In this episode of Brazilian Women in Economics’s podcast, Paula Pereda and Laura Karpuska interviewed Sandra Rios about the open letter that has become known as the “Economists’ Letter”. The letter was a document open to society that brought together economists from different fields of action to demand that governments take effective measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil. The interviewee, Sandra Rios, has a master’s degree in Economics from PUC-Rio, she is a director in the CINDES (Center for Integration and Development Studies), partner in the consultancy firm Ecostrat Consultores, professor on Commercial Policy at PUC-Rio and consultant at CNI (National Industry Confederation).
Sandra says that the idea for the letter emerged from group in WhatsApp that contains over 200 economists. The group was already previously used for discussions, formulation, and dissemination of ideas for public policy. The perception of a lack of effective policies and a feeling of growing anguish related to the pandemic in the recent months led to the proposition that they should formulate a document with a point of view from economists about the current issue. Hence, the main motivation was to show concerns about ineffective policies to combat the pandemic and to attack the idea that there was a trade-off between recovering the economy and preserving life.
Sandra highlighted the main points of the letter as being making a diagnosis of the situation and presenting a minimum agenda of feasible measures to combat the pandemic. Regarding the diagnosis, the authors tried to make it clear that there is no real dilemma between saving lives or saving the economy, because controlling the pandemic is a necessary condition for the economic recovery. Furthermore, regarding the financial resources, Sandra points out that the expenses in 2020 with ineffective, inefficient, or poorly designed measures are not comparable with the costs necessary for vaccination, offering masks to people most vulnerable and providing emergency aid for a transition period until we have a vaccination index that allows the reduction of the contagion curve. Moreover, within the recommended measures, they consider that a minimum agenda should include accelerating the vaccination, incentivizing the use of masks, as well as attention to the inevitability of actions of social distancing and to the necessity of national coordination.
The economist further discusses about the false dilemma between lives and economy. She argues that consumers, by their own instinct of self-preservation, retract in terms of exposure and consumption when there is a high number of contaminations and deaths. Furthermore, the international evidence suggests that a worse economic performance is related to a higher number of obits.
Sandra also says that the poor design and the misuse of resources were interpreted as governments negativism’s fault. This led to a delay in essential measures as the purchase of vaccines, to the absence of official campaigns for the use of masks, and to difficulties in the design of the emergency aid.