'We're getting rid of our bum as President': World-renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs confident Joe Biden can get coronavirus under control, economy back on track

One of the world's leading economists is optimistic the US economy will get back on track once the "bum" currently occupying the White House is evicted. 

Donald Trump, whom Jeffrey Sachs has called a "vulgar fool" and "despicable", lost the presidential election to Democrat rival Joe Biden last week. While his four years in power have seen the share market soar, the arrival of the coronavirus this year and his administration's inability to deal with it sent the globally-important US economy into recession and unemployment skyrocketing.

"Things look better today than they did last week because we're getting rid of our bum as President," Sachs told The AM Show on Wednesday.

"He doesn't know it yet, but we're going to have a new President of the United States and he's going to help us get the pandemic under control. That is the prerequisite for an economic recovery. New Zealand has done it - your region by and large has accomplished that. The United States is in a catastrophic mess."

While unemployment has steadily dropped from 14.9 percent in April to 6.9 percent in October, it's still twice as high as it was at the start of the year.  

The US is now recording 130,000 new COVID-19 cases every day, and about 1000 deaths - by far and away the worst figures in the world

Sachs, who has been advising world leaders on economic matters since the 1980s and twice been named by Time as one of the 100 most-influential people in the world, said the situation at present is "unbelievably diverse".

"Asia-Pacific, under control for the pandemic and some economic recovery starting; Europe and the United States in a massive second wave, and we're hoping for relief from our Trump craziness, starting in January with Joe Biden."

Biden, ignoring Trump's unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, has already put together a team to tackle the pandemic once he takes the reins in January. When the line-up was announced, relieved Americans took to social media to express mock surprise.

"These are all... doctors? What kind of circus are we running here????" wrote one person. "I like how all of their titles are 'Dr' and not 'daughter' or 'son-in-law'," said another. 

Jeffrey Sachs.
Jeffrey Sachs. Photo credit: Getty

But until January 20, things will only get worse, says Sachs.

"One of the experts from the University of Minnesota on Joe Biden's new taskforce for COVID-19 said we're going to see the worst in the next three months because basically Trump has no policy at all. He never did, but especially now. 

"The guy's completely in delusion-land. We have no policy whatsoever, and we're going into colder weather, we're going into our holiday season - Thanksgiving and Christmas. We're already at around 130,000 new cases per day, we've got 1000 deaths per day. It's soaring all over the country, it's just unbelievably bad. 

"But it comes from no government effectively for the last three months. Just complete craziness - a President that made facemasks into a political battleground, which is just about the stupidest thing you could do." 

What the US needs to do

The United States' second - or arguably third - wave has infected many, many more than the first. The US tried haphazard lockdowns between March and May, but they weren't as organised as those in countries like New Zealand and China, and failed to prepare for the virus' inevitable return. 

"The government at all levels, but starting at the federal government - didn't understand that you use the shutdown to... build a health programme. Building testing, tracing, quarantine, facemasks, physical distancing. They thought - because they're not very clever - you shut down, the virus goes down, then you open up and lo and behold, they didn't understand the thing comes roaring right back."

Sachs doubts Biden will push the sprawling and politically divided nation into lockdown, instead opting for beefed-up contact tracing and quarantine systems, and perhaps mandatory mask use in public.

"But who knows if the situation gets completely catastrophic." 

Advice for the Asia-Pacific region

His advice to our part of the world is to take advantage of the fact we had science-led responses to the pandemic, even before a vaccine is available.

"I would hope that the Asia-Pacific finds a way... to open up amongst itself and show the rest of the world, 'Hey you crazy people in North America and Western Europe - we're open, we're doing business, we're even travelling, we have tourism, because we took it seriously.' 

"I think you could... help show the rest of the world you don't even have to wait for a vaccine. You just have to be rational in order to get this done."

'Never happened before'

As for the US, whether Biden gets the chance to restore sanity depends on whether Trump actually leaves office. His Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday (NZ time) "there will be a smooth transition to our second Trump administration", appearing not to accept the result of the election.

Sachs said it was unclear what impact this uncertainty might have on the US economy as it's never happened before.

"We did have a civil war, but other than that, we haven't experienced anything like this in 100 years-plus. Trump has his cronies and enablers - Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham... we're in a kind of vulgarity now that is uncharted... This is a madhouse in the United States, but what's completely unnerving about it is that almost half the country voted for this person."