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July Monthly

July Monthly

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Many major and emerging central banks took action in June, but outside of possible technical adjustments will continue with the current supportive stance in July.  The policy focus will shift back to fiscal initiatives.  The highlights will be the EU Summit on July 12, which is considering the EC's 750 bln euro package of grants and loans, and the US decision regarding the $600 a week extra unemployment insurance (expiring at the end of July) and another large budget bill ostensibly for state and local governments and infrastructure.

In the second half of June, more monetary support was provided, though it took different forms and was not coordinated.  The Federal Reserve's Main Street facility was launched after being announced in late March.  The Fed's corporate bond purchase program began including individual issues rather than just ETFs, which had been the case previously, and it will also buy bonds in the primary market. 

The Bank of Japan expanded interest-free loans to corporations to JPY110 trillion from JPY75 trillion.  The ECB made net new three-year loans of nearly 550 bln euro (at minus 100 bp), or a 10% increase in its balance sheet (~5.63 trillion euros as of June 12).  The Bank of England boosted its bond-buying program by GBP100 bln. 

The People's Bank of China cut its reverse repo rate by 20 bp and officials signaled further easing of monetary policy would be delivered.  It also announced a 25 bp cut in the re-discount rate to 2%, which is seen helping small and medium businesses.  Other central banks, including Brazil (-75 bp to 2.25%), Russia (-100 bp to 4.50%), Indonesia (-25 bp to 4.25%), the Philippines (-50 bp to 2.25%) Mexico (-50 bp to 5.0%), and Colombia (-25 bp to 2.50%).   

It appears that most of the major economies are past the worst of the direct of economic impact.  Going forward, nation-wide lockdowns may not be necessary, though localized action could have broader knock-effects.  As the second quarter wound down, several countries in Europe and Asia have seen an increase in new cases.  The US is seeing a record number of cases, and a few re-opening exercises have been reversed, and others halted, while Mexico may be seeing early signs that the curve is bending, Brazil is still in the throes of the worst of the epidemic.

The world's two largest economies will report Q2 GDP in July. China's report is due in the middle of the month.  Outside of February, China's composite PMI has been above the boom/bust 50-level. China's economy contracted by nearly 10% in the first quarter, and small but positive growth cannot be ruled out in Q2, though some economists are more pessimistic. The US economy contracted by 5% at an annualized pace in Q1, and output may have fallen by 35%-45% in Q2.  It reports the first estimate at the end of the month.   

The third quarter is widely expected to show strong improvement over Q2 and there is good reason to suspect it was a historically short but deep contraction.  The critical issue going forward is about the pace of the recovery, which itself depends on no small extent on the evolution of the virus.  If new flare-ups cannot be totally avoided, as was seen in Beijing that had a surge in cases after reporting no new cases for more than fifty days, then the challenge is the speed and effectiveness of containment. 

However, after the third quarter, visibility is limited. Without a vaccine or specific treatment, the recovery will likely be gradual and uneven.  The signs of green shoots may also temper the will to maintain the extent of the stimulus. There may be two last hurrahs in July.  A consensus may be reached for the EU Recovery Fund at the summit. 

The protracted negotiations underscore that these are not emergency funds that will be disbursed and spent immediately.  It is a small part of the fiscal support many countries will need.  The subscript may be where the real political importance lies.  A common bond that is not an intergovernmental agreement, but something larger, some have suggested is the "Hamiltonian moment" for Europe.  It could be scaffolding for a greater fiscal union, but we are reluctant to project emergency measures into the future.  Those fights still lie ahead.

In fact, in the current circumstances, a common bond itself is not so controversial.  By focusing on the potential significance of a common bond, the advocates not confronted the main objection of the "frugal four" (Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, and Austria).  Their complaint is how the proceeds of the bond will be used.  The German and French proposal is heavily weighed toward grants.  This does not sit well with taxpayers in the North.  

