I’m going to keep this as a-political as I can. I’m getting pretty sick of political tribalism anyway. We should be able to criticise bad decisions & actions regardless of whether it was “our team” that made them or “the other lot”. To be honest, if we could scrap tribalism in politics altogether so there is no us-vs-them in the first place, that would be fantastic. That’s another blog post though.
For now I’m focusing my attention on the covid crisis. Following my 4 previous blog posts on issues with CBILS (loan scheme) and CJRS (furlough scheme), I just wanted to write something about the idea of “reopening the economy”.
First let me say: obviously I and everyone should want a functioning economy. We need it to be able to afford to eat. Lives>money, but when money pays for food and shelter then to some extent money=lives. Unemployment and suicide are causally linked (WEF, 2015). I know this. I come from a family based in South Yorkshire that was decimated by the collapse of the coal and steel industries. For a time, Rotherham and the Dearne Valley had the worst unemployment rates in the entire of Europe. Worse than Romania, which in the 90s was saying something because Romania was f–ked. Most of my family was out of work. A few turned to heroin. Some to petty crime. One very sadly committed suicide in prison. It was hard and it was bleak. So I know the impacts that recessions can have from personal experience.
But, when there is an extremely deadly highly-contagious virus raging through people all over the world, we need to be quite clear on our priorities.
Preservation of life has to be our priority. Our only priority really. Reopening the economy does have an important part to play in that of course, but it’s a supporting role. And that’s how we should be thinking about it.
It strikes me that there are a lot of people shouting for the economy to be re-opened again, but with less than clear motives for doing so. Perhaps they just really care about business owners, employees and all the people who might struggle to afford to eat and keep a roof over their head if they are unemployed? Perhaps. Perhaps. But I don’t think so.
The thing that brings it into stark contrast are the small business owners themselves. People like me, and many of the people I’ve connected with since this crisis started. I found my way into a little WhatsApp group of c. 50 small business owners who are all struggling to fight through the financial challenges the of covid19 crisis. This includes people on the verge of personal bankruptcy, doing everything they can to keep going.
But guess what? I haven’t heard a single member of the group demanding or even suggesting the we need to stop the lockdown. This is a group of people who are seriously worried and heavily personally impacted by the economic consequences of the lockdowns. Yet I’ve not heard a murmur of protest against the lockdown. That’s because every one of them understands that keeping people alive is the number one priority right now.
We want to keep our businesses running. Desperately. But we know that when push comes to shove that lives are the most important thing.
What strikes me as rather peculiar is when I see people calling for an end of the lockdown who don’t even have any skin in the game at all. They aren’t small business owners or furloughed employees or the recently unemployed. They aren’t even struggling.
Maybe they’re just really passionate about helping their fellow citizens in dire financial straits? Well, maybe, but I’m not seeing it. I’ve noticed hardly anyone calling for an end to the lockdowns is saying a f-ing peep about the problems with CBILS or CJRS or any other actual issues impacting people and businesses. So what’s going on there then? What kind of motive is at play for someone to protest the lockdowns yet remain silent over the problems hurting those in the lockdown? It doesn’t make sense. So whenever you see someone calling for an end to the lockdowns, please apply a healthy dose of skepticism.
I have a bit of a rule of thumb when it comes to forming opinions: Don’t listen to the media, don’t listen to politicians, don’t listen to the general public, don’t even listen to common sense (that’s just your biases talking to you), take onboard what experts say, try to understand the system inputs and outputs, but more than anything listen to the people who are most affected. Those at the greatest risk. Those in the vanguard. The people living it every day. Those are the voices that really matter. And when I listen to those voices in this crisis – from the nurses in the hospitals, to the people losing their jobs, to the small business owners at risk of losing it all – they’re all saying the same thing: Stay the fuck home. If everyone sits tight, we’ll burn out as much of the virus as we can. We can then then start coming up with some smart ways to protect each other while restarting parts of the economy and protecting as many people and businesses as we can. If we botch the end of the lockdown we put many thousands of lives at unnecessary risk and show an immense disrespect & disregard to the frontline workers putting themselves in harms way to keep us safe. And in all likelihood we would have to go into an even longer and deeper second lockdown to get the virus under control again, which is something no one wants.