Life After Corona
As the light at the end of the COVID tunnel begins to flicker, everyone is looking forward to getting back to a sense of normality. A time where personal freedom to see your loved ones is not restricted, and when the sum of our daily existence isn’t sitting on another zoom call. Everyone is starting to think about life after COVID. But what will that look like? The world has changed in the last year. First and foremost, millions of people have died, with the lives of their families changed forever. Furthermore, economies across the world have struggled as production came to a grinding halt. And finally, we have seen serious domestic political schisms both in the UK and across the western world, symbolised most dramatically with the capturing of the White House by pro-Trump supporters at the start of 2021. COVID has not only changed the world, but it has also brought to the surface all of the tensions and problems which existed before lockdown. If we want to avoid the worst of what is to come, we should be considering the ways the world must change after COVID.
Show Me the Money
In addition to the human cost, one of the most worrying consequences of the Covid19 crisis is likely to be economic. Why? One word, depression. The Great Depression started in 1929 with the Wall Street crash and sent shockwaves around the world. It was the tipping point that sewed enough anarchy and misery into the global system to help the Nazi party take power in Germany. By the end of the 1930’s, the world was once again, at war.
Could the Covid19 crisis be enough to trigger another depression? Well, dozens of governments have announced stimulus packages valued in the trillions to prevent this exact situation. The UK government, for example, has supported workers and small business with over £350 billion in support. Surely these measures are enough to prevent the worst effects of the crisis, aren’t they?
Well, don’t be so sure about that. Remember, we don’t know how long this debacle is going to last. All money borrowed must be repaid, and how long can this be kept up for? Do we sacrifice government spending for the next generation to just get through the short term? How vulnerable does that leave us for the next crisis, especially with the threat of climate change ever-looming?
The government can’t just pay all furloughed workers wages for years while we wait to find the vaccine, as millions of people sit unproductively at home having arguments with their family.
What Comes Next?
The beauty of the human condition is that we can shape the future, and nothing is pre-determined. However, this fact is a double-edged sword. Which future do we want? Who gets to decide?
Is it possible for this to ‘blow over’ and things return to normal? Yes. Unlikely, but possible. Is it possible for this event to be a great global reset, where we finally bring forth the utopia that we have been striving for since the dawn of civilisation? Maybe, but probably not.
So, what can we do about all of this?
Individuals and Communities
The area where the most beneficial change can happen will be at the individual and community levels. During this crisis, it is wonderful to see the stories of people supporting the elderly, doing food shops for their vulnerable neighbours and rebuilding a sense of community spirit that has long since gone cold in the UK. To take this forward, it would be amazing to see:
- People growing more of their own food where possible, so we are less supermarket reliant.
- People supporting their vulnerable neighbours as part of their daily lives.
- People buying from local shops more, helping to revive the beleaguered high-street.
If people grew more of their food, spoke to each other more, helped each other more, and felt like they belonged, it would go a long way to improving people’s lives. The chronic lack of community throughout the UK, especially in big cities, contributes towards many further problems, such as mental health issues and knife crime. Perhaps the Covid19 crisis may act as a catalyst for change.
Governments and Global
The reality is that government is going to have a much bigger role in all our lives compared to what was deemed politically acceptable just a few months ago.
With such large-scale government interventions in the economy, this was unavoidable. It means that public and private enterprise must find new ways of cooperating and working together.
Governments may even try their hands at reversing some of the effects of globalisation. It is astonishing that so much of our essential equipment is manufactured abroad. Personal-protective-equipment, ventilators, medicines, key foodstuffs, and so much more being produced predominantly abroad means that any disruption to the global supply chain cuts our access to these vital resources.
Will governments across the world look to bring back manufacturing of these products? The UK government has already sent out the call to all British manufacturers to produce more ventilators, with Matt Hancock stating that “No price is too high”.
Having a deeply interconnected global supply chain has one major benefit, driving cost down. Bringing production home would cost more, but it would make it us a lot more resilient and environmentally sustainable. Is that a price we are willing to pay?
Always be wary of people who offer simple solutions to complex problems. The situation we find ourselves in is the result of introducing a fast spreading global issue to a system built on unprecedented levels of interconnectedness.
Such a system is extremely vulnerable to shocks, as billions on people depend of essential resources, like food, being produced in other countries and shipped across the world as part of the ‘just in time’ supply chain.
Here lies the problem. Individual, local, national and international interests have become part of a global supply chain that is infinite in its levels of interactions and complexity. And as with all complex things, it is extremely fragile.
Attempting to simplify and localise production of essential resources would increase our future resilience to shocks, but this will take a lot of time and political will.
Long Term Thinking and Planning
To really fix this issue is going to take some long-term thinking and planning. The type of thinking that the social media culture to which we have become may be incapable of. I’m not talking about the next election, 5 years from now. We must think in terms of decades, centuries even! We need to really ask ourselves:
- What is within my control? What small action can I take?
- What do we want our communities to look like?
- What role do we want government to have in our daily lives?
- What can be done to make global systems more resilient to another shock?
It may take a while before we all agree on an answer. I’m not holding my breath.