The US may approve another stimulus package in July  Previously, the Congressional Budget Office projected a budget deficit of around 18% of GDP.   If it weren't for the elections in November, this package might not have been considered. At the same time, most countries have neither the political will nor financial capacity to provide as much stimulus.  After the Great Financial Crisis, the divergence helped underpin the dollar.   This time a different dynamic appears to be at work. The liquidity the central banks are providing, and the spending of governments are encouraging the pursuit of risk-assets. And the dollar is the opposite. 

At the same time, between loan guarantees and the fiscal stimulus, German efforts are unlikely to be matched elsewhere in Europe.  Even with a generous package of loans and grants, the EU's Recovery Fund is not going to dampen that new divergence in Europe could very well shape the next European crisis. 

EC President von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Johnson appear to have reinvigorated the trade talks, which will be accelerated in the coming weeks. The UK indicated that regardless of the outcome, it will relax the control that applies to trade with the EU for the first half of next year, seemingly making a virtue out of necessity.   If the Irish border was the critical element in the withdrawal bill, the crux of trade dispute might be over the future alignment of environmental and labor protections, and state aid.  Checks of plants and products of animal origins will also be particularly challenging for the UK.  Its ports lack the facilities and often the space to carry out such checks.  Some estimates suggest the UK may need to hire as many as 50k more customs agents. 

Meanwhile, Japan has indicated that a trade agreement needs to also be completed by the end of July to give it time to be debated and approved by the Diet.  To achieve this, the EU-Japan trade agreement that took effect in 2019 will likely simply be duplicated to include the UK. The UK was pushing for a further reduction (or elimination) of Japanese tariffs on goods and agriculture, like beef and cheese.   


Dollar:  The dollar fell against all the major currencies in May but sterling and the yen  It fell further in June, though sterling was the exception, slipping about 0.2%  The JP Morgan Emerging Market Currency Index fell 1% in June after rising 3.4% in May, which was the only month in H1 20 that it did not decline.  With the funding markets functioning normally, the use of the Fed's swap facility diminished, and the dollar was used again to fund the purchase of other higher-risk assets. Speculators, judging from the positioning in the futures market, have amassed a significant long euro position. Outside of the yen, the non-commercials in the futures market were net short most of the other currency futures.  In the weeks ahead, negative surprises will likely be more dollar supportive than unexpected positive news. 

Euro:  The ECB has aggressively moved to ensure that its ultra-accommodative monetary stance transmitted through the region.  In June, it increased the size of its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Plan by 600 bln euros and extended the program until at least mid-2021. It also made net new loans of about 550 bln euros for three-years at minus 100 bp.  The ECB's balance sheet increased by roughly 11.5% in June, more than the previous two months put together.  What market participants call carry trades is the implementation of the ECB's transmission mechanism.  The ECB buys bonds and provides incentives for investors to buy peripheral bonds, thus narrowing spreads. The next step is the European Recovery Plan, and there is cautious optimism that a compromise can be struck.  Europe appears to be doing a better job than the US in containing the virus.  Trade tensions with the US over digital tax, the Nord Stream II pipeline, and the threat of US auto tariffs, are simmering just below the surface.  Merkel assumes the rotating presidency of the EU in H2 20 and certainly has her work cut out. 

(end of March indicative prices, previous in parentheses)

Spot: $1.1235   ($1.1100) 
Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast $1.1225 ($1.1075) 
One-month forward  $1.1245 ($1.1110)    One-month implied vol  7.1%  (6.4%)    


Yen:   The dollar rose to almost JPY110 in early June, its highest level since late March, but quick retreated and tested the lower end of the range near JPY106 as the month drew to a close. The exchange rate's co-movement with the risk appetites has weakened from the first part of the year.  The rolling 60-day correlation is around 0.15, after peaking above 0.80 in February and holding above  0.55 throughout Q1.  It was just below 0.50 at the start of June.  Other forces moved to the fore in June, and some observers emphasized the large corporate divesture (Softbank sales of T-Mobile, ~$20 bln).  The government and the central bank are cautiously optimistic that a recovery may be at hand.   The Bank of Japan forecasts a 4% contraction this year, which appears to be on the optimistic side of forecasts.  Soft (surveys) and hard data (industrial production) has disappointed.  Judging from the BOJ's bond purchase plans in July, it will not object to further steepening of the yield curve.  The nearly five basis point increase in the 10-year benchmark yield was the most within the G7 in the second quarter. Japan's 30-year yield a little below 60 bp. By comparison, the UK's 30-year Gilt is a few basis points higher, while the German Bund yield is minus two basis points.  

