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COVID-19 – A Journey without Maps

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 reevaluate 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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8 comments

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  1. Phil Pryor

    We, in this country, are approaching regular and constant droughts, floods, cyclones, fires, degradations, despoliations, erosions, depletions and as well, some recessions, dislocations, abuses, frustrations, structural alterations, etc., on a massive scale. So..?

  2. Stephengb

    Dr John Töns

    I sincerely hope you are right, however I do not underestimate the recourses at the disposal of the neoliberal s

    The Koch’s of this world are not going to give up without a fight.

    We have to be cognisant that the G 8 are largely governed from the Right and are in lock step ensuring that policies are consistent.

    The very fact that both America and Australia are already looking to the “snap back”, I have no doubt that this language is coordinated, and targeted.

    The systems of unfettered Capitalism are well entrenched, to dismantle them it will take a strong and visionary Left Party to make the changes necessary.

    Needless to say the USA, the UK and Australia do not have a strong and visionary Left Party.

    Having said that, I do know of a Left movement that could make the changes.

    https://representus.com.au

  3. Sammy

    Fair chance we will come out of this crisis to realise that were fucked anyway. We left dealing with climate change too late and there will be global food shortages caused by overpopulation and more pandemics to come due to our close proximity to wildlife and destruction of habitat. Likely the next pandemic will see leaders more focused on the economy than health. This is the beginning of the great unravelling. I sincerely hope i am incorrect, but from what I have been observing there is not a chance in hell that the elite are going give up capitalism for the greater good, in fact they will hoard what they have and leave the rest of us to the wolves.

  4. Ill fares the land

    Politicians want to view this as short-term, because most are seeking a short-term solution to a longer-term problem for political reasons. Trump is in an election year. Morrison has come off the back of his utterly woeful performance during the bushfire crisis and he, I’ve no doubt thinks that exploiting a short-term crisis will give him the momentum he needs to start his election campaign. I think it is feasible he will call an early election before the gloss of his manufactured performance as the Churchillian statesman, if not the Messiah, wears off and we re-discover that the real him was the one we saw pre-COVID-19. Imagine another 3 years of incompetent, corrupt nepotism and austerity-based politics. The last point seems inevitable – Morrison is not a reformed conservative and we are fools if we think he is. When it comes to who should “pay for” the stimulus, he doesn’t think the rich and big business should pay, so it will be privatise everything not yet sold off, slash public services and making the poor suffer the degradation of living in poverty. Since everything he is doing now is seen through his myopic prism of his personal brand, why would he alienate his supporter base.

    The flights of fancy that we as a society will adopt more caring, environmentally friendly lifestyles are farcical. We were selfish before and we will be selfish again. The major thing that will resume unchanged is advertising – for decades it has been honing its techniques for making as want and buy things we can do without and it is a global industry, so it will continue manipulating us and exploiting us in the name of corporate profits. A few people have bought chickens, but most don’t actually realise that chooks are hard work – I know because I have had chooks for 20 years. Chooks are more work than a dog and you can’t train not not to poop in the house. They don’t take a day off – even on X-mas day, you have to feed them and clean their yard and when you go on holidays, you can’t ask your mum to look after them. The gloss of a simpler lifestyle will stay for some (that is a good thing), but for the vast majority, we have invested way too much in our gas-guzzling SUV’s and dual cabs that demand attention; our fridges that have TV screen’s on the door; the larger houses on smaller blocks that are the “perfect entertainer”, but which we are going stir crazy not being able to go out of (?). A new world order? Yeah right. It is the rich who exploit the opportunities on offer as a result of crises and it will happen this time as well. The GFC was supposed to be a wake up call – but global inequality has still increased post-GFC.

  5. Carole

    I doubt the people who defied the isolation instructions and gathered on Bondi Beach will be sitting quietly at home smelling the roses and enjoying the peace and quiet. The greatest godsend for them is the mobile phone which is more essential than food and shelter. It is keeping them connected for the time being while they wait for normality to return.
    Maybe they are the majority, I really don’t know. I would like to think that society has learned that we are not in control of the virus, the climate species extinction, unending queues of refugees from our long term wars.
    This pandemic has given us the opportunity to stop snd décidé do we want to go on the way we have for the last forty years? Do we care enough to want to change? Are we prepared to make sacrifices for humanity? I don’t believe so.

  6. New England Cocky

    I am reminded by this fine article of Paul Erich (1969?) “The Population Bomb” predicting the present problems of over-population and the consequential refugee dilemma created by persons borne in third world underdeveloped locations desiring the benefits of first world economic development. This problem has never been addressed by economists or planners. OK, Communist PRC had the One Child Policy until the reduction in population was predicted to reduce economic growth predictions, but many religions shun birth control measures for disastrous reasons.

    Bigger may be beautifuller but geographically distributed smaller production units spread the wealth without enriching the multinational oil corporations.

    Locally produced products keep the money circulating locally, with money spent in a regional family owned business creating a seven (7) times multiple effect in the local economy.

    In comparison, centralising reduces jobs and increase service delivery times.

  7. john tons

    I agree with the skeptical comments that the many will not want to go back to their pre covid 19 lifestyles. However, making the transition to a zero carbon economy requires a revolution in our thinking about the world and here there is some research that gives us cause for quiet optimism. That research indicates that revolutionary changes are a product of a change in attitude by about 10% of the population. (Noel, A. and J.-P. Therien (2002). “Public Opinion and Global Justice.” Comparative Political Studies 35(6).) It just may be that covid 19 heralds such a shift in public opinion.

  8. Keitha Granville

    I too am sceptical Stephengb that enough people will realise we could have a better world. The wealthy who run this joint will hang on like rabid dogs to the world they have had and will have again.

    If we fight for it, if we ALL fight for it, we could make it happen.

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