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Will we rebuild better?

Written By: - Date published: 7:34 am, May 17th, 2021 - 36 comments
Categories: China, covid-19, Deep stuff, International, United Nations, us politics - Tags:

There’s a question Covid19 allows us to ask that we haven’t been able to ask since the end of World War 2: can we all just co-operate to get along – as a species?

It takes a mighty interruption to allow us to think as if we all have something worth saving, namely: ourselves.

Every crisis emerges from unique conditions (nice simple teacher’s version here),

and has different results.

But here’s the redemptive promise. All those institutions that set out with great intent after the end of the last world war included elevating diplomacy into a competitive sport to talk with each other as countries, agree to rules to balance imbalances and injustices, and institutions that set out to earnestly and effectively promulgate those ideals into making the world a better place.  They were all set up with united and good intentions to build a better world.

What we had at that time was a moral lesson. That global evil would be brought to justice.

That every single person on earth had inalienable rights.

That the shackles of colonialism and implied racial superiority would be dissolved as peoples made their own self-determined collectives.

It was a world propelled by the ideals of modernism: that impetus to build permanent ideals into the kind of state that had been necessitated to respond to the Great Depression and to World War 2.

Of all the crises since that enormous outpouring of human and humanist solidarity, Covid19 is shaping up to be the largest by death and disability that has hit the whole human world near-simultaneously since World War 2 (I sure ain’t saying that World War 2 caused prosperity though. That’s stupid).

Few modern crises have caused such human mayhem as Covid19. Worldwide the Covid19 death count is nearing 7 million, more than double the reported number of 3.24 million.

While that’s still a ways off from about 20 million killed in World War 1, or 50 million from the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, Covid19 is not finished with us yet.

Many states including our own have successfully responded to this crisis, but Australia and New Zealand policy responses stand as two of the best and highest in the developed world:

The budget Australia has just passed is staggering: there are deepening projected budget deficits from spending and giving away to its citizens more than the extra revenue from the faster-than-expected recovery including the $1,000 tax rebate.

New Zealand has spent tens of billions on corporate welfare, personal and family welfare, and job-forming projects. Our own budget coming up will pile more support still. Christchurch’s rebuilds, Think Big, and the great infrastructure builds of the 1960s and 1970s were small in comparison.

The state is expanding as we haven’t seen in half a century in the United States,

and our trade partner China is all steam ahead with a projected 18% growth rate in GDP.

We’ve been wondering what a re-energised collective will of the people would look like. Well it looks like this.

They aren’t moral lessons: they are instead institutional reform lessons.

A re-energised collective will of the people as government looks like this.

I have a sneaking suspicion that other states will follow the strong-state rebuild into the 2020s, whether they are democracies or not.

New Zealand is renationalising its entire health system, among other things.

I have a sneaking suspicion that energy is next, more than most have imagined to date.

Along with all other successfully recovering states, Covid19 has re-written a social contract with the people to turn on a dime, suspend their individual rights and subsume that into a great collective of survival, and rely for full social continuity on the state far far more than before.

It’s made global heroes of leaders who defy self-interest and communicate with idealism and clarity,

and challenged leaders who rose on pure ethnic nationalism. Some indeed have fallen because of it. It’s a political earthquake.

Covid19 has made politics and political leaders interesting again because of the speed and scale of effect between political response and public health outcomes. That’s new. It’s even outpaced the speed of social media.

We don’t yet know if the effects of Covid19 will renew global solidarity. Or form new and effective institutions. Or indeed endure.

We don’t know if moral clarity will re-emerge in the world just as those founding United Nations declarations did.

We don’t know yet how much this will shift the world.

Perhaps it will confine its primary statist effects to public health, national borders, and limiting human tourism, immigration and human globalisation itself.

Perhaps it will expand into something more ambitious for COP 26. Let’s see.

We do know however that the state and the relationship of people to the state has been renewed and refreshed in successful countries, and it’s continuing.

That is sure no reason to conveniently equate the deaths of millions of people and untold deep suffering as some cruel Malthusian deliberation.

And plenty on the hard right will project that this is yet another example of the Leviathan state growing its power through crisis and taking freedom and never giving it back. That ideological contest won’t end as if Covid19 were the cosmic catalyst for the end of history itself, and nor should it.

