Macroeconomics

India’s Covid-19 lockdown: An interim report

  • Blog Post Date 26 May, 2020
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Debraj Ray

New York University

debraj.ray@nyu.edu

In an earlier paper (I4I post here), Debraj Ray and S. Subramanian had argued that in developing countries like India, a perspective of "lives versus lives" may be needed to evaluate the virtues of a stringent lockdown as a policy response to Covid-19. In a recent report, they revisit this theme within an interim assessment of the management of the Covid crisis in India, covering the period of the lockdown during 25 March–15 May 2020.

 

In an earlier paper co-authored with Lore Vandewalle (Ray et al. 2020), we had argued that in developing countries like India, a perspective of "lives versus lives" may be needed to evaluate the virtues of a stringent lockdown as a policy response to the Covid-19 pandemic. By this we meant that in poor countries with distinctive aspects of widespread informality and an age-distribution skewed toward the younger population, lives saved from the virus through an uncompromising lockdown could be overtaken by lives lost through starvation, violence, loss of livelihoods, and loss of incomes entailed by the lockdown. Moreover, the distribution of lives lost could disproportionately impact the poor. Such a view might support a relatively ‘relaxed’ lockdown in which working-age persons below an age limit are permitted to work while the hardship occasioned by lockdown is mitigated by extensive and protective welfare measures, for those affected and for the elderly. As we made explicitly clear, this is a perspective that is necessitated in a deeply constrained situation, where a government is either unable or unwilling to carry out a comprehensive programme of transfers to compensate the economically vulnerable during a period of lockdown.

In the present report (link given below), we revisit this theme within an interim assessment of the management of the Covid crisis in India, covering the period of the lockdown during (roughly) 25 March–15 May 2020. In doing so, we set out the philosophy of lockdown in terms of its epidemiological underpinnings, and then proceed to a factual analysis of the progression of the Covid pandemic in India. We consider relief measures that have been undertaken, the fiscal and physical adequacy of these measures, and other distressing accompaniments of the lockdown such as the manner of its enforcement, supply chain disruptions, the predicament of migrant labourers, the relaxation of labour laws, the communalisation of the pandemic, and the discriminatory force with which it has descended on identifiable religious minorities, castes, and women. Our report suggests that our earlier emphasis on a "lives versus lives" perspective of India’s lockdown was not misplaced. Indeed, it acquires credibility in light of a policy orientation that prioritises certain interests above others, with the small but visible and consequential segment of India’s polity gaining precedence over the overwhelmingly large but invisible and insignificant segment of the country’s population.

Read the full report here: https://debrajray.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/RaySubramanian.pdf

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