Leticia Abad, Noel Maurer, 19 February 2021

While the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to have affected the 2020 US presidential elections, it had remarkably little effect on the electoral returns. This column compares the situation to the 1918 influenza pandemic and examines whether the flu pandemic affected US congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential elections during 1918–1920. Flu deaths did have a small effect on elections – voters did indeed blame incumbent parties for bad health outcomes. However, it appears they cared about other things much more.

Sergio Galletta, Tommaso Giommoni, 03 October 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak is expected to increase income inequality around the world as the poorer are likely to be hit harder by the pandemic’s negative economic impact. Focusing on Italy, this column argues that such distributional consequences also appeared during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Income inequality became higher in areas more afflicted by the flu pandemic, and this is mostly explained by a reduction in the share of income held by poorer people. This effect seems to persist even a century after the pandemic.

Guillaume Chapelle, 20 May 2020

Non-pharmaceutical interventions such as school closures and social distancing were implemented in the US against the spread of the 1918 influenza pandemic. This column explores the effect of these interventions on economic activity and death rates in US cities during and after 1918. The policies lowered the fatality rate during the peak of the pandemic but are associated with a significant rise in the death rate in subsequent years, possibly through reducing herd immunity. Their impact, positive or negative, on the growth of the manufacturing sector in US cities remains an open question.

Robert Barro, Jose Ursua, Joanna Weng, 20 March 2020

What is a plausible worst-case scenario for outcomes under COVID-19? This column draws lessons from the 1918-1920 Great Influenza Pandemic. Data for 43 countries imply flu-related deaths back then of 39 million, 2% of the world population, implying 150 million deaths when applied to current population. Controlling for effects from WWI, GDP and consumption in the typical country declined by 6% and 8%, respectively, while real returns on stocks and short-term government bills fell meaningfully. Large potential losses in lives and economic activity justify current policy actions to limit the damage, but there is a difficult tradeoff between mortality and lost output, and this tradeoff warrants discussion that is absent so far.

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