Saturday, October 17, 2020

497. What can we learn from Corona?

 From Hegel I learned that one gets to know something in its failure or its shortcomings. That opens your eyes for the thing’s limits. The resulting slogan is: Do not waste a good crisis. What are we learning from the present breakdown of society, with the Corona crsis? Conclusions can only be tentative, since developments are ongoing.

 There is an economic lesson. A fundamental thesis from Adam Smith is that division of labour is a source of prosperity. But it requires trade and that makes one vulnerable, as we now see, when international supply lines are broken, which matters, for example, for health supplies. Some 80% of medicines and its chemicals in the world are from India and China, and we are vulnerable to disruption of its supply due to Corona or geopollitics. After the crisis, world trade is likely to shrink. Of some goods there will be more local production.

 Much trade can continue through internet, and while many suffer economic setbacks, internet traders flourish.

 What will happen to the EURO? Southern European countries will need help from the Northern countries. Those seem to resist, and this may lead to break-up of the EU and the Euro.

 How long will banks be able to be lenient on loans and mortgages? They now have larger buffers than they did before, due to measures taken after the financial crisis of 2008, but those are limited, and banks may start falling again. Will they be bailed out again at the cost of citizens?

 Who will pay for the measures taken to contain the virus and to provide financial recompense? This will mostly be taxes on future incomes, hence the young. One can think of shareholders, but many of those are pension funds, and the elderly will protest against reduced pensions. 

 If Marx was right, the ‘superstructure’ of ideology is produced by the physical ‘infrastructure’, and if that is so, the crisis will have a major impact on ideology. With many people out of work and needing an income, a massive handout is given in developed countries, The importance of this is that the connection  between income and labour is severed. Income is no longer a reward but a need. What will this do, if it lasts for long? Perhaps it will eliminate the largest obstacle for a universal Basic Income, the resistance to income without performance.

 Liberalism is in decline, in two ways. One is that under uncertainty there arises a desire for stringent rule, by an authoritarian regime.The second is that while originally action was left to voluntary compliance with corona rules, that has been shown not to work, and measures had to become more strict and obligatory.

 There are cultural differences between countries. Some, such as Scandinavian countries,  are more oriented to civic responsibility and others, such as the Netherlands, more to give way to personal, individualistic desire and action

 There are also institutiopnal differences. For example, I have read that while in the Netherlands grandparents often provide care of their grandchildren, in Denmark, there is more governmental support of child care, lessening the risk of the elderly being infected.

 It is tragic to see how people are affected not only physically, but also mentally, in having to renounce social and familial contacts, sports, social pleasures in pubs, parties, festivals. Especially the young suffer from this, and many rebel. And one should acknowledge that the development of personal identity requires interaction with others. However, this suffering also shows up a lack of resilience, ability to accept and stomach setbacks, which arises from a long period of peace and prosperity, in developed countries. Also lack of flexibility, among many, to find alternatives, as in using internet for maintaining contacts. And in not being able to deal with isolation, lack of entertainment The virus shows up how much we have developed, and become addicted to an inane pleasure economy.

 What manifests itself is that people are so accustomed to work and entertainment away from home, such as dining out, ging to the pub, shows, sports, that they find it hard to be alone. Locked into home, they get bored or lonely or get on each others’ nerves. A good effect is that it stimulates conversation and contact and promotes reading and hobbies as making art or do-it-yourself, making people more resourceful and creative.

 What is the effect on (in)equality? At first sight one might think that the virus is indiscriminate, affecting all equally. But protection against it is unequal. Rich people have a large house, with more spaces to seclude themselves, and a garden as a shielded outdoors. A large house gives more opportunity for children to do their home shooling. Also, in many countries only rich people have health insurance, and can appropriate means of protection, such as testing and respiratory machines, and vaccines. People with work that is essential but requires contact, such as in stores for food or medicine, delivery and care, run more risks, and  for a large part receive lower pay. Many poor people lack a computer and corresponding skills to use Internet for shopping and for contacts.

 In refugee camps and slums, with cramped quarters, narrow paths, shared toilets and washing facilities, social distancing is not practicable. Spread of the virus will be rampant, uncontrollable.

 There is a positive effect of less pollution, but that is weakening the effort of energy transition away from fossil fuels.

 Paucity of traffic lures wildlife onto roads, increasing traffic victims among them, in spite of the lesser traffic.

 It is reported that the crisis enhances other-directedness, in empathy and mutual help. I am a bit sceptical about that. Also, this positive effect that emerged in the first wave is eroding now, and people lapse in protest, rebellion and conspiracy theories.

 What are the long-term effects of social isolation? Does it promote solipsism and self-orientation or the reverse: will people appreciate and seek contact, perhaps all the more, in new ways?

 If the crisis lasts long and recompense falls short, how long will people resist violence to rob resources? In the US, admittedly a special case, people are buying more guns. 

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