By Dr David Laing Dawson
We humans seldom change our behaviour until and unless we have to. The counselling mantra is that we don’t change (go into rehab, drink less, exercise, stop smoking…) until we want to, decide to. But that’s not really true. We don’t do those things, that is make difficult changes in our routine behaviour, until we have to, as brought to us by a health scare, a threat from a loved one, an embarrassing experience, an overall shift in social attitude…
The same goes for corporate behaviour. Corporations don’t shift behaviour until they are fully in a crisis, or get caught.
So the good news about the current pandemic is that we are in a crisis and we did get caught.
So maybe, just maybe, some good things will come out of this. Here is my list:
1. True international cooperation and preparedness for the next virus, or bacterium that emerges.
2. Some measures taken to prevent the jump of pathogens from animals to humans.
3. Improving our long term care facilities and procedures. (It has always been known that influenzas and pneumonias, viral and bacterial, carry off this vulnerable population each season, but COVID- 19 is a wake up call)
4. Hospitals are paying some attention to antibiotic resistant bacteria but they are really Petrie dishes for these new evolving pathogens. Time to take it really seriously.
5. An overall increase in the awareness and acceptance of actual scientific medical information. e.g. vaccines
6. Improvement in our health care systems, COVID 19 having shown us the different gaps and problems and inequalities in each nation’s system.
7. I have always expected to acquire a minor virus or two when travelling any distance by air. Perhaps this crisis will show us how to travel by air/train without such an expectation.
8. This awakening to a problem that is world wide, that has an impact on every human on the planet, may help us expand our consciousness to the plight of all, and specifically to the developing crisis of climate change and global warming.
9. And finally, this may bring about a new understanding of what is referred to as “the economy”.
I was struck by the television reporting the past couple of nights of people in the USA lined up for food banks. “Not since the great depression” was the tag line, with some black and white images of long lines of unemployed and hungry families in the 1930’s. They are standing, clustered in threes and fours, in quarter mile lines, appearing gaunt, dressed in drab clothes, waiting their turn for the soup kitchen. In contrast the lines today were of cars and SUV’s lined up for blocks to enter the drive-through food bank, with boxes of food stuffs being loaded into the cargo space.
The great depression was preceded by the roaring twenties, with excess, excess in expectations, borrowing, crime, growth, debt, leading to a collapse of banks and the stock market.
It wasn’t until Roosevelt’s New Deal that it occurred to government that this man-made problem could have a man-made solution, that the problem of no jobs could be overcome by creating jobs, by getting money into the hands of ordinary people, that as much as jobs create money, money creates jobs. And money can be printed.
So now it has become common practice to spend our way out of recessions and depressions, to create or “borrow” money and “stimulate” the economy. Still we stumble from the good times to the bad and never learn.
While we are busy flattening the curve of COVID – 19, might we learn how to flatten the roller coaster ride of our “economy”?
Simple steps I think learned from 100 years of experience:
a. Bank, lending and market regulation and oversight. Corporations and people cannot be trusted.
b. Much more equitable distribution of wealth achieved through higher taxes on all forms of excess income.
c. Guaranteed annual income of at least, say, $20,000.
d. Simplify this by giving the annual income automatically to every adult, and have it replace unemployment insurance, welfare and disability pensions, old age pensions and all the bureaucracy that goes with these.
The time has come for this last idea. All it requires is a different way of thinking about “the economy” and about money itself.