Politics dictates that governments must intervene energetically to help. That’s partly because capital has taken such a large share of profits for so many years that the pendulum is bound to swing back and partly because, having just given trillions of dollars to the banks, politicians will be under pressure to put vast amounts of money into saving jobs. But help cannot be measured in dollars alone. Badly designed policies can be self-defeating. After the recessions of the 1970s and early 1980s, Europe’s rigid labour-markets kept unemployment high for decades.
Governments are piling in with short-term help for workers. In America, which has one of the lowest social safety nets in the rich world, extending unemployment benefits was, rightly, part of the recent stimulus package. Japan is giving social assistance to “non regular” workers, a group that has long been ignored. In general, however, it makes more sense to pay companies to keep people in work than to subsidise unemployment. Many countries are topping up the earnings of workers on shortened weeks or forced leave.