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Inside Story Global Pandemic Economy TRANSCRIPT


The Inside Story: Global Pandemic Economy

Episode 14 – November 18, 2021

Show Opening Graphic:

Voice of KATHERINE GYPSON, VOA Congressional Correspondent:

Committing a trillion dollars of infrastructure spending …

And more government spending on the horizon …

Concerns are raised about supply and demand …

And higher prices for goods and services.

U.S. President Joe Biden:

Many people remain unsettled about the economy and we all know why, they see higher prices, the go to the store and online and they can’t find what they always want.


Stress on the global supply chain has too many dollars chasing too few goods.

Thomas Goldsby, Supply Chain Management Professor, University of Tennessee:

When we look at the surge in demand that we witness for goods over the course of this pandemic, that has just taken supply chains beyond the brink.


And cryptocurrency’s impact on helping COVID-shattered economies recover.

On The Inside Story: Global Pandemic Economy.

The Inside Story:


Hi. I’m Katherine Gypson, VOA Congressional Correspondent.

Here in Washington, we just saw a rare moment of political bipartisanship when President Joe Biden signed legislation for more than a trillion dollars in spending to improve the nation’s infrastructure.

Biden’s bill was supported by all but six Democrats and 32 Republicans.

The legislation provides money to modernize American roads, railroads, bridges, ports and airports ---

Provide wider broadband internet access ---

And upgrade the electricity and water grid among other things.

It comes as Democrats are debating how and whether to spend nearly two billion dollars to provide a wider social safety net.

All this after trillions of dollars in COVID relief spending.

Add supply chain disruptions because of the pandemic, and U.S. consumers are experiencing an inflation of prices not seen since 1990.

VOA’s Michelle Quinn gets us started on the economic tangle the pandemic has wrought.

MICHELLE QUINN, VOA Correspondent:

Groceries, gas, cars, even houses. Consumers are paying more as the U.S. economy tries to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.

Brian Deese, National Economic Council Director:

Inflation is high, and it's affecting Americans in their pocketbook and their outlook.


The Biden administration says higher costs are due to struggles to get people back to work amid the pandemic. The situation, the White House says, underscores the need for passage of the Democrats’ nearly $2 trillion social spending package that includes climate initiatives.

Brian Deese Director National Economic Council:

We want to improve the productive capacity of our economy, which will actually reduce price pressures. We want to get more people to work, which will actually reduce price pressures.


Republican leaders who oppose the spending package say it is too costly and will only fuel inflation.

Senator John Barrasso, Republican:

The reason I think prices are going to go way up is because of some of the things that they have put into the bill on energy and on climate which are going to raise energy costs considerably in the year ahead, at a time when the American people are already paying sky high prices to heat their homes, to drive their cars, to buy groceries.


Economic discontent is fueling some people’s frustrations with Biden. Only 39% of Americans approve of how the president is handling the economy, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. Michelle Quinn, VOA News.


If not for several government relief programs, millions more Americans would have fallen into poverty last year.

Programs ranging from stimulus checks to a ban on evictions helped many Americans whether the pandemic’s economic impact.

VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias shows us how these government lifelines have kept many American families afloat.

Natalya Walker, Single Mother of Two:

I purchased uniform shorts, shirt, shoes, belt and pants.


Natalya Walker’s family is one of more than 30 million American households receiving a monthly expanded Child Tax Credit. The single mother of two has been spending the $300 a month of direct payments for school supplies.

Natalya Walker, Single Mother of Two:

It was a blessing because I didn’t expect it.


Last year, COVID-19 forced Walker to close her cleaning business. She worked whenever she could and relied on local charities and federal income support such as the stimulus checks

aimed at helping struggling households during the pandemic.

Natalya Walker/Single Mother of Two:

Well of course I put some in the savings. I had started, you know, putting in more into my business and then I started another business for my oldest son. So, I was just pretty much investing in my boys.


New data from the U.S. Census Bureau, analyzed by several researchers, show

Natalya’s family hasn’t been the only one benefiting from a series of recent economic relief measures.

The Census Bureau found the poverty rate fell to 9.1% from 11.8% in 2019. 11.7 million Americans would have been counted as poor in 2020, if not for the stimulus payments.

Renee Ryberg, Child Trends:

It was about a million white children protected from poverty. Without the stimulus payments the poverty rate for Latino and black children would have been six-point eight percentage points higher than it was with the payments.

Christopher Wimer, Columbia University School of Social Work:

In terms of the full anti-poverty effect of the child tax credit under the expansion that won’t be seen actually until 2021. Right now it seems to reduce poverty by about a quarter, about 25%.


