweden switching tactics and imposing a lockdown, something officials haven’t ruled out doing in the future.
Dr Emma Frans says history will be the judge of which politicians and scientists around Europe have made the best calls so far.
“Nobody really knows what measurements will be the most effective,” she says. “I’m quite glad that I’m not the one making these decisions”.
Terrified dogs and cats crammed into rusty cages. Bats and scorpions offered for sale as traditional medicine. Rabbits and ducks slaughtered and skinned side by side on a stone floor covered with blood, filth, and animal remains.
Those were the deeply troubling scenes yesterday as China celebrated its ‘victory’ over the coronavirus by reopening squalid meat markets of the type that started the pandemic three months ago, with no apparent attempt to raise hygiene standards to prevent a future outbreak.
As the pandemic that began in Wuhan forced countries worldwide to go into lockdown, a Mail on Sunday correspondent yesterday watched as thousands of customers flocked to a sprawling indoor market in Guilin, south-west China.
Here cages of different species were piled on top of each other. In another meat market in Dongguan, southern China, another correspondent photographed a medicine seller returning to business on Thursday with a billboard advertising bats – thought to be the cause of the initial Wuhan outbreak – along with scorpions and other creatures.
The shocking scenes came as China finally lifted a weekslong nationwide lockdown and encouraged people to go back to normal daily life to boost the flagging economy. Official statistics indicated there were virtually no new infections.
States that introduced “green” regulations that taxed single-use plastic grocery bags in an effort to eventually annihilate them are now welcoming them back as health officials caution of possible contamination with reusable bags.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said Thursday he was suspending the ten-cent tax on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and other retail businesses as one of his actions “to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
“The latter move is to curb the use of personal bags that could bring the virus into a store,” reported the Journal Inquirer.
Neighboring Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) banned reusable bags in stores this week and lifted bans on plastic bags as well “as part of his administration’s latest steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus,” reported the Boston Business Journal.
“Baker announced Wednesday that stores cannot charge for either paper or plastic bags, which in some communities have previously cost 5 cents per bag,” noted the report.
A lot of “reusable” shopping bags already end up in our trash. They make great trash bags (stronger than single use, convenient size), and frankly the thought of putting food into a bag which has already been used to carry meat or dairy is just scary.
If, like me, you’ve been wondering why Italy has been so hard hit by the coronavirus, here is your answer. Direct flights to Wuhan! Seriously.
As soon as word got out of China, President Trump imposed travel restrictions on that country. Italy, on the other hand had direct flights to Wuhan, the city of the Cornoavirus’s origin and and reports suggest over 100,000 Chinese citizens were working in Italian factories,” the Times continued. “Chinese made a slow and steady move into Italy and many Italian fashion firms are now owned by them as well. As per a news report, there are more than 300,000 Chinese and over 90% of them work in the Italian garment industry. As per reports, there are thousands of small companies that are active in exports.
“Italy also has direct flights from Wuhan and reports suggest over 100,000 Chinese citizens were working in Italian factories,” the Times continued. “Chinese made a slow and steady move into Italy and many Italian fashion firms are now owned by them as well. As per a news report, there are more than 300,000 Chinese and over 90% of them work in the Italian garment industry. As per reports, there are thousands of small companies that are active in exports. This region is also very interconnected as well.”
Steve Kates is one of the few economists who actually understands economics. He says that Covid is bringing a major restructuring of the economy, and the job of Governments is not to “stimulate” the economy by boosting retail spending, but to help businesses survive the transition. Well worth a read.
Whatever anyone might believe about the dangers of the Corona Virus, there is no doubt that the American economy, in fact every economy, is heading into recession. There will be a large fall in output and a rise in the rate of unemployment. All this is inevitable. But what must be understood if policy is to achieve a positive outcome is that the downturn cannot be understood as due to a fall in demand as modern economic theory would have it, but will be due to a massive structural shift in our economies. It is not that we will be buying less because we are saving more, but we will be buying not just less, because we will be producing less, but we will not be buying many goods and services we had been buying until concerns about the virus became so general. Lots of forms of production, such as air travel and restaurant meals, will experience a major contraction in demand because of the fears that certain activities are now forbidden or many people have self-isolated.