But what will grow out of this, as it did in 1945,  is the renewal of a force that all this death and suffering must mean something, some good be renewed and built, something actually noble. That impulse will last for many, many years to come.

36 comments on “Will we rebuild better? ”

  1. Pierre 1

    I've found the last few episodes on David Harvey's podcast illuminating in terms of predicting the historical trends arising from the pandemic. He has this focus on 'getting out from under the pandemic' to glimpse at what might come after. One theme is that Covid accelerates tendencies which were already in place before the pandemic. For example Harvey makes the curious observation that while the 'real' economy in the US took a temporary hit, Wall Street remained relatively healthy throughout. There was a period of mass unemployment, the large corporations wiped out thousands of small businesses, and no banks failed. A strange kind of crisis.

    OP put their finger renationalisation and big investment, the 'strong state rebuild', it's an important point. The advanced capitalist states are starting to build industrial infrastructure and push job creation, that's a new thing! There are developments which suggest that we've somehow moved on from liberalism. Nobody knows what to call it yet (post-liberalism? neo-neoliberalism?), you can imagine two decades down the line looking back and maybe the change will be visible.

    Covid has also exposed some of the measures which states have been incapable of taking. For example France had no qualms about setting curfews and moving around work hours, while Britain was seemingly unable to do it. On the other hand, the NHS vaccination effort is running at an impressive rate, faster than any other European country. And that's all a question of social organisation. See how, despite all its material wealth, the United States was badly hit – that’s a society and an economic system which just wasn't geared to deal with a pandemic.

    It might be idealistic, but I really like the fact that Covid is something which can't be defeated by large armies or fancy missile systems. If it's not too early to search for silver linings among the millions of dead, I'm glad that Covid has forced us to recognise the value of public healthcare and social solidarity.

    • Ad 1.1

      Thanks for the link; I didn't realise David Harvey did podcasts.

    • greywarshark 1.2

      That's a good solid comment to start with.

      About the UK; the NHS reorganisation and better funding for restoring good service was said to be at the bottom of the disquieting Brexit vote.

      The Brexit pusher Fagin Farage was said to be in talks with USA health and pharma companies causing speculation that the NHS was set to be privatised by the Conservatives. I hope that effective vaccination by NHS systems does not make it an attractive set-up to be snatched up by Big B(us)iness.

      • Pierre 1.2.1

        Thanks grey, the other side of this is that the NHS was already subject to various forms of semi-privatisation and new public management under the Tories. Earlier on last year, the government tried to contract out virus testing, and it was a very visible failure: the private contractors made massive profits while delivering a dangerously substandard service. That's what happens when they try to operate a public service like a business.

        This time the vaccination effort is directly managed by the NHS at every level. There are no private companies involved, no internal competition, and even the vaccine itself was developed with public funding at Oxford University. Everyone is familiar with the right-wing line about how outsourcing is 'more efficient', meanwhile large government entities are 'too bureaucratic'. But, as it turns out, this large government body is actually surprisingly effective at running a mass vaccination campaign. That's a big lesson for the proponents of market solutions.

        As for the United States, I would optimistically suggest that there's already a political demand for universal public healthcare, and the post-covid period would be an ideal time to gradually put it into place. Less optimistically, the pharmaceutical companies might see a chance to entrench their position, and the Democratic Party isn't committed to fighting its own corporate donors.

        Brexit does give us the legal right to protect the health service (as well as all sorts of other things), since we're no longer bound by EU competition law. Unfortunately with a Tory government in power, it's up to the labour movement to make sure we make full use of this new popular sovereignty.

  2. Byd0nz 2

    You ask, 'can we all just co-operate to get along – as a species?' The answer is of course No. Not untill the world can move to a system without money and realises we are as one, living on a rock in space depending on it being in a habital state.

    • Ad 2.1

      We've always lived with abstract value exchange for things both tangible and intangible.

      Stored value is a definitional essence of being human.

      The question is what you do with the historical moment, not bemoaning it.

      • Gabby 2.1.1

        What's being done is fabulous profits are being made.

        • Ad

          As well as the most spectacular public sector restructuring since the 1980s and more employee subsidy since the 1930s.

