By Dr John Töns
Politicians around the world are treating the COVID-19 as a short-term crisis – the economy will go into hibernation and once the virus has run its course, we will resume business as usual. It takes but a moment’s reflection to conclude that this is a delusional myth.
Baby boomers may not have experienced the Depression, but they have experienced the transformative impact of the Depression. Most of us would have been enjoined to be wary of debt; our parents would as far as possible save up to buy the things they needed. The closest we came to buy on credit was to use ‘lay by’ a term familiar to those of us growing up in the sixties and seventies but a mystery to the present generation. Any crisis forces people to re-evaluate the way we look at the world – there is no reason to suppose that this crisis will be any different.
Therefore, to assume that this will be merely a hiccup; that when the threat of the virus has passed it will be possible to resume business as usual fails to take into account that we simply do not know how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted on the way people view the world.
For the first time many people will have discovered what it means to have clear skies and clean air. Zero-carbon emissions will no longer be such a threat – they will have experienced clear skies, the peace associated with a world where our ears not constantly assailed by the noise of traffic, will have discovered the joy of walking and shopping locally. Will they want to return to the hectic and frantic pre-COVID=19 world?
The enforced home-stay will have given many pause to think and ask the questions raised by Trebeck, K. and J. Williams in their book The Economics of Arrival. Those questions centre around the benefits of a world of unbridled consumption. A world where the biggest real estate growth in the USA is in self-storage as people find they no longer have the room for all their accumulated possessions. Some will look at Kate Raworth’s idea of the Doughnut Economy and wonder whether COVID-19 was a valuable wake up call that we can simply not continue to take the natural world for granted; that there are indeed limits to growth. Yet others may find the time to read Bregman’s Utopia for Realists an account of the benefits associated with a Universal Basic Income. Moreover, they will have had the opportunity to experience a form of UBI and some will ask why would we not make this a permanent state of affairs.
We are already seeing a mushrooming of online communities – ideas are being shared, discussed and debated; expertise is being shared across the ideological divides – will these communities simply go away or will they become a political force in their own right?
Many businesses and employees will have learnt that it is possible to work from home. Employees will be weighing up the benefits of working from home and eliminating the daily commute; employers will weigh up any loss in productivity with the savings associated with not having to rent large office space.
Tourist hotspots like Dubrovnik, Venice and Barcelona will have discovered the benefits of not being overrun by tourists and may decide to go into some form of permanent semi-lockdown where the total number of tourists is strictly limited.
Businesses and Governments will have seen the untapped potential of global telecommunications. Whilst there always has been talk of a telecommunications superhighway perhaps it is time to invest in a global telecommunications system that treats access to that telecommunications superhighway as a fundamental human right. It may well mean a significant reduction in the number of air-miles that people travel in favour of video conferences.
It should also have impressed on all of us that the neoliberal idea of the rational market was always a myth. COVID-19 has demonstrated that we are all in this together – this means that we need to pursue policies that ensure no-one is left behind.
Like it or not the world is on a journey, a journey without maps and without an agreed destination. All we can be certain of is that when we emerge from the crisis we will enter a very different world, a world defined by uncertainties.
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