While the delivery of stimulus checks has ceased, there’s a debate in Congress over whether to extend the Child Tax Credit, under which parameters, and for how long.

Poverty studies expert Angela Rachidi worries that the tax credit will take away the incentive for people to work. She also is bothered by the program’s large price tag.

Angela Rachidi, American Enterprise Institute:

The cost of expanding this tax credit to households with children is over one hundred billion dollars a year. I think the real question is how do we continue those types of safety net programs that help people but also ensure that they are able to make success for their own families.

Unidentified interviewee with reporter in front of donations:

Nobody is getting rich out of the Child Tax Credit.


Jennifer Lassiter Smith is the Director for U.S. programs for INMED, a humanitarian development organization serving over seven thousand low-income families in Northern Virginia.

Jennifer Lassiter Smith, INMED USA:

It’s a fallacy I think to think that there’s this mass horde of people that are sucking up the government dime. One thing I’ve seen during the pandemic is sometimes you just need a little bit. We can give someone $500 to help with rental assistance and that’s the difference between their family becoming homeless and when that happens it’s a terrible slide, you know. So, helping people maintain the level is the best thing we can do.


Natalya Walker says she is determined to continue working hard to keep her family out of poverty. She receives different levels of support from the local non-profit LIFT-DC.

But she would also welcome having continuous access to enhanced government aid, including the expanded Child Tax Credit, so she can invest in her sons’ future.

Natalya Walker/Single Mother of Two:

I don’t live beyond my means. Anything that I pretty much have got I’ve worked for, or I found a resource, or I got it for free. So I utilize every resource that comes my way for me and my family. So, I hope and pray that it will last up until 2025 if not permanent.


Veronica Balderas Iglesias, for VOA News, Washington.


Bitcoin …

Cybercash …


The future of finance may lie in the digital world.

Communities trying to jump-start their pandemic-damaged economies see digital currency is emerging as a preferred method for peer-to-peer transactions.

VOA’s Lenny Ruvaga explains how going cashless is boosting business in Kenya.

LENNY RUVAGA, Reporting for VOA:

Tony Mwongera — the CEO of Healthland Spa — has been a pioneer in accepting cryptocurrencies as payment for services for five years.

On average, his services cost about $30 and can been paid for using Bitcoin, a decentralized digital currency. He says it’s proven to be a popular form of payment.

Tony Mwongera, Healthland Spa CEOL

Many customers have seen that we are accepting Bitcoin which is a modern form of payment and they have decided when they come they can enjoy our massage services and pay using Bitcoin because it’s safe, secure and very convenient.


A recently released report by Chainanalysis ranks Kenya as a leader in peer-to-peer trading of cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin. The global crypto adoption index takes into account the number of cryptocurrency deposits and internet users.

David Gitonga is the co-founder of BitcoinKE, a three-year-old organization whose main goal is to facilitate peer-to-peer trading, and that includes educating users on blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.

BitcoinKE says on average it brings around 70,000 visitors to its platform daily. Gitonga says many enjoy peer-to-peer trading.

David Gitonga, BitcoinKE Co-Founder:

In Kenya, peer-to-peer is actually the easiest way for people to get into crypto currencies, so right now there are no centralized exchanges, so most people opt, so most people opt to go the peer-to-peer way. So, these exchanges are not controlled locally, for example, they cannot be shut down, so it’s much easier for people to just transact between each other.


Michael Kimani is a blockchain analyst from Pesa Africa, an organization that monitors cryptocurrencies worldwide with a focus on Africa.

Kimani says the fact that cryptocurrencies are unregulated by a central authority also poses challenges.

Michael Kimani, Blockchain Analyst:

The central bank issue that has prevented companies or startups from building in Kenya, so it’s made it really difficult for Kenyans to have formal channels of accessing cryptocurrencies and this has created proliferation of things like cryptocurrency scams. So, one of the reasons the peer-to-peer volumes is going up in Kenya is because there are no formal channels and the only way you can buy is through the peer-to-peer marketplaces and channels.


The Central Bank of Kenya has in the past stated that cryptocurrencies are not legal tender in the country.

Mwongera says he can only hope that his choice to add cryptocurrencies as a means of payment will keep attracting more clientele to his growing business.

Lenny Ruvaga, for VOA News, Nairobi.

Voice of unidentified narrator:

During back more than 1000 years, China has been at the forefront of changes in currency. trade.

Today it is helping to mark another global first, a state backed digital currency.

Before there was money, people used a system of bartering to get what they needed. However, such trades were time consuming and needed an exact match to work.