Spot: JPY107.95 (JPY107.85)      
Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast JPY107.65  (JPY107.60)     
One-month forward JPY107.90  (JPY107.80)    One-month implied vol  5.8% (5.4%)  


Sterling: Sterling's flat performance in June after the poor showing in May (-~2.0%) reflects the poor news stream from the UK.   Even when some data, like the preliminary June PMI was stronger than expected, sterling struggled to sustain even modest upticks.  The low for June (~$1.2250) was set late in the month.  The euro set a three-month high against sterling (~GBP0.9175) at the end of June, as well.  We look for a better showing from sterling in July, which is a critical month for the UK.  The country will be re-opening more quickly, and the risk of new flare-ups, as seen elsewhere, is a concern.  Trade talks with the EU are to accelerate, and the next several weeks will reveal if progress has been made.  The UK's own customs facilities and personnel need to be expanded.  Japan is insisting that its trade agreement with the UK needs to be completed by the end of July to give the Diet sufficient time to debate and vote on it.  It may be little more than extending the agreement between the EU and Japan that took effect last year.  

Spot: $1.2400  ($1.2345)   
Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast $1.2415 ($1.2355) 
One-month forward $1.2400 ($1.2345)   One-month implied vol 9.0% (8.9%)
  

Canadian Dollar:  The US dollar fell out of the CAD1.3850-CAD1.4200 trading range of April and the first half of May and continued to fall in the first part of June, ultimately reaching nearly CAD1.33.   The greenback entered a consolidative phase in the second half of June, but there may be scope back into the previous range.  June will be remembered for the beginning of Macklem's seven-year term as Governor of the Bank of Canada.  It will also be remembered for when Fitch became the first major rating agency to take away its AAA standing, citing rising deficit and debt levels in response to the pandemic (now, AA+ with stable outlook).  The housing sector appears to be leading the Canadian recovery. In Q2, Canada's 10-year yield fell about 25 bp to lead the G7. The Bank of Canada meets on July 15. There is scope for technical adjustments as the markets have normalized.  

Spot: CAD1.3580  (CAD 1.3780) 
Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast  CAD1.3585 (CAD1.3810)
One-month forward  CAD1.3575  (CAD1.3800)    One-month implied vol  7.0%  (6.9%) 


Australian Dollar:  The Australian dollar dropped 12.7% in Q1 and bounced 12.5% in Q2 (including a 3.5% gain in June).  The currency appreciation did not reflect the domestic economy, which has been hard hit by the virus.  The preliminary June composite PMI surged from 28.1 in May to 52.6.  In 2019, it averaged 50.5, and last June stood at 52.5.  The Aussie is one of the currency proxies for risk.  The rolling 60-day correlation between (percent change) in the Aussie and S&P 500 is near 0.7 and the highest eight years.  On a purely directional basis, the correlation is about 0.95.  The Reserve Bank of Australia meets on July 7.  No change in policy is expected, but it could raise the level of concern about the strength of the Aussie.  When exchange rates move in the opposite direction of monetary policy, it can dilute official effects.

Spot:  $0.6900($0.6665)       
Median Bloomberg One-Month Forecast $.0.6870  ($0.6575)     
One-month forward  $0.6905  ($0.6665)     One-month implied vol 10.9%  (10.8%)   


Mexican Peso:  The dollar peaked around MXN25.7850 in early April, and two months later, it looks like it has bottomed near MXN21.45, a little above an important technical level. The peso is also treated as a currency proxy for risk, and it also serves as a proxy for emerging market currencies broadly.  The dollar recorded the highs for the month (~MXN23.23) on the last session.  The government's response to the pandemic continues to appear relatively light. The central bank delivered its fifth rate cut of the year in June to bring the cash target to 5.0% from 7.25% at the end of 2019.  Banxico does not meet again until August when it could deliver a 25 or 50 bp rate cut depending on circumstances. While worker remittances have been stronger than expected, the trade position has deteriorated markedly.  In May, what was supposed to be a trade surplus was the second consecutive deficit over $3.5 bln.  Exports had fallen by almost 57% year-over-year, while imports were off 47%. 

