It is one year into the COVID-19 pandemic and the global community still confronts extreme social and economic strain as the human toll rises and millions remain unemployed. Yet, even with high uncertainty about the path of the pandemic, a way out of this health and economic crisis is increasingly visible.
While the US, China, and other leading economies are on their way to a robust recovery, many others are struggling to return to pre-pandemic GDP levels. In most regions, including Europe and Latin America, the 2020 recession will most likely leave long-lasting scars on both GDP and employment.
Recessions wreak havoc and the damage is often long-lived. Businesses shut down, investment spending is cut, and people out of work can lose skills and motivation as the months stretch on. But the recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is no ordinary recession. Compared to previous global crises, the contraction was sudden and deep—using quarterly data, global output declined about three times as much as in the global financial crisis, in half the time.
Forget the poetic flap of a butterfly’s wings in Beijing causing rain in Central Park. Climate issues in Asia-Pacific are measured in superlatives. The world’s biggest population. Two of the three largest carbon dioxide-emitting countries and the largest share of emissions globally. The most exposed to extreme weather events. Some of the smallest and most vulnerable countries. Also, the fastest-growing part of the global economy and many of the leaders in green technology.
In the half-century since it gained independence, Bangladesh has gone from being what Henry Kissinger called a “basket case” to a case study in rapid economic development. A large micro-finance sector, balanced labor regulations, and resistance to religious fundamentalism have been key to the country’s success.
China this century is on track to experience history’s most dramatic demographic collapse in the absence of war or disease. Today, the country has a population more than four times larger than America’s. By 2100, the U.S. will probably have more people than China.
The United Kingdom would therefore do better to approach its next chapter with a little more humility. The country can still play a central part in international politics if it reconciles itself to the role of middle power. Instead of indulging in Commonwealth or Indo-Pacific fantasies, London should seek its strengths closer to home—where it can use its new status as the EU’s main external partner to magnify its global influence.
The global economy is set to grow by 4.7% this year, faster than predicted in September (4.3%), thanks in part to a stronger recovery in the United States, where progress in distributing vaccines and a fresh fiscal stimulus of $1.9 trillion are expected to boost consumer spending, says a new UNCTAD report. But this will still leave the global economy over $10 trillion short of where it could have been by the end of 2021 if it had stayed on the pre-pandemic trend (Figure 1) and with persistent worries about the reality behind the rhetoric of a more resilient future.
A new Pew Research Center analysis finds that the global middle class encompassed 54 million fewer people in 2020 than the number projected prior to the onset of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the number of poor is estimated to have been 131 million higher because of the recession. The drop-off in the global middle class was centered in South Asia and in East Asia and the Pacific, and it stalled the expansion seen in the years preceding the pandemic.
The Sydney Opera resumed live performances and the city of Melbourne recently hosted the Australian Open tennis tournament with fans (mostly) in attendance. Japan is back to planning the delayed 2020 Summer Olympics, while China focuses on the Beijing 2022 Winter Games. Having been hit by COVID-19 first, Asia is also recovering first. At the pandemic’s first anniversary, is the region back to full health?