Enter money. The first types of money were items that had an inherent value to a society. In a leap forward, governments then began to create money that derived its worth not from the object itself, but from society's trust in the government.

The Chinese created some of the earliest forms of metal coins at the end of the Stone Age, and were the first to introduce paper money around 800 ad.

At times, throughout history, paper bills have been tied to other objects of value, such as the gold standard in the United States in the early 19-hundreds.

Nowadays, almost all money receives its value simply by the faith people have in the government that created it, and their willingness to hold the currency for future use.

The next reimagination of money is likely an entirely digital one in which currency is turned into computer code. While it may seem that money is already digital because it can be moved electronically, people can still exchange their savings for physical cash. In an entirely digital money society, that would not be the case.

Crypto cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, offer a glimpse into how digital money could operate. However, they exist outside the financial system, whereas a state backed digital currency would be the pillar of a state's legal tender. While many countries are exploring a state backed digital currency, China has gone farther than any major economy. The country is well positioned to make quick headway because of the widespread use by its citizens of technology, like Alipay and wechat apps, which make physical cash mostly unneeded.

China's central bank has already digitized a portion of the country's currency and has launched trials in several large cities to distribute it. Beijing sees advantages if its central bank can create a digital Yuan that is internationally popular, including offsetting global use of the US dollar.

At the end of 2020, China's currency made up slightly more than 2% of the world's foreign exchange reserves. The US Dollar share is nearly 60%. The benefits of digital currencies are that they offer faster and cheaper transactions compared to traditional money as well as greater transparency. They can also give governments real time macro-economic data that could allow targeted fiscal policies, but consequently could also allow governments to monitor its people's finances. The collection of such data has raised concerns that China could use it to crack down on the financial accounts of human rights activists, as well as persecuted groups such as the Uyghurs.

The digital Yuan could also give people ways to exchange money without needing Swift, a widely used system underpinning international money transfers, potentially making it easier to evade sanctions by the United States or other countries.

The United States has become increasingly interested in developing a digital dollar. And members of Congress asked Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about it in early 2021. Powelll said digitizing the American dollar is a high priority project.


From transit delays to shipping backlogs across ports, the pandemic is being felt at every level across the global supply chain.

That’s only expected to worsen as the winter holidays approach.

Thomas Goldsby is a professor of supply chain management and logistics at the University of Tennessee.

In a conversation with The Inside Story’s Elizabeth Cherneff, he discussed the current state of the world’s supply chains and how long-term investments can help strengthen them in years to come.


How much of the inflation being experienced in the United States can be attributed to the current supply chain disruptions that we're seeing?

Thomas Goldsby, Supply Chain Management Professor, University of Tennessee:

I think that the fair share of inflation is attributed to what we're experiencing in our supply chains. Afterall, everything that we use, consume, or experience is brought to us in the supply chain. So, if you think about that complex network of companies that works to provide us with those products and services, they're all experiencing some share of inflation, and they're still trying to squeeze out some margins to satisfy the shareholders. And so what you can expect is there's some shared effort to try to pass those costs along through the chain and ultimately, it's

going to land with us consumers.


Do you think COVID-19 Did it break the supply chain, or did it push these already exposed fissures really to the brink?

Thomas Goldsby, Supply Chain Management Professor, University of Tennessee:

Certainly, the pandemic has presented vulnerabilities and exacerbated them - made them far worse. And it's true in both in terms of supply and demand. Let’s just speak of supply and the supply chain itself, you know that I was really pleased to see that we're making investments in our infrastructure here in the United States and, and trying to close the gap, in fact, with infrastructure found in other developed countries. And that's going to be very helpful. Of course, that's going to take some time for us to catch up and become as capable as we should be. But our supply chains have been quite vulnerable for some time and our infrastructure weaknesses have not helped. And then when we look at the surge in demand that we witness for goods over the course of this pandemic, that has just taken supply chains beyond the brink. Our supply chains are able to flex somewhat, but not to the extent that the demands placed on them.

And so if you think about how the typical person spends money in the course of a day, or week, or a year, it's a wide assortment of pursuits. It is a purchase of goods, certainly, but also services and experiences. And I don't know about you, but I've been experiencing far fewer services or fewer services and experiences throughout the course of the pandemic. And so what I've done like many other people, is I shifted my consumption to goods and access overboard in the system.


Do you see any immediate steps that that could be taken or that you feel need to be taken to sort of get us back to that pre COVID time?

