It is clear that the COVID-19 crisis will herald fundamental changes in our society. The government has nationalised large chunks of the economy. Citizens have rethought our values. The idea that underfunded and overstretched NHS can limp along, is no longer be tolerable. People now realise how vulnerable our food and medical supplies are. We will have to fortify domestic supply lines. We must identify opportunity in chaos, rebuild our manufacturing base and our economy.
COVID-19 and the globalised world
When the pandemic passes, the most restrictive barriers to travel will be lifted. But it is unlikely that there will be a full restoration of the globalised world as it existed before COVID-19. In times of emergency, people fall back on the nation state. This alone has the financial and administrative muscle. Plus it has the emotional cohesion to weather such storms. The crisis will reinforce existing trends for more local production. It will drive economic protectionism and tougher border controls. But it should also drive social reform.
We have suddenly discovered unskilled workers are actually critical to our society working. Cleaners, shelf-stackers, drivers, whose efforts are often treated with disdain, have kept us going. Many middle-class people have learnt with a shock that statutory sick pay is only £94.25 per week.
— Ben (@BenJolly9) March 19, 2020
Will there be no going back? Will this episode forge a solidarity that survives long beyond the moment of danger? I’m as optimistic as anyone could be but I harbour my doubts about how much will change. Brief sharp pandemics often leave very little mark. Take the Spanish Flu as an example which is sometimes called the forgotten epidemic. Some imagine that COVID-19 will make humanity huddle round its tribal fires. But I suspect that global life will reassert itself. Although some things will never be the same again, for example:
- public health,
- the use of technology to work and shop, and
- our attitudes towards just-in-time, ultra-dense living
At the height of the Blitz in 1941, the Labour minister Foust Bevin issued an order. He asked an official named William Beveridge to write a report on national insurance. Beveridge proposed a cradle-to-grave welfare state. No one seemed to mind the cost. There was a war on. Today there is no war on. But every crisis is an opportunity. Let’s hope that similar transformations may emerge from this pandemic.
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