Sunday

Obs from the COVID lockdown (& after)


The COVID-19 outbreak happened, but it didn't happen equally. The thing I've found interesting is how different countries, and different styles of political leadership have handled the pandemic. When you combine variations in geography, urban density and planning, it's astounding that some countries deliberately chose an ad-hoc approach to infection control. That some countries had no effective leadership at all, or a bumbling version of autocratic belatedness. That some acted powerless as the virus spread and tore through their less privileged communities. That some leaders played the pandemic for political pinpoints.

It's shown how uneven the global condition is, and that neither countries or (often) their states could coordinate or work towards a consistent and effective outbreak response. Borders were shut down, jurisdictions closed, and leadership defaulted en masse. Hospital managers were left to source their own protective equipment.

Which kind of makes a mockery of the 'global village' and the smart/connected/globalised society and frictionless marketplace we've been trumpeting for the last decades. 

COVID-19 has shown up how unequal our societies are, how profoundly uncoordinated. You could also say it showed how depressingly deep we live in the capitalist model and mindset. How people's self-interest caused shortages of all kinds. How price gauging leapt in response. How much we previously depended on shopping and holidays and consumption for validation and identity. And how fragile these habits and industries are when faced with genuine collective threat. How it doesn't reward the things we value, but instead seeds value in commercial things. 

See this in the well-off people escaping the city for their coastal holiday homes. See it in the collapse of the AirBnB market which condoned landlord profiteering over the fair provision of rental housing stock. See in in the mass lay-offs and collapse of companies that somehow survived on the thinnest margins of profitability. See it in the entire arts industry pretty much shutting down. See it in the pervasive casualisation of labour from the gig economies to the primary care and service industries. Same story: politicians do not value the providers of essential work.

See it in the broad lack of social support and planning for downturns or major events. See it in universities overexposed to the overseas student market, suddenly cutting their already-casualised workforce in half (at least they have nice gold-plated buildings left over). See it in the tech industries profiting from disinformation and the spread of lies that work against the health of whole nations. Need I go on... 

Oh yes: see it in the power of political lobbying, where privileged industries (like builders) get massive bailouts and incentives which also happen to benefit the rich landlord voter base. Whilst legitimate needs (like social and affordable housing in Australia), are ignored. Now, granted, Australia did introduce a generous and temporary support measure. But not everyone works with fair employers.

But when these are withdrawn it'll show up clearly that the system doesn't work, and doesn't work equally for all. It'll show up the ongoing varieties of inequality in our societies. As America is experiencing now.

I find it interesting to see how precarious and un-agile the modern economic system is. Capitalism is not robust and it certainly isn't sustainable -- but gee it's nice to take a sabbatical from it every now and then.

More and more sectors are clamouring for support. The government won't be open to indulging all of them; but it will find new excuses for austerity. It will not plan for the future.

A pandemic that affects all of us has not been experienced the same way. Some countries like New Zealand pulled together through sympathetic and effective leadership. Some people stayed and worked from home, luckily. Some people faced enormous risk doing the only job they could, for organisations that had to stay open. Some people went out regardless and chose to ignore social distancing, and some people got very sick.

Add to which the virus itself does not affect all people in the same way.

Maybe it should be called the Inequality Virus, for all that it's shown up in our society. 

It's certainly shown up how poor some nations are at acting collectively. Or more damningly: how fragmented, disenfranchised and divided our societies have become in the connected/digital age, that an ultimately containable virus could wreak such havoc. See it in how disinformation and untruths spread virally. 

Maybe we should re-word William Gibson's famous dictum, to say that reality is unevenly distributed.

(Don't get me wrong: the vast majority of people adhered to lockdown and social distancing measures. This has been the core of many nations' recovery success. Sensible people seeing through bullshit and maintaining their common sense).

Rather than a New Normal, I think we need a thorough revaluation of how we want to live. To live better and fairer and sustainably, in such a way that important jobs get remunerated properly, and socially negative ones don't. We cannot live with so may conflicting and unequal versions of reality. 

And maybe, rather than this sickly favouring of privileged sectors when there are hundreds of legitimate calls for support, we need to just get over it and sign on for a Universal Basic Income. Tax the industries that make and take the most but pay the least; and distribute that money to all the people equally. No questions, just a bottom line of basic support. All it takes is leadership and the vocal will of the people.


No comments:

Post a comment

Nice comments are welcome!