Spot: MXN22.99 (MXN22.18)  
Median Bloomberg One-Month Forecast  MXN22.77 (MXN22.38)  
One-month forward  MXN23.09 (MXN22.28)     One-month implied vol 18.8% (18.5%)


Chinese Yuan:   The dollar peaked in late May near CNY7.1780 and returned to CNY7.05, the lower end of its two-month trading range, before the middle of June.  It was confined to CNY7.05-CNY7.10 trading range second half of the last month.  The 200-day moving average is around CNY7.0460, and the dollar has not been below CNY7.03 since mid-March.  Chinese officials have done a reasonably good job if their goal is for a stable yuan against the dollar.  It appreciated by about 0.25% in Q2 after falling almost 1.7% in Q1.  The stability of the yuan, while offering substantially higher rates than the US, may attract investment flows. Relations with the US continue to deteriorate.  China has boosted imports from the US recently, including meat, aircraft, and integrated circuits.  China has by-and-large, kept trade issues separate from other political issues. But, Beijing has warned on at least two occasions that if the US continues to challenge it on so many fronts, including on issues it regards as redlines, it will not be able to fulfill Phase One trade agreement.  China has only met about a fifth of the overall quantitative target through May.  

Spot: CNY7.0655(CNY7.1365)
Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast  CNY7.0670 (CNY7.1150) 
One-month forward CNY7.0795  (CNY7.1350)    One-month implied vol  4.2% (4.7%)





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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide…

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020, some elite colleges and universities shredded testing requirements for admission. Several years later, the test-optional admission has yet to produce the promising results for racial and class-based equity that many woke academic institutions wished.

The failure of test-optional admission policies has forced Dartmouth College to reinstate standardized test scores for admission starting next year. This should never have been eliminated, as merit will always prevail. 

"Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a predictor of student success at Dartmouth, we are removing the extended pause and reactivating the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission, effective with the Class of 2029," Dartmouth wrote in a press release Monday morning. 

"For Dartmouth, the evidence supporting our reactivation of a required testing policy is clear. Our bottom line is simple: we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve—not detract from—our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus," the elite college said. 

Who would've thought eliminating standardized tests for admission because a fringe minority said they were instruments of racism and a biased system was ever a good idea? 

Also, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. More from Dartmouth, who commissioned the research: 

They also found that test scores represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low and middle-income backgrounds; who are first-generation college-bound; as well as students from urban and rural backgrounds.

All the colleges and universities that quickly adopted test-optional admissions in 2020 experienced a surge in applications. Perhaps the push for test-optional was under the guise of woke equality but was nothing more than protecting the bottom line for these institutions. 

A glimpse of sanity returns to woke schools: Admit qualified kids. Next up is corporate America and all tiers of the US government. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 02/05/2024 - 17:20

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Spread & Containment

From Colombia to Laos: protecting crops through nanotechnology

In a recent breakthrough, DNA sequencing technology has uncovered the culprit behind cassava witches’ broom disease: the fungus genus Ceratobasidium….

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In a recent breakthrough, DNA sequencing technology has uncovered the culprit behind cassava witches’ broom disease: the fungus genus Ceratobasidium.

Credit: Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT / A. Galeon

In a recent breakthrough, DNA sequencing technology has uncovered the culprit behind cassava witches’ broom disease: the fungus genus Ceratobasidium.

The cutting-edge nanopore technology used for this discovery was first developed to track the COVID-19 virus in Colombia, but is equally suited to identifying and reducing the spread of plant viruses. The findings, published in Scientific Reports, will help plant pathologists in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand protect farmers’ valued cassava harvest.

