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VANEK SMITH: This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. And it is Friday, time for Indicators of the Week. This was a big week in terms of news - both here in the U.S. and abroad. And so I am especially excited for our two guests who are bringing us their Indicators of the Week. First up, we have Rachana Shanbhogue. She is the finance editor at The Economist. And Chad Bown, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and host of the excellent podcast "Trade Talks." After the break, Chad and Rachana reveal their Indicators of the Week. Stick around.
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VANEK SMITH: Chad and Rachana, welcome.
RACHANA SHANBHOGUE: Thanks for having me.
CHAD BOWN: Yeah. Thanks for having us.
VANEK SMITH: Chad, host of "Trade Talks" podcast, at the Peterson Institute - it's been a while. There's been a lot of international news, so I'm very curious to hear about your Indicator of the Week.
BOWN: So my Indicator of the Week is about vaccines. And it's 5 billion.
VANEK SMITH: OK.
BOWN: And 5 billion is 5 billion doses. And that's about where we are at the moment in terms of how many have been administered globally around the world to the world's population.
VANEK SMITH: Is that good or bad? Or what is your take on this indicator?
BOWN: So it's both good and bad. I mean, it's amazing, right? So if you think back to mid-December 2020, we didn't have any COVID, you know, doses being administered yet. So in, you know, kind of eight short months, we've gone from zero to 5 billion. The bad, though, is it's probably twofold. One is, you know, we have 7, 8 billion people around the world, all of whom need to receive this. And most of the vaccines that are being given required a two-dose regimen, so that means we need 14 billion doses. So at a minimal level, we're kind of 9 billion doses short of getting the world vaccinated.
And then we get news like this week that, all of a sudden, it seems like folks might need boosters. And so now it's not going to be a two-dose regimen. It's going to be at least a three-dose regimen. And so now we don't need 14 billion doses. We might need 21 billion doses. And so the goalposts seem to be moving as well. So we're making progress, but the finish line seems to be getting farther and farther away.
VANEK SMITH: And I know, Rachana, you're based in London. What is the vaccine situation there?
SHANBHOGUE: So I think close to 70% of the population have had at least one dose, which is pretty impressive. The vaccine watchdog is thinking about who needs a booster shot. You know, I don't think, at the moment, the advice is not that every adult needs a booster shot. My question, I guess - does the talk about booster shots push - pull countries sort of further back in the line?
BOWN: And I think that's exactly the problem. So we have these huge shares of the population, both in the U.K. and the United States, in Europe, that have no shortage of supply of vaccines. Anybody who wants a vaccine at this stage in a lot of rich countries can get one. But globally, that's not the case. And, you know, it's something like 1% of the population in the poorest countries of the world have received one dose at all. And so there's massive, massive vaccine inequity playing out around the world. And so, yeah, that's a huge problem. And so if we're thinking about booster shots in rich countries - that's where they would be going first - that would be giving, you know, an extra layer of protection to folks like me long before people in poorer countries have had even one dose at all, which just seems, you know, on the face of it, incredibly unfair.
VANEK SMITH: And what is the potential economic impact, I guess, of some countries having access to vaccines and others not? Like, what does this mean for countries that have less money or developing countries?
SHANBHOGUE: Things are so much harder in policy terms for poorer countries. They can't afford to, you know, inject huge amounts of stimulus in the way that - you know, all of us here have been lucky enough to kind of live in economies that have been cushioned in that way.
VANEK SMITH: I guess pivoting a little bit - Rachana, you have an Indicator of the Week that is - well, I guess everything is virus related now, right? But you have a different Indicator of the Week that you brought.
SHANBHOGUE: Well, I do. And it depends on how precise you want me to be. It's either minus one or minus 1.1.
VANEK SMITH: Oh, I like 1.1.
SHANBHOGUE: You like 1.1.
VANEK SMITH: Let's get right in there.
SHANBHOGUE: Well, in that case, my indicator is minus 1.1, and that is the monthly fall in retail spending in America in the month of July.
VANEK SMITH: And why is retail spending a big deal from an economic perspective?
SHANBHOGUE: It's really interesting because it tells you about the various challenges sort of facing the economic recovery right now. One of them is this sort of - the fear of the virus and what delta might be doing to customers', shoppers' confidence. But it's also potentially a story about supply chains and glitches. You know, there was a - there's a lot less spending on cars, for example, in the past month. And it could just be that it's so much harder to get ahold of cars - semiconductors are restraining production - that that's sort of feeding through into sales as well.
VANEK SMITH: For a long time - for, like, a year and a half, all we could spend our money on was stuff. A lot of our spending sort of shifted at that time. It was hard to go out to eat, go to a bar, things like that. Is it possible that the drop in retail sales might be, like, a good thing, like people are shifting over to services again? Or is it a warning signal?
SHANBHOGUE: There are some sort of good signs in the figures. Although, retail sales aren't really the best measure of telling you about people's spending on services. It doesn't capture - it mostly captures goods. What we do know is that people spend more in restaurants and in bars, which is exactly, as you say - if they're able to go out and about and they're spending a bit more, they probably don't want to buy home furnishings and garden furniture anymore. They've probably got enough of that stuff. So we have seen - we did see some spending on goods fall but spending on few services that are included in this data rise.
VANEK SMITH: Now, of course, because I'm looking at Chad, I'm thinking about trade. Is also maybe part of it, like you said, supply chain disruptions - there have just been a lot of delays and things. Are people potentially backing off because they can't get what they want when they want it?
BOWN: I think, on the trade side, that's probably a big part of it. Every week, every month, you see these images of container ships being backed up and not being able to get in. There's so much stuff trying to get in. And this is, you know, classic back-to-school shopping season or as the retailers are kind of stocking up in preparation for that and also in preparation for the holiday shopping season as well - and just the sheer wonkiness of the pandemic that's still ongoing in uncertainty. And, you know, we did buy a lot of this kind of stuff a couple of months ago, so maybe we don't need that. But we're still not quite sure what's going to happen in the fall with the pandemic, so people may be hesitating for lots of different reasons.
SHANBHOGUE: Chad's completely right that there's a lot potentially going on here. I think that's why the data is so interesting, but it's sort of hard to draw conclusions from it. We also saw quite a big fall in consumer confidence. That was last week. And that, combined with this fall in retail sales, could maybe be a reason to start being a little bit wary about what might be happening to the economy. But you're right. We just need to keep an eye on it, see what happens over the next few months, and maybe then we'll be able to draw out some stronger signals from it.
VANEK SMITH: Yeah, yeah. Anyway, thanks so much, you guys. Have a great Friday and weekend.
SHANBHOGUE: Thanks for having me.
BOWN: Yeah. Thanks for having us.
VANEK SMITH: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Julia Ritchey. It was fact-checked by Michael He and Kaitlyn Nicholas (ph). THE INDICATOR'S edited by Kate Concannon and is a production of NPR.
Also, if you have some downtime this weekend and you're wondering what to do, take a minute to fill out a survey. It would be very grateful. We'd really love to know what you think of the show. You can go to npr.org/indicatorsurvey. That's npr.org/indicatorsurvey.
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