Change 1: Health Overrides Economy
Recently, the German philosopher Markus Gabriel said “The pandemic has shown that we are capable of not always making economic considerations our first priority. We have done the right thing morally, and decided to prioritise health at almost any economic price.”
2020 has been the year of people before profit. We have gone through six months of decisions from the government that show that if they needed to, they can overrule the entire economy in favour of health. As New Zealand has lurched from economic crisis to economic crisis since the late 1960s, we’ve become accustomed to seeing welfare as the stuff you need to soften the damage to the economy. The economy was paramount.
But this year we made public health the most important priority of all.
So this tells us that the economy can be overridden, and sometimes should be.
Change 2: Climate Change Capacity
Can Covid-19 help us think better about climate change? Signs are good.
It is already uniting the right and the left against globalisation even better than anything the Battle for Seattle or Stiglitz’ Globalisation and its Discontents did over a decade ago.
The speed and force of the Covid-threatened state to command-and-control society and the economy to specific and far-reaching ends shows that government really can act effectively on the most major of policy problems, and with all the funding it needs. They’ve proven it inside half a year.
So there is no longer any excuse for government not to massively transform society to prepare for accelerating and deepening climate change. With the same force and scale.
Can it help us as individuals and consumers think differently about climate change? Too soon to tell.
Change 3: Borders Are Permanently Stronger
New Zealand is usually considered disabled by its distance from markets and the borders to entry this produces. But here we are, standing at the global AA meeting, clean for 100 days. Finally, the title of our historian Keith Sinclair’s book rings true: “Distance Looks Our Way”. Who knows how long this will last, but the world looks to us to chart a way out of this.
Covid 19’s effects have been to accelerate anti-globalisation. Trade walls are going up alongside physical walls, airport shut-downs, cruise liner halts and travel bans. The borders of our nation, and the strength of our state to define and protect those borders, are waaaaay more powerful than they used to be in February this year.
Our ability to seek our fortune and opportunity away from New Zealand has been deadened and we are forced to look to ourselves and to each other. It is a cold and heavy limit on us – and a different kind of society and economy will emerge to what we have now. We won’t be able to move as much.
Change 4: Digitisation Massively Accelerated
In the post-coronavirus era, digitalisation replaces globalisation.
The world of trade and of the exchange of ideas is putting a huge premium on dematerialised goods such as gaming and on-line services and shopping. We’re not well placed for this yet, but we’re learning fast: currently too much wealth is tied up in airports and not enough in independent broadband. It’s not that hard to imagine secondary schools, universities, and downtown retail as increasingly stranded assets. For anyone needing to track the share price of Amazon or Microsoft or Xero or Jade, that’s good news.
Will Zoom and Teams replace the numbing Dilbertean hell of the open plan office and of meetings? We certainly will keep tablets beside us nearly all the time, for everything.
Change 5: Home and Work Shifted
The premium on being home just shot up.
You can see the real effects of this as people travel less to work and school: already, a massive decrease in the use of petrol has punched a hole through the accounts of NZTA, requiring a billion in loan facility from the government. If enough people work from home and claim percentages of their home for it, the IRD will feel the loss in their tax take.
We could do with a bill through parliament that gives people the right to work from home if they can. That would weaken our mechanisation of the childcare industry into something better resembling actual parenting of actual human beings we gave rise to ourselves.
Maybe this context makes work and home life unbearably messy. But the old separation of life and work and education isn’t coming back.
Maybe we’re foolish enough to make New Zealand the very last place in the world that holds on to all the old structures for living, because we were the first to defeat the wave/last to get the wave. That would make us both free and conservative at the same time. Maybe we’ve come back home.
Change 6: Carers Finally Matter
All those in rest homes who were on the front line between life and death – maybe the entire pay structure for the risks they face is out of whack.
But we all know we owe them such a debt of gratitude. In fact there’s a tilt away from showering attention on celebrities and sportspeople and other entertainers, towards doctors, security guards, nurses, border security and biosecurity staff, Police, Ministry of Health staff, and others who do a public service.
Change 7: We Know We Need You
We need to be near you when you are dying. We need to be near you when you are born. We need to be near you when you are lonely, afraid, unable to go shopping, and sick. We need you as real parents. We need you as real children. We need you to live. Just maybe we know our neighbours a little more and find reason to do so.
We didn’t know that before, not like this.
Covid 19 has made us more human.
More human I suspect than we have been since the end of World War 2.
So how has it really changed us?
Our reaction to Covid 19 shows that we are more human than we knew.