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.

Efraim Benmelech, Carola Frydman, 29 April 2020

The immediate economic fallout for the US economy from the coronavirus pandemic is predicted to be disastrous. In comparison, while the Spanish flu also had some economic consequences, they were mostly modest and temporary. This column evaluates the developments in the US economy during the 1918 influenza, in search of a possible explanation for the limited adverse effects of the flu despite similar social distancing requirements, albeit at a lower scale. It concludes that a large expansion in government demand can go a long way in softening the economic impact of the crisis we face today. 

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