“In Southeast Asia, most smallholder farmers rely on cassava: its starch-rich roots form the basis of an industry that supports millions of producers. In the past decade, however, Cassava Witches’ Broom disease has stunted plants, reducing harvests to levels that barely permit affected farmers to make a living,” said Wilmer Cuellar, Senior Scientist at the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT.

Since 2017, researchers at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT have incorporated nanotechnology into their research, specifically through the Oxford Nanopore DNA/RNA sequencing technology. This advanced tool provides insight into the deeper mysteries of plant life, accurately identifying pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungi that affect crops.

“When you find out which pathogen is present in a crop, you can implement an appropriate diagnostic method, search for resistant varieties and integrate that diagnosis into variety selection processes,” said Ana Maria Leiva, Senior Researcher at the Alliance.

Nanotechnology, in essence, is the bridge between what we see and what we can barely imagine. This innovation opens a window into the microscopic world of plant life and pathogens, redefining the way we understand and combat diseases that affect crops.

For an in-depth look at the technology being used in Laos and Colombia, please explore this link.


About the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

The Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) delivers research-based solutions that harness agricultural biodiversity and sustainably transform food systems to improve people’s lives. Alliance solutions address the global crises of malnutrition, climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation.

With novel partnerships, the Alliance generates evidence and mainstreams innovations to transform food systems and landscapes so that they sustain the planet, drive prosperity, and nourish people in a climate crisis.

The Alliance is part of CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. www.alliancebioversityciat.org


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Public Health from the People

There are many ways to privately improve public health. Such responses make use of local knowledge, entrepreneurship, and civil society and pursue standard…

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There are many ways to privately improve public health. Such responses make use of local knowledge, entrepreneurship, and civil society and pursue standard goals of public health like controlling the spread of infectious diseases. Moreover, private responses improve overall welfare by lowering the total costs of a disease and limiting externalities. If private responses can produce similar outcomes as standard, governmental public health programs—and more—perhaps we should reconsider when and where we call upon governments to improve public health.

Two Kinds of Private Responses

Following Vernon Smith and his distinction between constructivist and ecological rationality, private actors can engage in two general kinds of public health improvements. They can engage in concerted efforts to improve public health, and they can engage in emergent responses through myriad interactions.1 Three stories below—about William Walsh, Martha Claghorn, and Edwin Gould—indicate concerted efforts to improve public health.

Walsh, a Catholic priest and President of the Father Matthew Society in Memphis, Tennessee, used the society to organize a refugee camp outside of the city and helped hundreds of people avoid yellow fever during the 1878 epidemic—one of the worst yellow fever epidemics in the country.2 Shortly after learning mosquitos carried diseases prior to 1901, Claghorn chaired the Civics committee of the Twentieth Century Club in the Richmond Hill area of Long Island and led a community-wide anti-mosquito campaign, which rid the area of potentially infectious mosquitos.3 After realizing that many of his employees were sick with malaria, Gould—president of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway—used his wealth and business firm to finance and develop an anti-mosquito campaign throughout Texas.4

These stories show how individuals recognize a public health problem given their circumstances and use their knowledge and available resources to resolve the problem. More recently, we might all be familiar with private, constructivist responses to Covid-19. We all made plans to avoid others and produce our desired amount of exposure. Many people made facemasks from old clothes or purchased them from facemask producers. Businesses, retailers, restaurants, and many others adapted in various ways to limit exposure for their workers and customers. My favorite example, albeit not relevant for most, is the so-called bubble that was implemented by the NBA, which housed teams, encouraged play, and limited infection. The NBA finished their season and crowned a 2020 champion only because of the privately designed and implemented bubble solution. The key is that the bubble pursued all of those objectives, not just one of them. All of these responses indicate how private interactions among people can minimize their exposure, through negotiation, discussion, and mutually beneficial means.

In addition to privately designed solutions, emergent public health responses are also important, perhaps even more so. Long-term migration and settlement patterns away from infectious diseases, consumption to improve nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, and the development of social norms to encourage preventative behavior are all different kinds of emergent public health responses. Each of these responses—developed through the actions of no one person—are substantial ways to improve public health.

