Despite the different nature and proportion of the two events, the comparison offers some insights because during the Second World War the economy of the main countries suffered the joint effect of three factors – the forced increase in savings; productive reconversion; the increase in public intervention – which can also be found to some extent in the Covid experience. Starting from the second half of the 1940s, while Europe slowly began its reconstruction, the American economy, contradicting the forecasts of economists who predicted recession, began an uninterrupted phase of growth that lasted fifteen years. The main engine of that economic miracle was the resumption of household spending propensity, which was so strong that it more than fully compensated for the reduction in military orders. Aggregate demand favored the rapid conversion of the economy from the war to the peace structure.
Some of those circumstances may reoccur today. A recent ECB study documents the sharp increase in the propensity to save individuals in 2020, more than 5 percentage points of household disposable income. These are precautionary or compulsory savings: expenses canceled or postponed either due to uncertainty or the inability to spend. The increase in the savings rate was added to the reduction in disposable income, equal to about another 5 percent. An equivalent rebound in the exit from the virus is to be expected, perhaps even higher, if part of the expenses have only been postponed.
The crisis has also caused or accelerated the productive reconversion towards sectors with high technological intensity, temporarily disadvantaging certain categories of services such as tourism, transport and catering. It does not seem unreasonable to hypothesize a scenario in which the recovery of household spending would be combined with a return of demand in these penalized sectors, while others that gained in the crisis (telecommunications, large online distribution, biotechnology, etc.) would not lose the advantage acquired but indeed they would continue to progress. To this should be added public intervention, now strategically addressed, especially in Europe, towards the implementation of public infrastructure investments and the enhancement of health, education and energy and environmental reconversion.
A possible virtuous scenario, but which for now can only be described with verbs in the conditional. What is certain is that the recovery will be uneven, precisely in relation to the different health strategies described above. The gaps can already be seen, with the emerging countries of Asia already launched and which have recovered the pre-crisis levels, the United States which in recent weeks continues to surprise with positive data, and Europe (with Italy near at the tail) still in the shallows of the recession. In the old continent, a boost is urgently needed to reduce the gaps and intensify efforts on the dual front of health strategy and economic recovery. Precisely what, as far as is known, President Draghi tried to impress last week at the meeting of the European Council.
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