          • Sabine

            and the most spectacular housing crisis in a country that has not seen war.
            so yeah, lets applaud the abstract things government does to feel omnipotent and ignore the people that have no houses, whose benefits are set so low that it is only laughable to call them benefits, kids going hungry other then a government sandwich and so on and so forth. This government is doing things, it just seems that no one but them is benefitting from all the things they do.

            • Ad

              Address the post.

              With an actual relevant thought.

              • Sabine

                I have addressed the post Ad, but no to your liking.

                We can't even build the houses that we need, everything else atm is white washing the fact that people can't afford to rent and they also can't really afford to pay mortgage, that the min wage can not be raised enough to make up the huge increases in rents and other living costs.

                WE have an affordability crisis in this country of the most basic goods that are needed to live. And we have yet to address this inconvenient fact. And we are not building better, or smarter, we have wasted a year, and we are almost back to business as normal, albeit with a few trinkets for some.

                And personally i am of the believe that unhoused people will become a social issue if un-adressed. I would love to share your optimisim, but then even the Marshal Plan was only so good, and we spend years in a Cold war arms race that to some extend we are still in. We are investing, just in the wrong things.

                • CrimzonGhost

                  The coming tech of self driving vehicles will change the dynamics & discourse around housing & homelessness as people are freed from inconvenience of having to drive/manouevre a mobile home/van/tow a caravan around and many more people will join the nomad/greymad 'movement'as a result. A lot of things in future will replicate the past. Nomadism will be a large social movement as people realise cheaper & more liberating to retire to a selfdriving mobile home than a cottage. Councils will be forced to adapt as you don't pay rates on a mobile home or caravan LOL. Factory produced meat will free up lots of land for crops, houses, small holdings. 3D Printing, Open Source software & designs, robotics, automation will also enable return of Craftsfolk/ Artisan workshops in a big way. UBI will come as necessity once many more jobs are automated away.

      • Byd0nz 2.1.2

        A world system based without money requires a giant change of mindset, and it will only come from young people of some future generation. We, of the present generations are to entrenched in the corruption of money systems, so I can see how you are unable to grasp the concept.

  3. greywarshark 3

    220 financial investors due in next year. The action seems to be to boost the economy in tech, with mention of Space and all involved in moving attention further away from human life on earth.

    The drive is into the Smart economy and desk-bound people divorced from ordinary human life to one of complexity and code, with algorithms interacting with real people. Less simple and diverse systems of communication and service to the public and everything coming from a central command centre through computers and devices. We are already along the way.

    It is more important to serve this hegemony of tech and machines, than to enable people to have somewhere to live, or to have the option of a happy human life. There is reducing regular work that is of a manual nature and adequately paid, whereby NZ people can then take on a mortgage and obtain their own house. There is not even enough rental accommodation for the population we have, and that is with a falling birth rate below replacement level.

    From Google – New Zealand's total fertility rate in 2020 was down to 1.61 births per woman, its lowest recorded level, and well below the population replacement rate of 2.1, Stats NZ said today.


    …Association for Migration and Investment chair June Ranson said she would like to know more.
    "New Zealand needs the investment money, there's no getting away from it, but it would have been very, very good if they had made the industry and the public aware of what their plans were."…
    (Does NZ need this high level of investment? Are we being carried on a program of high-tech that will do away with real jobs and in the end disenfranchise people? Will this assist the high paid who demand high consumer products, with a sublevel of low paid whose needs don’t get met?)

    The new exemptions come under the ministry's Innovative Partnerships programme and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise's (NZTE) Investment Attractions, which both had to press pause on inviting potential investors to the country when the borders closed last year.
    Under both programmes, officials are able to identify and invite key people from companies to visit here in order to facilitate high-value international investment and technology expertise into the country.

    MBIE said high-value international investment will play an important role in supporting New Zealand's economic recovery…
    The new Innovative Partnerships exception allows MBIE to invite key people from companies "that are pushing the boundaries of technology and solving the world's big problems" to help them find investment opportunities here…

    MBIE general manager, science, innovation and international Dr Peter Crabtree oversees the Partnership programme…
    Dr Crabtree said interest in New Zealand as a research and development destination had surged due to the country's response to the pandemic.
    "It's almost bottomless at the moment in some ways, there are so many people who are interested. New Zealand's brand is a very strong one, it was already strong in terms of our niche areas of innovation and people are really drawn to the idea of actually basing operations here."

