Why it’s important that we never return to ‘normal’
Cards on the table. I’m not a brilliant person. Unlike so many of the writers here, I only have a BA. I’m not the CEO of some start-up, or a consultant or teacher or whatever. My career has been nothing if not unremarkable. I was a junior Civil Servant, recently retired due to ill-health. Mental health, that is. I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, who has spent much of his 61 years watching, listening and reading, then thinking (in my own simple, direct way) about what I have seen, heard and read.
I’m not a nice person. I’m what they called ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’ at work. I speak “After the use of the English/In straight-flung words and few” (Kipling). I don’t suffer fools gladly -which is a problem, as there are so damn many of them. I am occasionally grumpy, frequently sarcastic, prefer dark to light humour and speak my mind, regardless. I’m not prejudiced or biased against anyone in particular: I don’t like anybody.
Right now, I’m angry and scared, and unapologetic about it. My wife has health issues, my youngest granddaughter has Type 1 diabetes and my parents are in their 80s and frail.
But what is really scaring me, and pissing me off in equal measure, is the endless refrain of “when things get back to normal”! Whatever happens, and however long this thing takes, things must never get back to normal. Or at least pre-Covid-19 normal. There must be fundamental changes in the ways societies and economies work, before the next one hits.
There will be a next one, and likely very soon. Influenza or upper respiratory tract infection pandemics occurred in 1889–90, 1918 (Spanish flu), 1957–58 (Asian flu), 1968–69 (Hong Kong flu), 1997–8 (Russian flu) and 2009 (H1N1/09). That is not counting near-misses like SARS, geographically-specific diseases like Ebola and the not directly fatal but still pandemic HIV. Nor does it take into account the annual scandal of health services being put under strain by seasonal flu in the elderly and infirm, as well as young children.
Anyone with half a brain could have seen this coming, could have planned for it, could have had the necessary legislation, regulations, supplies and logistics in place to cope with it. But that would have meant politicians taking time out to actually govern the country, rather than preparing for the next election while lining their own pockets. I mean, for crying out loud, anyone who’s played a couple of hours on a decent RTS/city building computer game knows you have to be prepared for all the random events the AI will throw at you! Not rocket science!
But now, of course, we’re well up shit creek and frantically paddling with anything we can lay our hands on. Even now, governments are being sluggish about doing the necessary. Our neighbours opposite are a case in point. She has underlying health problems and works for the NHS in an administrative capacity. As such, she is allowed and encouraged to work from home. He, on the other hand, works at a shop which rents and sells power-tools, hardware and DIY equipment: his employers have deemed themselves an essential service and are forcing him to go to work, potentially endangering himself and his wife -who does work for an essential service. The government should have closed everything but food shops and pharmacies down weeks ago! Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond the State Attorney of Texas (where else?) has deemed gun shops to be an essential service to be kept open at all costs! WTF?
After this is over, there must be changes. They are changes a lot of people won’t like, but believe you me, if they don’t happen then it’s likely the next pandemic —maybe more contagious, more virulent, more lethal — will do for this century what the Black Death did for the 14th! That plague killed off nearly a quarter of the population of the world, 100 million out of 450 million. By todays’ standards that means almost 2 billion deaths. Maybe more, as we are much more crowded together than our 14th Century ancestors.
So. Every country that can must have a state-funded, universal health-care system. It must be funded on the basis of need, not budgetary concerns (you can always chop a chunk off your inflated military appropriations) and run by doctors, not accountants. Yes, that means you as well, America! Too many people are dying, and will die, in the US due to underlying wealth issues. How many American cases of COVID-19 are currently not being diagnosed, treated or even counted because the sick are poor, probably POC, and have no insurance or other means of paying medical bills? I shudder to think.
There has to be a Minimum Guaranteed Income, preferably paid by the state to each individual as of right. Millions of workers in the UK are desperately worried about how they are going to manage -the Department of Work and Pensions have more or less closed their offices to prevent the virus spreading, but their phone lies are jammed with claimants. People who can no longer go to work and whose employers -flying in the face of any kind of ethical behaviour and even enlightened self-interest - have stopped their pay. The self-employed, the hourly-paid, those on zero-hours contracts -all of their families under threat of eviction, starvation or infection. Because some employers are forcing people to work, regardless, under threat of dismissal.
Now an MGI would have several effects. It would reduce employment costs, as employers would only have to pay a top-up. If sufficiently generous -enough for a comfortable but not luxurious lifestyle -it would stimulate demand. People with a reliable income feel secure, feel better and are more inclined to buy things. It would also rid us once and for all of the fictional economic or moral necessity of work. In an age of advancing technology, sophisticated automata and more capable AI, there will always be more people than jobs. An MGI would mean that people need only work when or if they need or want to, but would still contribute to demand for commodities.
Most importantly of all, it would take the whip hand away from employers. Those jobs which need to be done: teaching, medicine, nursing, food production and distribution, would finally have to be paid according to the actual social value of their work. Employers would have to make their workplace cultures more inviting, more welcoming. They’d have to appreciate their workers. If an employee can say “I can go home and live comfortably on my MGI while I look for another job. I don’t have to sit here and take your shit!”, then work will have to become somewhere people want to be!
International travel must become the rare necessity it should always have been. If this crisis has taught us anything, it is that face-to-face is an expensive and dangerous luxury. Real-time meetings over the internet cost less and are equally effective. Holidays do not need to be taken abroad. Substantial reduction in carbon footprint.
Border controls must be tightened. Free movement of people vastly increases the spread of infections. “Is your journey really necessary?” Should become the first and most important question.
Rationing of certain essentials must begin and be maintained. Because rationing is not about stopping people buying more than they need. It’s about ensuring that everyone can get what they need, whenever they need it.
The whole false superstructure that’s been built on the real economy has to go. It needs shaking up and gutting. Stock exchanges should become a place where people go to invest real money in real companies that produce and trade in real commodities. Banks should be making loans directly to companies that make and trade in real commodities. No more lending money to companies who buy shares in companies who buy shares in companies who advise companies who actually employ real people in real jobs to ‘rationalise’ in order to increase their share price while actually producing less! Load of bollocks, or would be if it didn’t screw up peoples’ livelihoods
Finally, social distancing, or what we used to call ‘good manners’, must continue. Not at the current two-metre rule, perhaps, but as a general awareness that we need to give people space. Not crowding too close in a queue. Not cramming people together in inadequate work space. Providing fewer seats, but more carriages and more frequent services on public transport. Of course, that will also include my personal pet peeves from pre-virus days! Don’t get in my face when you talk to me, back off a couple of feet! And keep your paws to yourself! I barely know you, don’t touch me. You’re not family, don’t you dare try to hug me!
None of this will happen, of course. Not while the current crop of criminal-minded morons are in charge. Is it wrong of me to hope that people, ordinary people, might just wake up and decide enough is enough?