The pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges to society and the economy. What is the best way to stop the virus without permanently damaging the economy?



In a nutshell

In January 2020, the novel lung disease COVID-19 became an epidemic in China. Within the space of two months, the World Health Organization had declared it a pandemic, and the global economy was in its grip. As in many other countries, Germany’s public life and parts of its economy shut down for several weeks due to state-imposed contact restrictions. As the lockdown ended and the summer came, the spread of the virus appeared to have all but stopped. But in the fall the pandemic’s second wave inundated Germany; a third wave followed in spring 2021. Of all the areas of the economy affected by the virus, the service sector was hit hardest.

The longer the contact restrictions persisted, the greater their toll on society. In addition to massive government spending on short-time work and emergency aid to companies on the verge of bankruptcy, the restrictions limited participation in education, especially for disadvantaged children and young people, and have dampened the mood of a society cut off from social encounters, family celebrations and cultural life. Since vaccinations began in early 2021, there’s been some light at the end of the tunnel. Nevertheless, Germany will have to live with the virus for many months to come. That is why it needs a strategy that restores normal life and economic activity without letting infection numbers get out of hand. This will require an intelligent combination of vaccinations, testing, and individual responsibility.

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All experts, press releases, publications and events on the Corona crisis

Since the start of the pandemic, IWH economists have carefully studied its economic effects in the short and medium term. They have analysed the pandemic’s development, the measures introduced to slow viral transmission, and the consequences for the economy in Germany, Europe, and the world. Their reports appear in IWH’s quarterly economic forecasts, in the half-yearly joint economic forecasts set up together with the other German economic research institutes, and in the IWH Flash Indicator forecasting the upcoming quarter.

Recently, using a model that describes the relationship between economic mobility and infection rates, IWH researchers estimated that the relaxation of containment measures in March 2021 increased economic mobility in Germany by 10% and the number of infections and deaths by 25% each.

In General, IWH believes that the best economic policy is the successful containment of the pandemic. For instance, its researchers support the government taking on debt to finance state aid during the crisis. But they argue that money should be used to help areas of society and the economy that are actually hurting instead of using it to stimulate general consumption, as with the decision to lower sales tax last year.

Is a wave of bankruptcies imminent?

The bankruptcy rate is a good way to measure the economic impact of the corona crisis. A company’s involuntary exit from the market brings job losses and leaves supplier high and dry, which can induce chain reactions in other companies. A recent IWH Policy Note explains the significance of bankruptcies as an economic indicator and how to measure them with only a short time lag.

In May 2020, shortly after the first corona lockdown, the IWH’s bankruptcy research unit launched the IWH Bankruptcy Update, a well-regarded monthly source of pandemic-related economic information. Two months ahead of official government statistics, it provides and interprets data on bankruptcies in Germany. In the summer 2020, the IWH noted an increase in bankruptcies among large companies. Since then, bankruptcies have remained almost entirely below pre-crisis levels. IWH has not detected a looming wave of bankruptcies in the data, though the true number of insolvent companies may be concealed by state aid and the suspension of the obligation to declare bankruptcy.

Another Policy Note compared bankruptcies in 2020 with the long-term decline in insolvencies that began before the crisis. Based on the relationship of past bankruptcies to short-term economic developments, IWH researchers provided a prognosis of insolvencies in response to the corona shock. They then found that the actual number of bankruptcies was far lower – an indication of the effect of state aid and the suspension of the obligation to file for bankruptcy. The study also showed that most of the bankruptcies were concentrated in industries especially affected by the pandemic.

The crisis has jeopardised financial stability

Unlike the global financial crisis in 2008–2009, which originated in the financial sector and then spilled over into the rest of the economy, the corona crisis directly hits the real economy. Yet if many companies become insolvent due to the crisis, banks can be put at risk. In its June and July 2020 Policy Notes, the IWH pointed to this danger and projected its potential magnitude in various scenarios. It found that even if the economy recovers swiftly – an optimistic assumption – dozens of German banks could face insolvency as a result of loan defaults. Institutions that are particularly vulnerable are cooperative and savings banks that finance hard-hit sectors such as retail and hospitality. In some German regions, many banks were both undercapitalised and held credit portfolios full of borrowers greatly affected by the corona crisis.

