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CORONAVIRUS – HELL TO PAY

2020.06.02

covid-19

 

THE FOG OF WAR

The midst of any crisis is the most difficult time to look for an understanding of events, and it will be many years, and only after much bitter argument and recrimination, before we will approach clear answers to even basic questions arising from this pandemic. What were its origins? Could it have been forestalled? What was the real infectivity rate? What is its true lethality? Why such diverse outcomes across different countries?  Was its appearance marked by failure on the part of authorities to respond, or by over-reaction? Or by both in different aspects, under different administrations? How have we been served by modelling and the recording of statistics? Into how many medical cul de sacs and blind alleys have we been directed? How has traditional media acquitted itself? Or the internet? What of the imposition of censorship, and of legal compulsion on scales unprecedented outside global war, across democratic countries and authoritarian regimes alike? How justified were these measures? Which country has found the optimal response, not only over the months elapsed, but over those to run until a vaccine is found, if indeed that is ever to happen? How is it that after so many months of torrents of worldwide media focus on this pandemic, which has wrought havoc across the globe, and has by no means finished its work yet, we appear to be none the wiser on any of these points?

Anything like answers being utterly wanting, therefore, all we will endeavour here is the formulation of a single basic question.

 

THE LOADED QUESTION

That being – who pays? Since the start of this, we have been informed with great earnestness and sincerity that we are all in it together. However, some sections of society, some countries, some economic sectors, are clearly more in it than others, and will pay disproportionately.  Some of course have done so already – with their lives, and with their livelihoods. The question of payment is one, politically and economically speaking, set to explode in many different faces.

 

COMETH THE HEROES

At the individual level, the well-heeled have hunkered down for a few months, without too much ill-effect, at least for the time being. However, those who live hand to mouth, or who walk a tightrope of either personal or commercial debt, are experiencing nothing less than life-changing disaster.

Much has been made of a new appreciation of economic roles. We are told that what used to be termed the unskilled or semi-skilled are now amongst our most valued workers. The shop assistant and the truck driver are amongst our new heroes. The postman stands now before the banker, the delivery truck driver before the stock exchange trader, the farmer before the film star. And, of course, the medical professions lead in this new hierarchy. But how much of all this is passing cant? Again, who will pay? Taxation, being the main purpose of government, will be the tool wielded to establish this. It is interesting, and frightening, to think what that will look like. Will the new heroes really be favoured, when the tsunami of bills starts sweeping in? Or maybe the banks and financial institutions, appreciative of their 2008 bailouts, will clamour to pick up the gargantuan tabs?

PAYMENT DEFERRED

At the national level, public debt that previously was merely dizzying, is now to be elevated to cosmic levels. This is money that could have served the schools, hospitals, infrastructure – of society’s children, grandchildren and unborn. So, it would seem that the burden will fall disproportionately, in generational terms. The future most certainly will pay.

 

A WORLD OF WOE

At the international level, what now for the future for globalism? For the free movement of people, so beloved of the EU, for instance? For migrant flow? In the early days of this pandemic, borders reappeared with amazing alacrity across Europe, and national interests immediately supplanted any consideration of the welfare of neighbours. Exactly how much commitment is behind these ideals, the sceptics ask, when they evaporate like mist in such a crisis?

A German newspaper recently forwarded to China a bill requiring payment on demand. This of course is at the level of a journalistic stunt, but some serious political opinions appear now to be tending in not dissimilar directions, in which case there may indeed be international Hell to pay.  At the very least it seems certain that many strategically vital industries will be repatriated. Will this extend to a review of the decades-long policy of outsourcing that has been such a feature of globalisation? How will this affect international prices? Will we see at least a partial decoupling from China, and possibly from other economies upon which the First World has grown dependant? What would be the effect of that, given the complex intertwining of business relations, capital ownership, and entire economies that has been allowed to grow over the years? How can this be achieved without further damage and impoverishment of all concerned? How will the poorer countries of the world fare? Disproportionately better than the richer? Really? Who, on the world stage, will pay? One gets the feeling that much anger and realpolitik will follow in the wake of this disaster.

 

A PRICE TOO FAR

Lastly, since the start of this, it has been extraordinary to listen to the praise lavished on totalitarian regimes, for nothing less than the completeness of control they have exercised over their people. And the speed with which liberal democracies have dropped both liberalism and democracy has been matched only by the willingness of their populations to accept it. Concern now extends not only to the policing of hitherto harmless activities, the fines and even jail time handed out, the spectre of social tracking and monitoring, but also to censorship exercised by private companies like Google and Youtube. Worrying genies have been let out of the bottle. How possible will it be to put these back? Once loosened, they may be quite disinclined to return. Do we all now pay a price in our civil liberties?

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