WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States wasted both money and lives in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, and could have prevented nearly 400,000 deaths with a more effective health strategy and cut federal spending by hundreds of billions of dollars without leaving to support those who needed it.
That’s the conclusion of a group of research papers published at a Brookings Institution conference this week, offering an early and comprehensive start to what will likely be an intense effort in the coming years to assess the response to the worst pandemic in a century.
Deaths from COVID-19 in the US could have stayed below 300,000, up from a death toll of 540,000 and rising, had the country adopted widespread mask, social distancing, and testing protocols last May. he was expecting a vaccine, estimated Andrew Atkeson, an economics professor at the university. from California, Los Angeles.
He compared the state-by-state mosaic response to a car’s cruise control. As the virus worsened, people huddled, but when the situation improved restrictions were removed and people were less careful, with the result that “the equilibrium level of daily deaths … remains in a relatively narrow band “Until the vaccine came.
Atkeson projected a final mortality level of around 670,000 when vaccines spread and the crisis subsides. The result, if a vaccine had not been developed, would have been much worse, 1.27 million, Atkeson estimated.
The economic response, while gigantic, could also have been better adapted, argued Christine Romer, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He joins former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and several others from the last two Democratic administrations in criticizing spending authorized since last spring, including Biden’s team’s $ 1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
While he said the federal government’s more than $ 5 trillion in pandemic-related spending likely won’t trigger a fiscal crisis, he’s concerned that higher-priority investments will be deferred due to allocations to initiatives like the Cashier’s Check Protection Program. Pay.
Those forgivable small business loans were “an interesting and noble experiment,” but they were also “problematic on many levels,” including an apparent cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars for every job saved, he said.
“Spending on programs like unemployment compensation and public health was exactly what was required,” he wrote, but other aspects, notably the generous one-time payments to families, were “largely ineffective and wasteful.”
“If something like the trillion dollars spent on stimulus payments that did little to help those most affected by the pandemic ends up preventing spending a trillion dollars on infrastructure or climate change in the next few years, the United States will have made a very bad deal. . Romer wrote.
Officials in the Biden administration, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, argue that the complete package was needed to ensure that all workers and families remain financially intact until the job market recovers.
In a separate paper, Minneapolis Federal Reserve researchers Krista Ruffini and Abigail Wozniak concluded that federal programs largely did what they intended by supporting revenue and spending, with the impact seen in how consumption changed in response to the approval and expiration of different government payments.
But they also found room for improvement.
The evidence for PPP’s effectiveness in retaining jobs, for example, was “mixed,” they found, and increases in food assistance did not take into account things like higher grocery prices.
“Food insecurity remained high throughout 2020,” they noted.
The goal now, they said, should be to determine what worked to make the response to any similar crisis more effective.
“The 2020 response from the social security system was very successful,” they said. “Given the scope and scale of the response to the pandemic, it is critical that we continue to assess these efforts to understand the full extent of their reach, which populations were helped, and who was left out.”
Reporting by Howard Schneider; Edited by Dan Burns