First, consider how common migration operates as a means of lowering prevalence rates. As soon as people realized that living near stagnant bodies of water increased the probability of acquiring diseases like malaria, they were more likely to leave those areas and subsequently avoid them. Places with such features became known as places to avoid; people also developed myths to dissuade visitors and inhabitants.5 Such myths and associations left places like the Roman Campagna desolate for centuries. These kinds of cultural associations are also widespread; for example, many people in North and South Carolina moved to areas with higher elevation and took summer vacations to avoid diseases like malaria. East End and West End, in London, also developed because of the opportunities people had to migrate away from (and towards) several diseases.6

While these migration patterns might develop over decades, movement and migration also help in more acute public health crises. During the 1878 yellow fever epidemic throughout the southern United States, for example, thousands of people fled their cities to avoid infection. They took any means of transportation they could find. While some fled to other, more northern cities, many acquired temporary housing in suburbs, and many formed campsites and refugee camps outside of their city. The refugee camps outside of Memphis—like the one formed by William Walsh—helped hundreds and thousands of people avoid infection throughout the Fall of 1878.

Second, more mundane public health improvements—like improvements in nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation—are also emergent. These improvements arise from the actions of individuals and entrepreneurs, often closely associated with voluntary consumption and markets. According to renowned medical scientist Thomas McKeown, that is, rising incomes encouraged voluntary changes in consumption, which helped improve nutrition, sanitation, and lowered mortality rates.7 These effects were especially pertinent for women and mothers as they often selected more nutritious food and altered household sanitation practices. With advancing ideas about germs, moreover, historian Nancy Tomes argues that private interests advanced the campaign to improve house-hold sanitation and nutrition—full of advice and advertisements in newspapers, magazines, manuals, and books.8 Following Tomes, economic historians Rebecca Stein and Joel Mokyr substantiate these ideas and show that people changed their hygiene, sanitation, house-hold cleaning habits, and diets as they learned more about germs.9 Such developments helped people to provide their desired exposure to germs according to their values.

Obviously, there were concerted public health improvements during this time that also explain falling mortality rates. For example, waterworks were conscious efforts to improve public health and were provided publicly and privately, with similar, positive effects on health.10 The point is that while we might be quick to connect the health improvements associated with a public water system, we should also recognize emergent responses like gradual changes in voluntary consumption.

Finally, social norms or rules that encourage preventative behavior might also be relevant kinds of emergent public health responses. Such rules identify behavior that should or should not be allowed, they are enforced in a decentralized way, and if they follow from the values of individuals in a community.11 If such rules pertain to public health, they can raise the cost of infectious behavior or the benefits of preventative behavior. Covering one’s mouth when sneezing is not only beneficial from a public health perspective, it also helps avoid earning disapproval.

The condom code during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is another example of an emergent public health rule that reduced infectiousness by encouraging safer behavior.12 People who adopted safer sexual practices were seen to be doing the right thing—akin to taking care of a brother. People who refrained from adopting safer sexual practices were admonished. No single person or entity announced the rule; rather, it emerged from the actions and interactions of individuals within various communities to pursue their goals regarding maintaining sexual activity and limiting the spread of disease. Indeed, such norms were more effective in communities where people used their social capital resources to determine which behaviors should be changed and where they can more easily monitor and enforce infractions. This seems like a relevant factor where many gay men and men who have sex with men live in dense urban areas like New York and Los Angeles that foster LGBTQ communities.

Covid-19 provides additional examples where social norms encouraged the use of seemingly appropriate behavior, e.g., social distancing, the use of facemasks, and vaccination. Regardless of any formal rule in place, many people adapted their behavior because of social norms that encouraged social distancing, the use of facemasks, and vaccination. In communities that valued such behaviors, people that wore face masks and vaccinated were praised and were seen as doing the right thing; people that did not were viewed with scorn. Indeed, states and cities that have higher levels of social capital and higher values for public health tend to have higher Covid-19 vaccine uptakes.13

Improving Public Health and More

“Private approaches tend to lower the total costs of diseases and they limit externalities.”

