For those people who have been advocating social and economic changes for the last few decades, to a certain extent it looks like all our Christmases are arriving at once. Issues we have been lobbying for, for decades are now suddenly being addressed within days and weeks. Obviously, I don’t want to ignore the severity of the situation and human, social and economic costs. However, what I have been saying for a long time in my ICT related work is that humans are bad in preventing a crisis but once we have one, we are great in finding solutions. Looking back over 100,000 years of human history that simply seems to be the trend. Chaos is one of the key drivers of change.
The problem now will be how can we turn
this into more permanent changes? I have not been an admirer of our current
government, but I am impressed how quickly a neo-liberal approach has been
changed to a more social democratic one and I will give credit to the PM and
his team. This is a most remarkable transformation. Yes, he was slow and made
mistakes, but he flipped back, reviewed and changed whenever it was needed.
Great to see what you can do if you take politics out of the equation. The
national cabinet with the states is another great change that will hopefully
s to improvements in the way we all work in partnership. The
collaboration – after a few hiccups – is a great political achievement.
However, the underlaying attitude of the government remains one of getting back to ‘normal’ (being pre-crisis) ASAP. Obviously for many reasons yes of course in many cases that will be the case. But what can we learn from the current situation and how can we tweak the system to ensure that certain elements are going to be included in the new normal after the crisis?
Obviously now (early April) it is difficult to predict how the crisis will develop; will we be able to manage this until we have the vaccine? Do we get reoccurrences and what sort of an effect will that have, perhaps even in years to come? But let us be positive and for the moment follow the scenario that we slowly are going to back to a more normal situation over the next 6-12 months.
What might work to our advantage here to sustain some of the positive policy changes is that it is much easier to close and lock down, but it is far more difficult to start up again. Also, many individuals and businesses were already operating at a marginal level before the crisis and even with all the financial support a very large number of them will be in an even deeper crisis after the calamity is over. This means that a range of support and stimulus packages will have to be continued, the government has little choice with that. It could easily take a decade before we are totally out of the (economic) crisis.
With the crisis in mind it could also be easier for politicians to bite the bullet and explain to people why we need taxes and what the benefits are if we stop cutting them. Of course, we need ultimate scrutiny on this but if it can be done in Europe why can’t that be done here. As the government is receiving more trust now, can they use that to talk to us – the people – about the issues and the options? The crisis has increased our community spirit and we are remarkably easily taking up our social responsibilities, clearly an indication that we are not just selfish and individualists. We can use this and build on that.
I have heard from experts in Europe that we should aim for a 5-10% positive social/economic change (whatever that might be) , this might sound low, but perhaps in all reality that might need to be the bottom line goal.
The key here is to look for the systematic fault lines in our systems. Things like:
- Undervaluation of people in those sectors that are currently saving our lives.
- Ongoing cuts to healthcare, education, R&D.
- Undermining a more scientific approach to addressing issues such as climate change.
- Ignoring issues such as inequality, refugees and migration.
- Too much neoliberalism with the focus on profits instead of wellbeing.
In all reality the ultimate reason for the pandemic and climate change is the growth in world population. When I was born there were 2.5 billion people now 7.5 billion+. This will grow to 11 or 12 billion. So, we can expect more and more severe crises. The population in Africa will double and we have no systems in place to manage that. The Syrian crisis will simply be child’s play in comparison.
In this context, other policies we need to review include defence and anti-terrorism spending. The global and national threats are far more likely to come from issues related – as predicted now for several decades – to massive population growth such as climate change, refugees and pandemics. Can we use the crisis to get a better balance between these issues?
We also need our financial brains in this process. Our financial system is purely a creation of us humans. Can these brains be creative in finding financial solutions for this unprecedented financial crisis, that applies to the whole world. Can they come up with solutions to address the enormous debts, without getting us all into a severe depression? Surely, they can use or develop financial and fiscal tools that can assist us here. In Australia, we are in comparison to for example the USA in a far better financial position net-debt-wise, so perhaps we can show some global leadership here.
What is clear is that we now need to start discussing these issues, have brainstorming meetings with as wide as possible participation. We need to bust silos and look for holistic strategies going forward.