    He said they were looking at bringing in expertise that supports the New Zealand Space Agency and were working through the criteria to prioritise investors…

    "The immediate pipeline of opportunity made possible by these border exceptions could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of benefits to the New Zealand economy."

    • Incognito 3.1

      So, with fertility and the free movement of citizens all coming into play with our population, Bradford asked the conference’s attendees one question:

      “Is there any point in having a population policy when the only thing you can influence for all intents and purposes, is immigration policy?”

      And that, was in 1997.


      NZ continues to underinvest in R&D and high-value innovative industries. Highly skilled people might be keen to come to NZ but unless they build their own labs and/or businesses from scratch they will have to join the queue to fight in the life-or-death contest for funding.

    • Sabine 3.2

      From Google – New Zealand's total fertility rate in 2020 was down to 1.61 births per woman, its lowest recorded level, and well below the population replacement rate of 2.1, Stats NZ said today.

      Why on earth would anyone birth a child into a world were they can't even guarantee the baby lives in a house, rather then end up in emergency accommodation?

      • Incognito 3.2.1

        Don’t overthink things when having sex!

      • greywarshark 3.2.2

        That's good Sabine to stress my point. Humans in NZ are becoming dispensable, displaced by machines run by an elite, and New Zealanders themselves are not valued as the government can get cheaper models of humans from overseas. Why raise our own?

        Nobody says this out loud but those who actually take note of what is actually happening in this country can see the trend clearly. It is so unbelievable that one tends to need the child in the crowd say in a loud puzzled voice, 'Where are the government's clothes" before the fact can be received by the brain.

        This is why there is such a stress on WW1, the government and elite want us to look away to our tarnished moment of glory and loss, and not see the losses of living standards and jobs and despair of recent years and how things have deteriorated since WW2 and the hopes of that time and age.

      • CrimzonGhost 3.2.3

        It's a shocking figure knowing that without Maori, Pasifika, Indian, Muslim higher birth rates it would be even lower.

    • greywarshark 3.3

      Here is the need – invest in people and in our own circular economy, supplying each other. We may have to decouple our money system into an internationally recognised one and a national currency called perhaps Kiwi pareti (barter).


      • Sabine 3.3.1

        We have known now for years that beneficiaries – all of them – don't get the financial support they need.

        And you do know that were you to pareti with someone for fruit n veggies that that can be counted as an income and taken of your benefit? Barter has value.


        Bartering Income

        Income from bartering is taxable in the year it is performed. The rules for reporting barter transactions may vary depending on which form of bartering takes place. Learn about bartering assets and online bartering. While our ancestors may have exchanged eggs for corn, today you can barter computer services for auto repair. Another example of a one-on-one, non-barter exchange transaction is a plumber doing repair work for a dentist in exchange for dental services. The fair market value of the goods and services exchanged must be reported as income by both parties. Barter may take place on an informal one-on-one basis between individuals and businesses, or it can take place on a third party basis through a modern barter exchange company.

        No, we just need to really bend our mind around the fact that in this country no one can live and raise a child on the sole parent benefit alone. But then we were told that before the first Labour Coalition Government came in by Metiria Turei, and nothing much happened.

        • Ad

          NZs black and grey economy is plenty strong already. Especially in farming towns.

          • Sabine

            just don't let IRD and WINZ know. 🙂 or else you get in the tank for tax evasion and benefit fraud.

            • Ad

              It's massive, but not a result of Covid.

              • Sabine

                yes, and no.

                Bartering is the oldest form of trading, and in Covid times where a lot of artists, market people etc have lost income, bartering is a way of making sure your money stretches.

                So Covid did increase bartering, as far as i can tell in my little world. It is the women tho that do the bartering so maybe that is why it is not considered.

        • greywarshark

          Sabine I have already brought this up. Can you now come up with something positive – I suggested a new currency – you say how the present system doesn't work for beneficiaries. We have covered beneficiaries now so can you start on thinking how the whole country can get onto a better level than we have been. Don't waste this post just moaning about the government and beneficiaries. What can we do better to make jobs?