While these private approaches can improve public health, can they do more than typical public health approaches cannot? Private approaches tend to lower the total costs of diseases and they limit externalities. Each aspect of private responses requires additional explanation.

Responding to infectious diseases and disease prevention is doubly challenging because not only do we have to worry about being sick, we also have to consider the costs imposed by our preventative behaviors and the rules we might impose. Thus, the total costs of an infectious disease include 1) the costs related to the disease—the pain and suffering of a disease and the opportunity costs of being sick—and 2) the costs associated with preventative and avoidance behavior. While disease costs are mostly self-explanatory, the costs of avoiding infection warrant more explanation. Self-isolation when you have a cold, for example, entails the loss of potentially valuable social activities; and wearing condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases forfeits the pleasures of unprotected sexual activity. Diseases for which vaccines and other medicines are available are less worrisome, perhaps, because these are diseases with lower prevention costs than diseases where those pharmaceutical interventions are not available. Governmental means of prevention also add relevant costs. Many readers might be familiar with the costs imposed by our private and public responses to Covid—from isolation to learning loss, and from sharp decreases in economic activity to increased rates of depression and spousal abuse.14 Long before Covid, moreover, people bemoaned wearing masks during the Great Flu,15 balked at quarantine against yellow fever,16 and protested bathhouse closings with the onset of HIV.17

Figure 1 shows the overall problem: diseases are harmful but our responses to those diseases might also be harmful.

Figure 1. The Excess Burden of Infectious Diseases

This figure follows Bhattacharya, Hyde, and Tu (2013) and Philipson (2000), who refer to the difference between total costs and disease costs as the excess burden of a disease. That is, excess burden depends on how severely we respond to a disease in private and in public. The excess burden associated with the common cold tends to be negligible as we bear the minor inconvenience of a fever, a sore throat perhaps, or a couple days off work; moreover, most people don’t go out of their way to avoid catching a cold. The excess burden of plague, however, is more complicated; not only are the symptoms much worse—and include death—people have more severe reactions. Note too that disease costs rise with prevalence and with worsening symptoms but eventually decline as more severe diseases tend to be less prevalent. Still, no one wants to be infected with a major disease, and severe precautions are likely. We might shun all social interactions, and we might use government to impose strict quarantine measures. As disease severity rises along the horizontal axis, it might be the case that the cure is worse than the disease.

The private responses indicated above all help to lower the total costs of a disease because people choose their responses and they use their local knowledge and available resources to select cheaper methods of prevention. Claghorn used her neighborhood connections and the social capital of her civics association to encourage homeowners to rid their yards of pools of water; as such she lowered the costs of producing mosquito control. Similarly, Gould used the organizational structure of his firm to hire experts in mosquito control and build a sanitation department. These are cheap methods to limit exposure to mosquitos.

Emergent responses also help to lower the total costs of a disease because such responses indicate the variety of choices people face and their ability to select cheaper options. People facing diseases like malaria might be able to move away and, for some, it is cheaper than alternative means of prevention. Many people now are able to limit their exposure to mosquitos with screens, improved dwellings, and air conditioning.18 Consider the variety of ways people can limit their exposure to sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. If some people would rather use condoms to limit HIV transmission, they are better off doing so than if they were to refrain from sexual activity altogether. Similarly, some people would be better off having relatively risky sexual activity if they were in monogamous relationships or if they knew about their partner’s sexual history. That people can choose their own preventative measures indicates lower total costs compared with blunt, one-rule-for-all, governmental public health responses.

Negative and positive externalities of spreadable diseases indicate too much infectious behavior and too little preventative behavior, respectively. Hosting a party is fun, but it also incurs the internal costs of the drinks and appetizers and, more importantly, perhaps the external costs of raising the probability that people get sick. Attending a local cafe can be relaxing, but you have to pay for a cup of coffee and you might also transmit a disease to other coffee drinkers. The same could be said for many other public and social activities that might spread diseases like attending a class or a basketball game, transporting goods and people, and sexual behaviors. Our preventative behaviors from taking a vaccine to covering your mouth and from isolation to engaging in safer sexual practices emits positive externalities. If left unchecked, negative and positive externalities lead to higher rates of infection.