Thomas Goldsby, Supply Chain Management Professor, University of Tennessee:

There are many steps but none of them are particularly immediate. They tend to be long term investments. Unfortunately, the investments and major steps that would have needed to be taken, needed to be taken 2, 3, 4, even 10 years ago in some cases. So again, our supply chains are able to flex somewhat but unfortunately many of the overtures that we need to take take many months, sometimes years in order to make much difference.

I do think it's very encouraging that the world including our governments are becoming much more aware of supply chains and how vital that our to supporting our everyday needs. And I hope that the crisis makes everyone more aware of how we need to invest in things that frankly are not very exciting. Infrastructure investments are not particularly exciting, but meanwhile, we need that infrastructure, and we also need to invest in areas like education and talent development in the world of supply chain management in in order to meet the needs that we expect every day.


Looking forward, do you see any technologies on the horizon that you think could help strengthen the supply chains?

Thomas Goldsby, Supply Chain Management Professor, University of Tennessee:

There's immense discussion around automation in all forms. I think that most people are quite aware of autonomous vehicles, they think of Tesla’s and things like that. But most of that same technology is being applied to large diesel tractor trailers, and that's very exciting. However, I'm not thinking that we're going to see automated tractor trailers in the near future, even though the technology is advancing very rapidly.

Something that is much more immediate is automation in our warehouses are probably aware of the shortage of labor that we have to fulfill orders or businesses as well as us consumers. And I am seeing rapid adoption in autonomous operations robots in warehouses. Some say that we advanced the adoption of those technologies five to 10 years over the course of this pandemic, in light of the resurgence of demand, but also the shortage in labor to fulfill those orders.


Going a bit bigger picture. Should the United States do you think the United States should be concerned about the investment that China is making around the world when it in terms of ports, railways, highways and mining to ensure its supply chain? What are your thoughts on that?

Thomas Goldsby, Supply Chain Management Professor, University of Tennessee:

So you have a situation where a nation is growing at a rate that China is they recognize that infrastructure and supply chain competence are keys to supporting that growth. And so, they decide as people make that investment and work the maneuverings of politics and government to arrive at the same conclusions.

It's certainly going to take much more time and frankly, deliberation, to arrive at a similar outcome. I just don’t think it’s a fair fight. You know, that said, I do see a lot of promise in public private partnerships where government can work with industry. I mean, look what's going on in our exploration of space right now. I think if we could employ that same ingenuity right here on planet earth right here in the United States as an example, I think that we could achieve some really great things much faster.


Journalists and civilians playing key roles documenting evidence of war crimes in Syria.

A new film explores how the media is exposing rights abuses, attacks and torture.

VOA’s Sirwan Kajjo tells us more in this week’s ‘Press Freedom Spotlight.’

SIRWAN KAJJO, VOA Correspondent:

Bombings, accusations of chemical weapons use, torture, killings. The U.N. and others accuse President Bashar al-Assad of a long list of crimes in the decade that Syria has been at war.

A new film, “Bringing Assad to Justice,” is highlighting efforts by media and private citizens to collect evidence and demand accountability for those crimes.

Ronan Tynan, ‘Bringing Assad To Justice’ Director:

People need to be made aware that Syria is one of the world's biggest crime scenes, that torture is systematic, disappearances continue, and hundreds of thousands have already been victims of these notorious crimes as well as arbitrary killing.


Syria ranks as one of the worst countries for securing justice in attacks on the media, says the Committee to Protect Journalist.

Among the victims: American correspondent Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik. They were killed and British photojournalist Paul Conroy was critically wounded when Syrian forces bombed their makeshift media center in Homs in 2012.

Conroy is acutely aware of role local media played as Syria became more dangerous.

Paul Conroy, Photojournalist:

Syria got very difficult for Western journalists to enter, certainly after ISIS came up, but after Marie was killed and that was almost a turning point where we really had to depend… We have depended on local Syrian journalists who paid a terrible price in deaths and disappearances.


Assad denies war crimes. But in 2019, a U.S. court found the Syrian government responsible in the murder of Colvin, ordering it to pay $300 million in punitive damages. The case included evidence collected by Syrian and Western journalists.

Filmmaker Tynan said much of the archival footage used in the film was produced by Conroy and citizen journalists in Syria.

Ronan Tynan, ‘Bringing Assad To Justice’ Director:

These people are not just media workers; they are human rights defenders in the truest sense of that word. And without them, we would not have the evidence we have today against crimes against humanity in Syria.


As Syrians demand justice for the war’s victims, the filmmakers hope their documentary, and the evidence they gathered, will go some way to achieving accountability.

Sirwan Kajjo, VOA News, Washington.


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See you next week for The Inside Story.