SAGE International Australia
What we are witnessing regarding the COVID19 or Coronavirus is in many ways unprecedented.
And by unprecedented, I mean the response to the disease. We have had pandemics before, and we’ve had localised outbreaks of much worse diseases like Ebola. Our responses to previous pandemics and outbreaks were swifter, better thought out and coordinated. This time it’s different. Why?
There’s the problem posed by a globalised economy, based as it is on relatively open borders and the free movement of goods and people.
For decades we were told that this form of political economy is the best one to pursue because it was efficient and effective for the market.
No one ever thought, at least in the public domain, that such a system would be the very thing that could also swiftly undo economic progress – posing an existential threat to societies around the world. Global supply chains would bring down the cost of goods, cheaper goods would allow people with smaller incomes to reach a level of individual economic prosperity that in time would eradicate poverty. This was the dream.
No one ever did the long-term thinking required to fully test this system’s resilience in the face of possible global emergencies.
While ‘red-teams’ around the world were all wargaming scenarios involving fighting the Chinese and/or Russians in physical or cyber space, or planning limited humanitarian contingencies, few were contemplating what would happen to the world if global supply chains broke, markets crashed and international commerce ground to a halt.
This myopic view is largely born from the arrogance of acolytes of the ‘free market’, and from apathy of the general public, that nothing could ever jeopardise the global market in this way, and, even on the off-chance that it did, the market would come up with a solution to whatever the problem was. Well, here we are. The global supply chain is closing down, markets are crashing, and international commerce is grinding to a halt.
Superimposed on these realities is the fact that people, everywhere, are in full panic mode. Governments, who now for decades have let market forces dictate the ebb and flow of international and national economic life are now faced with a new reality – intervention. And while countries are each in their own way are dusting off the old playbook of economic stimulus packages, these piecemeal attempts are hardly likely to restore public calm.
For decades now, especially in the West, governments gotten out of the business of strategic management, intervention in the economy and even of governing, preferring to ‘outsource’ difficult problems to the private sector.
For decades now, especially in the West, governments got out of the business of strategic management, intervention in the economy and even of governing, preferring to ‘outsource’ difficult problems to the private sector. However, private sector companies, no matter their size, will never have the resources or the human capital of a government. Private companies are driven by profit and once governments start redirecting their internal financial resources to crisis management, there’ll be less left over for paying private, outsourced companies. Indeed, it is likely that in time, those skills considered critical to government will be directly rolled back into government in a form of nationalisation.
COVID19 therefore has revealed a critical weakness in the state of how we have governed ourselves and managed our economic life. But it has done one other very important thing. It has again shown the rapacious instinct of a globalised and monopolised media, eager to tell a story, and not a very pleasant one.
If public panic is something to be avoided during a crisis, the 24/7 media cycle has done little to make people think rationally about how to protect themselves and their loved ones. With supermarket shelves empty of necessary items like disposable gloves, tissues (across all categories), hand sanitiser, face masks and dry food staples like pasta and rice, the highly panicked few have made it harder for others to take the reasonable precautions necessary to ride out this storm.
We hear nothing of the stories of people who have successfully come out of COVID19, positively reinforcing the notion that this is not the ‘zombie-apocalypse’.
All we hear about is the spread of the virus and the death toll, day-in, day-out. This media-driven negative reinforcement will likely have other consequences, especially among the vulnerable in our society such as higher suicide rates. But these things will only be looked at by a less febrile media once the storm has broken.
In the meantime, it falls on each and every one of us to keep a cool head, whether infected or not, and go about our business the best way we can. While governments find their feet, media hyperbole raises monsters old and new and international agencies struggle to cope with poor, uncoordinated national governance and public hysteria and anger (justified or not) – only we are able to bring our passions under control. While we can do nothing to stop the infection in its tracks, we can certainly do something about how we respond to the COVID19 Crisis. And if we chose to do the right thing, we may all come out the other side of this stronger and wiser.