As every pre-Keynesian economist once knew, recessions do occur but NEVER because a deficiency of demand. When they occur, they are the result of a structural shift in the underlying economy. We are now in the midst of one of the most profound shifts in the international economy ever seen. Just the restaurant trade is facing a major fall in demand, along with airline travel, tourism and lots of other parts of the economy. The structure of the economy is under immense stress. The downturn which is inevitable is due to a structural shift, not a fall in demand. Everyone once understood that. Since 1936, since the publication of Keynes’s General Theory, this then-universal understanding of why recessions occur has disappeared utterly from economic discourse. I used to think the pre-Keynesian conception was obvious, but have discovered to my amazement that virtually no one any longer understands it. We are all Keynesians now, except for a handful of others who have retained this older, now abandoned, approach. But what has amazed me now even more is that the approach taken by Donald Trump in trying to deal with the coming downturn clearly takes a classical approach to softening the economic fall-out that is now inevitable.
Nothing will prevent a downturn now, but what must be done is:
(1) ensure those who are now being temporarily displaced from their paid employment are receiving cash in hand so that they can buy what they need,
(2) businesses, whose revenues will be falling and in many instances be reduced to zero, must have an immediate fall in production costs through perhaps cuts to various forms of taxation, along with receiving cash injections so that businesses which will return to profitability after this disruption are able to maintain at least part of their cash flow and pay their bills, not just so that they can stay in business but that so too can their suppliers
It is the structure of demand that needs to be preserved, not the level. The level of demand will fall, but the crucial issue is that the structure of demand will also be badly affected. The aim of policy must be to ensure that the underlying structure of supply is maintained. This is what is meant by supply-side economics. It is to maintain the structure of the economy that matters. Maintaining the structure is crucial, not the totality. Demand is constituted by supply, and supply will be falling all over the place and therefore so to will demand.
See the airline industry as a clear example. People will one day wish to fly as they have always done, but the airlines must be preserved in the meantime. Virtually every industry is in exactly the same position. No revenue or drastically reduced revenues at the moment to meet their costs, but also with a certain expectation that demand will return in the near future. The aim must now be to preserve as much as possible.
The photo above was taken while watching Fox with the proposed government approach stated as follows:
RPT:PROPOSED GOVT STIMULUS PKG WILL INCLUDE $1200 FOR SINGLE AMERICANS AND $2400 FOR COUPLES
As we think of things today, it has to be presented as a “stimulus” as if the aim is to raise the level of demand. It is, nevertheless, an approach to dealing with a structural shift in the economy, and the aim is to preserve as much of the economy as can be preserved for when things return to normal. The policy proposal is discussed here: GOP coronavirus stimulus bill unveils $1,200 checks for public.
“Recovery checks of up to $1,200 will be put into the hands of most taxpayers, providing cash immediately to individuals and families,” the Senate Finance Committee said in a statement.
President Trump requested that the legislation include the direct payments to boost consumer purchasing. The White House requested two $1,000 waves of checks to all taxpayers.
On the business side, there is also this:
The package also includes $300 billion in small business loans, which would be forgiven if the firms don’t lay off workers.
Another $58 billion in loans would go to airlines suffering a demand plunge worse than after 9/11, with another $150 billion of loans and loan guarantees to other businesses.
This is obviously also intended as a means to maintain the structure of the economy, not as a “stimulus” to lift demand. Among the good luck of the moment is that the President is a former businessman who understands the problems facing business and what needs to be done immediately to minimise the long-term harm to the economy. I can only hope the same approach is taken across the world.
Having just finished the first round of editing of my next book, Classical Economics and the Modern Economy, let me recommend it to one and all once it is finally published in June. It is even possible that classical economic theory may once again come back into fashion. The benefit to our economies and future standard of living would be massive.