(Mar 27): While pandemics are comparatively rare — and severe ones rarer still — I am not aware of a historical episode that can provide any insight as to the likely economic consequences of the unfolding global coronavirus crisis. This time truly is different.
A key feature of this episode that makes it unique is the policy response. Governments around the world are giving priority to measures that limit the spread of disease and save lives, including the complete lockdown of a region (as in China) and even of entire countries (Italy, Spain, and France, for example). A much longer list of countries, including the US, have imposed strict international travel bans and prohibited all manner of public events.
These measures could not be further from the policy response to the deadliest viral outbreak of modern times, the 1918–1919 Spanish influenza pandemic (see Chart 1). That pandemic, which claimed 675,000 lives in the US and at least 50 million worldwide, occurred against the backdrop of World War I.