When banks are in trouble, the supply of credit for companies starts to run dry, which can trigger a second-order recession. So far, generous government aid for companies has prevented massive credit defaults. But this has produced a growing number of zombie companies that have come to depend on money from the state. At some point, a wave of insolvencies will come. Germany’s banking supervision must work to strengthen the capital base of at-risk banks. Otherwise, the state will once again have to use taxpayers’ money to bail out banks without systematically restructuring their credit portfolios.

We need a new corona strategy

After the first wave of the virus in the spring 2020, IWH President Reint Gropp called for comprehensive testing for the working-age population and protective isolation for risk groups to give people some normalcy again. At that time, a vaccine was not yet in sight. Now, the vaccination campaign is underway, and, together with rapid tests, constitutes a pillar of the pandemic response. State control must eventually give way again to individual responsibility. The lockdown is a blunt instrument and it no longer reflects the needs of the moment. When extended indefinitely, it damages the economy, undermines educational opportunities, increases social inequality, endangers mental health, and erodes trust in democracy.

Publications on the Corona crisis


The Macroeconomics of Epidemics

Martin S. Eichenbaum Sergio Rebelo Mathias Trabandt

in: Review of Financial Studies, forthcoming


We extend the canonical epidemiology model to study the interaction between economic decisions and epidemics. Our model implies that people cut back on consumption and work to reduce the chances of being infected. These decisions reduce the severity of the epidemic but exacerbate the size of the associated recession. The competitive equilibrium is not socially optimal because infected people do not fully internalize the effect of their economic decisions on the spread of the virus. In our benchmark model, the best simple containment policy increases the severity of the recession but saves roughly half a million lives in the United States.

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Krise wird allmählich überwunden – Handeln an geringerem Wachstum ausrichten

Projektgruppe Gemeinschaftsdiagnose

in: Dienstleistungsauftrag des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie, No. 2, 2021


Die wirtschaftliche Lage in Deutschland ist nach wie vor von der Corona-Pandemie gekennzeichnet. Nachdem neue Infektionswellen die Erholung im Winterhalbjahr 2020/2021 verzögert hatten, steigt das Bruttoinlandsprodukt seit dem Abebben des Infektionsgeschehens im Frühjahr nun wieder deutlich. Allerdings behindern im Verarbeitenden Gewerbe Lieferengpässe bei Vorprodukten die Produktion, sodass nur die konsumnahen Dienstleistungsbranchen zulegen. Im Winterhalbjahr dürfte die Erholung weiterhin gebremst werden. So ist davon auszugehen, dass in der kalten Jahreszeit die Aktivität im Dienstleistungsgewerbe auch bei geringem Infektionsgeschehen unter dem sonst üblichen Niveau bleiben wird. Zudem werden die Lieferengpässe die Produktion im Verarbeitenden Gewerbe vorerst weiter belasten. Im kommenden Jahr dürften die Beeinträchtigungen durch Pandemie und Lieferengpässe nach und nach zurückgehen, sodass die Normalauslastung wieder erreicht wird. Insgesamt dürfte das Bruttoinlandsprodukt im Jahr 2021 um 2,4% und im Jahr 2022 um 4,8% zulegen. Die Institute rechnen – nicht zuletzt infolge erhöhter Energiekosten – mit einem Anstieg der Verbraucherpreise um 3% im laufenden Jahr und um 2,5% im Jahr 2022. Das Defizit der öffentlichen Haushalte dürfte von 4,9% in Relation zum Bruttoinlandsprodukt im laufenden Jahr auf 2,1% im Folgejahr zurückgehen. Angesichts der kräftigen Zunahme des nominalen Bruttoinlandsprodukts wird die öffentliche Schuldenstandsquote wohl von 71% im Jahr 2021 auf 67% im Jahr 2022 abnehmen. Zwar dürften die wirtschaftlichen Folgen der Corona-Krise mit der Rückkehr zur Normalauslastung allmählich überwunden werden, aber die Herausforderungen des Klimawandels und das demografisch bedingt absehbar niedrigere Wirtschaftswachstum führen zu geringeren Konsummöglichkeiten.