          Use your fertile brain about possible businesses that could be worked up. How can we all become citizens that have input, not just have UBIs alone for instance. Could the government run micro business courses and fund start ups by pairs of people, assisting each other. to bring off a small project? Perhaps it would be putting on a performance or supplying food for a small event. It would about encouraging people to use their ingenuity and give things a go?

          • Sabine

            you can change the currency, but unless you change the system behind it it won't make a difference.

            Let me put it this way, you have a dress that is red, and now you change it to black, but it is still a dress.

            Personally and i have been stating this often enough, the Government needs to increase benefits taht reflect the reality of our current society not the one that exists in their imagination.

            1. People on jobseekers benefits that are ill, and over 60 should be offered early retirement, rather then have them jump through hoops n loops proving that they again did not g et hired.
            2. Sole Parents should be provided with a full weekly payment that allows to pay for rent/food/utilities/ and allows for a birth day cake as these guys are raising the next generation.
            3. Unemployment benefits, are earned, thus no one should be denied an unemployment benefit just because their partner still has work. Unemployment benefits should be coupled to income earned, rather then some arbitrary number pulled out of a ministers derrier.

            these are just a few. I have typed these up over the years again and again, and guess what, it is just simply not happening.

            So know i wait for some people to really get upset, and maybe we get a bunch of better Politians to vote for. I would love for Susan Bradford to come back leading a 'social' party. But i am not known to fool myself so i don't get up my hopes.

            And bartering in NZ can get you in all sorts of legal trouble. No matter how mean and silly it might seem. The government wants its pound of flesh, from the living and the dying. Sadly so.

            disclaimer: this is not a labour bash, this is a 'government ' bash, all of them, do not what needs to be done.

    • Ad 3.4

      We don't yet have a handle on Covid as an AI accelerator leading to menial task employment.

      Plenty of speculation but no graphic representation from the employment Stats.

      • greywarshark 3.4.1

        In the search for an accelerator after Covid the piece I put in about the 220 wealthy investors will have its place. It refers to tech and Space and that type of work does lead to reducing human staff, and maintains the investment style away from human-based work. I think waiting for it to show up in employment stats is a copout. Even when it does gummint won't necessarily take much notice, they manage not to notice so many things that are of pressing importance.

        • Sabine

          Supermarkets self check out vs Supermarket Lady on the Till.

          Self check outs are a booming business. Go to any K-Mart and try to find a person who works there.

          • greywarshark

            That is so insulting to people. There business is in supplying food and goods to people, yet they are trying to push people out of jobs and just be dealt with by machines. I go to the counter but they are trying to get you to use their machines. What are we, animals to be pushed round like sheep – and they have robot dogs in use by police somewhere I think. Avoid these sort of shops, we should start a publicity campaign against them. And to add to the downside, KMart is an Australian firm I think, so sucking money out of us and putting as little as possible in.

            • Sabine

              McDonalds are all self check outs, K-Mart is fully self check out and the supermarkets are not far behind. Same with some of the Gas Stations that are not staffed at all. For what its worth, these businesses now have customers work for them and the still the prices are sky high. Humans are gullible.

  4. Stuart Munro 4

    If a new wave of thought can clean the dysfunctional neoliberal presumptions out of our civil services, that will be a fine thing.

    A lot of old tropes may be restored – that education is a public good, and not a means of rorting fees out of exploitable students. That public interest is the touchstone for the implementation of any policy, and that building a prosperous and enlightened society is very much the business of government, not the exclusive province of self-appointed sages like the Business Roundtable, who, having failed their core constituency have been obliged to rebrand themselves as "the New Zealand Initiative".

    A couple of old fairytales need to be put to bed too – that foreign investors are benign and desirable – they're a mixed bag, some good, some not so good. We must be selective.

    And that a high migration rate, in a country so poorly run it has decades of infrastructure and housing deficit can be a good thing. Not till our house is in order it can't.

  5. Pat 5

    The world may find a renewed sense of collective…but covid isnt the driver.

    The most cursory examination of the state of the world shows that fragmentation and conflict is the current order.

    As with the original formation of transnational institutions they will likely occur post a weariness of years of conflict.

    Can we afford another global conflict?

    And then theres climate change

  6. RP Mcmurphy 6

    the old fogeys will still be in charge. hahahahahahaha

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