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The Economy Under COVID-19: Notes From the Trenches - May 14, 2020

Alex Carrick
The Economy Under COVID-19: Notes From the Trenches - May 14, 2020

There are currently two crises underway simultaneously. The advance of the novel coronavirus is taking a terrible toll in terms of physical and emotional well-being. At the same time, job losses resulting from ‘social distancing’ are sending the economy into a tailspin. To fight on both fronts, governments are advancing rescue packages of never-seen-before dimensions. Every day, the tremendous number of factors in play reconfigure in a new way. These ‘from the trenches’ notes attempt to shed some light along a murky pathway.

  • Now you have an excuse to eat them. French fries should more accurately be called Belgian fries. They were given the wrong name by American soldiers in World War I who mistakenly thought they were in France when they came across the new tasty use for potatoes. Over the past many decades, Belgium has been a leading exporter of the kinds of potatoes that make the best fries. But restaurant and fast-food demand has fallen off a cliff coincident with coronavirus quarantining and there are storehouses full of spuds that are in danger of spoiling by the end of June. The message has gone out in Belgium, and it’s being picked up in other countries, that families should double their French fry intake from one meal per week to two.
  • Speaking of Belgium, it has one of the worst COVID-19 mortality rates among countries in the world, according to the authoritative website on the progress of the disease being maintained by Johns Hopkins University. Deaths per capita is considered the best gauge of how brutally a country is being ravaged by the coronavirus. (Statistics on the infection rate can be wonky.) In Belgium, the number of deaths per 100,000 population is currently 74.6. The figures for some other developed nations, in descending order, are as follows: Spain, 56.3; Italy, 50.0; United Kingdom, 47.1; France, 39.2; Sweden, 31.2; United States, 23.6; Canada, 12.7; and Germany, 9.1. 
  • The enormity of job losses tied to the pandemic has been staggering, but there’s a new category of employment that will lead to significant hiring. ‘Trackers’ are needed to trace the recent movements of people newly identified as carrying the COVID-19 bug. Individuals with whom they’ve come in contact must be alerted so they can go into quarantine and halt additional spread. A rule of thumb concerning number of trackers is that 300 are required per 100,000 population. For an urbanized area of a million, that’s 3,000 trackers. You can do the math from there.
  • With so many of us now keeping mainly to ourselves at home, it’s a wonderful time to reconnect with old friends over the Internet. A nice lady I used to work with ‒ she’s a grandmother now, but was a young adult when we were colleagues ‒ sent me an e-mail with an attached photo of her first daughter as not much more than a baby, hugging an adorable teddy bear with the softest eyes. She asked if I recalled giving the toy to her little one to mark an exciting birth. I was pleased to respond, “Certainly I remember. I want it back. That was on loan.”

Read the previous article here: The Economy Under COVID-19: Notes from the Trenches – May 13, 2020.

Alex Carrick is Chief Economist for ConstructConnect. He has delivered presentations throughout North America on the U.S., Canadian and world construction outlooks. Mr. Carrick has been with the company since 1985. Links to his numerous articles are featured on Twitter @ConstructConnx, which has 50,000 followers.

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