Overall, we should continue to think more critically about delineating how private and public actors can improve public health and overall welfare. More importantly, we should recognize that private actors are more capable than we often realize, especially in light of conscious efforts to improve public health and those efforts that emerge from people’s actions and interactions. These private efforts might be better at advancing some public health goals than public actors do. Individuals, for example, have more access to local knowledge and can discover novel solutions that serve multiple ends—often ends they value—rather than the ends of distant officials. Such cases and possibilities indicate cheaper ways to improve public health.


Footnotes

[1] Smith (2009), Rationality in Economics: Constructivist and Ecological Forms, Cambridge University Press.

[2] For more on Walsh, see Carson (forthcoming), “Prevention Externalities: Private and Public Responses to the 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic,” Public Choice.

[3] For more on Claghorn, see Carson (2020), “Privately Preventing Malaria in the United States, 1900-1925,” Essays in Economics and Business History.

[4] For more on Gould, see Carson (2016), “Firm-led Malaria Prevention in the United States, 1910-1920,” American Journal of Law and Medicine.

[5] On the connection between malarial diseases, dragons, and dragon-slaying saints, see Horden (1992), “Disease, Dragons, and Saints: the management of epidemics in the dark ages,” in Epidemics and Ideas by Ranger and Slack.

[6] For more on migration and prevalence rates, see Mesnard and Seabright (2016), “Migration and the equilibrium prevalence of infectious disease,” Journal of Demographic Economics.

[7] The American Journal of Public Health published several commentaries on McKeown in 2002: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/issues/130602/

[8] Tomes (1990), “The Private Side of Public Health: Sanitary Science, Domestic Hygiene, and the Germ Theory, 1870-1990,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine.

[9] Mokyr and Stein (1996), “Science, Health, and Household Technology: The Effect of the Pasteur Revolution on Consumer Demand,” in The Economics of New Goods, NBER.

[10] See Werner Troesken’s work on public and private waterworks in the U.S. around the turn of the 20th century. See Galiani, Gertler, and Shargrodsky (2005), “Water for Life,” Journal of Political Economy.

[11] Brennan et al., (2013), Explaining Norms, Oxford University Press.

[12] For more on the condom code, see Carson (2017), “The Informal Norms of HIV Prevention: The emergence and erosion of the condom code,” Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics.

[13] Carilli, Carson, and Isaacs (2022), “Jabbing Together? The complementarity between social capital, formal public health rules, and covid-19 vaccine rates in the U.S.,” Vaccine.

[14] Leslie and Wilson, “Sheltering in Place and Domestic Violence: Evidence from Calls for Service During Covid-19.” Journal of Public Economics 189, 104241. Mulligan, “Deaths of Despair and the Incidence of Excess Mortality in 2020,” NBER, https://www.nber.org/papers/w28303. Betthauser, Bach-Mortensen, and Engzell, “A systematic review and meta-analysis of the evidence on learning during the Covid-19 Pandemic,” Nature Human Behavior, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-022-01506-4

[15] On the great influenza epidemic, see CBS News, “During the 1918 Flu pandemic, masks were controversial for ‘many of the same reasons they are today’.” Oct. 30, 2020. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mask-1918-flu-pandemic-controversial/

[16] On yellow fever quarantine in Mississippi, see Deanne Nuwer (2009), Plague Among the Magnolias: The 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Mississippi.

[17] On these closures, see Trout (2021), “The Bathhouse Battle of 1984.” https://www.sfaf.org/collections/beta/the-bathhouse-battle-of-1984/

[18] Tusting et al. (2017), “Housing Improvement and Malaria Risk in Sub-Saharan Africa: a multi-country analysis of survey data.” PLOS Medicine.


*Byron Carson is an Associate Professor of Economics and Business at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, where he teaches courses on introductory economics, money and banking, health economics, and urban economics. Byron earned his Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University in 2017, and his research interests include economic epidemiology, public choice, and Austrian economics.


This article was edited by Features Editor Ed Lopez.


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