We are creeping towards our post-coronavirus future. The problem is that we don’t have a clear idea as to what it will look like, short or long-term. That’s going to create an abundance of uncertainty likely to destabilize much of what we have relied on for decades. Canada has earned plaudits for its overall handling of the present crisis, but its endurance and legacy will depend on how negotiates the immediate years ahead.
Inevitably, the emphasis will shift from health concerns to economic realities and the long climb out of significant debts and deficits with attempts to re-establish the global links of supply and demand. “Light at the end of the tunnel” has become the favourite metaphor, but what if it’s more like a mine shaft and will take a steep climb before any real semblance of hope emerges?
There can be little doubt that while the global political structure is working overtime to manage the crisis, bureaucrats, scientists and health experts, business leaders, financial officials and international venues like the UN, World Bank and IMF are already attempting to map out what things will look like in the next decade.
In his Sunday television program, Fareed Zakaria spoke about life in the next few years: “We are in the early stages of what is going to become a series of cascading events, reverberating throughout the world. Economic paralysis is sure to follow … these problems demand global coordination.”
We can be forgiven for fixating on our own domestic travails, but what is about to hit the developing world will be far worse. Venezuela, India, Brazil and a score of African nations will be ill-prepared for the economic chaos about to hit them and richer developed nations will be hard-pressed to find the resources to assist the world’s poorest when they are attempting to restart their own economies. Regardless of the coronavirus effects on such poorer regions, the economic aftershock will have devastating consequences on them and millions could perish.
It should be clear by now that the global lack of public investment in both rich and poor nations has left us deeply vulnerable. We have always known that pandemics were possible, as were escalating climate disasters, the loss of good jobs, decline in public services, and an increasingly ineffective politics, but little was done to avert any of these. In some cases, they grew worse.
Increasingly unequal societies are also increasingly unstable. And since we’ve been underfunding the public sectors for years, we shouldn’t be surprised that so many lie vulnerable to the corona crisis. The governments that are suddenly there with crisis funding weren’t sufficiently diligent in the years preceding this pandemic. While economies raged ahead on corporate partnerships and stock market records, the reality was that they were ironically cutting back on the very public services we now require and which have remained in a deficit predicament for years. That lack of investment has now caught up with us, leaving governments embarrassed at their own lack of capacity to adapt.
One thing is certain: there will be massive pressure on governments and regulatory agencies to plow funds back into the financial sector as opposed to the public one. We know all too well what happened when that transpired following the Great Recession of 2008 – the public cupboard was stripped bare in order that the private markets could be stocked. And not much changed in the years following, leaving many to observe that little was learned in the process.
Should we go down that same route, then societies will go down as well. If we pump up the financial sector in hopes of bringing the economy back to normal, we will only repeat the fallacies of the past. Climate change will continue its destructive force. The labour market will remain volatile. Poverty will continue to be endemic, made obvious by more vulnerable citizens on the streets. Public health and education will increasingly rise in cost. Programs will be cut back or done away with altogether.
Yet all of this was transpiring prior to the pandemic. To return to the same practices will regurgitate the same fallacies – some will gain wealth from it, while the majority will lose out. Go back down this road and the future will be entirely predictable because we’ve already lived through it just prior to the coronavirus. That’s why those emerging from the Depression and the Second World War strove to build something radically different – memory can be a powerful thing. We have to reimagine economies. We must do a better job of transferring wealth. We must protect the planet at all costs. We must develop employment that is stable, productive and rewarding.
This isn’t some communist manifesto but a capitalist one. It was what capitalism was meant to be before some got too greedy and government greased the skids for all that wealth to leave the public sector.
It’s time to rebuild societies, but that will never be done if we simply repeat our history.