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Konjunktur aktuell: Produktionsengpässe verzögern Erholung

Arbeitskreis Konjunktur des IWH

in: Konjunktur aktuell, No. 3, 2021


Im Sommer 2021 dürfte die weltwirtschaftliche Produktion deutlich zugelegt haben, aber Schließungen von Produktionsanlagen und Häfen vergrößern den Stau im globalen Warenaustausch. Ansteigende Rohstoffpreise schlagen sich v. a. in den USA und im Euroraum in hohen Inflationsraten nieder, doch die Notenbanken werden sich mit dem Kurswechsel Zeit lassen. Dadurch erhält die Wirtschaft in den westlichen Industrieländern weiter Rückenwind seitens der Wirtschaftspolitik. Die Erholung der deutschen Wirtschaft kam im Sommerhalbjahr dank der Impfkampagne und des privaten Konsums gut voran. Wegen steigender Corona-Neuinfektionen und Produktionsengpässen ist dennoch nur mit einem recht schwachen Jahresschlussquartal zu rechnen. Das BIP wird 2021 um 2,2% und 2022 um 3,6% zunehmen.

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IWH-Flash-Indikator III. Quartal und IV. Quartal 2021

Katja Heinisch Oliver Holtemöller Axel Lindner Birgit Schultz

in: IWH Flash Indicator, No. 3, 2021


Zu Beginn des zweiten Quartals 2021 wurde die wirtschaftliche Erholung durch die dritte Corona-Welle gebremst. Dennoch stieg das Bruttoinlandsprodukt um 1,5%. Allerdings bestanden Angebotsrestriktionen für Dienstleistungen in einigen Bereichen fort. Weil die Corona-Impfquote mittlerweile recht weit vorangeschritten ist, könnten diese Restriktionen aufgehoben werden. Es gibt aber auch Hinweise, dass die Impfungen weniger wirksam sein könnten als erhofft. Außerdem nehmen die Infektionszahlen mit Verbreitung der Delta-Variante wieder zu, was die Aussichten für den Herbst erneut eintrübt. Zudem hemmen in der gewerblichen Wirtschaft weiterhin Lieferketten- und Beschaffungsprobleme, welche zu steigenden Einkaufs­preisen führen, die Produktion. Die Wirtschaft in Deutschland dürfte laut IWH-Flash-Indikator im dritten Quartal 2021 um 1,0% expandieren und im vierten Quartal um 0,1% leicht zurückgehen (vgl. Abbildung 1).

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A Comparison of Monthly Global Indicators for Forecasting Growth

Christiane Baumeister Pierre Guérin

in: International Journal of Forecasting, No. 3, 2021


This paper evaluates the predictive content of a set of alternative monthly indicators of global economic activity for nowcasting and forecasting quarterly world real GDP growth using mixed-frequency models. It shows that a recently proposed indicator that covers multiple dimensions of the global economy consistently produces substantial improvements in forecasting accuracy, while other monthly measures have more mixed success. Specifically, the best-performing model yields impressive gains with MSPE reductions of up to 34% at short horizons and up to 13% at long horizons relative to an autoregressive benchmark. The global economic conditions indicator also contains valuable information for assessing the current and future state of the economy for a set of individual countries and groups of countries. This indicator is used to track the evolution of the nowcasts for the U.S., the OECD area, and the world economy during the COVID-19 pandemic and the main factors that drive the nowcasts are quantified.

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