“Who might the winners and losers of the Coronavirus lockdown be? What structural or societal changes may result?”
This is a thought experiment in the style of those proposed by SavingNinja. The one thing asked of participants is for a stream of consciousness outpouring of thoughts rather than a carefully polished article. Here goes…
And so it begins
The thin veneer of modern civilisation has cracked in places. The once solid piece of outwardly real timber has chipped to reveal a motley collection of flimsy cheap layers haphazardly glued together beneath. Providing the illusion of robustness and strength.
It has been functional. Fit for purpose. Good enough, for the most part.
Sufficiently convincing that we collectively allowed ourselves to forget just how fragile it really was.
A confluence of influences that allowed us to don rose coloured glasses and blissfully pretend that our world is the safe well-ordered place that we had come to expect. Take for granted. To see as our due.
Until it was no longer.
In fact, it had never been thus.
Obvious in hindsight, as many such realisations are.
Something we are conscious of in the moment, but will swiftly forget when normalcy returns.
And so it goes.
Like many, I have spent this week working from home. The pandemic of fear clipping my wings.
For me working from home is not a novel experience, it is my preferred method of working. During a client engagement long ago I worked remotely for two years straight. A role I enjoyed more than most.
Fortunate to have the option. Bus drivers and supermarket shelf packers are not nearly so lucky.
The regular activities requiring Dad’s taxi have all been cancelled indefinitely. Martial arts. Music. Swimming. Tennis. Sole traders or small businesses owners all, incomes abruptly truncated.
Nearly half the parents at school drop off this week had been stood down or laid off already.
A small sample.
A sign of things to come.
The volume of military traffic and activity around nearby bases has ramped up significantly. The lockdown of London approaches. The unenviable job of maintaining that veneer of civilisation delegated to anxious teenagers, each equipped with an authoritative uniform and a more authoritative gun.
My lady wife also spent this week working from home.
A social butterfly by nature. Her days filled with chats, meetings, and socialising. Able to get things done and make miracles happen largely through the strength of her network and the strong relationships she has cultivated. Going to work for her is as much about the interaction as the money.
I suspect she will find a lengthy stint at home a challenge. The lack of stimulation and social interaction like losing a limb. Difficult. Debilitating. An important part of her suddenly missing.
Loneliness and isolation will prove to be a challenge for many. Boredom and depression more so. Less visible than a virus. Just as deadly. Ask for help if your need it, there is no shame in that.
My children will be joining us at home now that state schools are closing. Indefinitely.
The elder boy’s school plans to valiantly stick to the class timetable. Medium swapped from classroom to camera, but the lessons and homework load continuing just the same.
It will be interesting to see how that works in practice. Some kids have broadband. Ready access to computing devices. A quiet safe place at home from which they can concentrate for hours on end.
Others have none of those things. They will be left behind. Forgotten about. Out of sight, out of mind.
The younger boy’s school has been caught napping. The best they could offer was an armful of hurriedly photocopied sheets and a vague promise to email more out in coming months.
Setting him school work to do should be simple enough. Keeping him entertained while juggling a full-time job will prove more challenging.
Out of all of us, this period of disruption will be the hardest on him
A common lament across the developed world is a variant of “if only I had the time, I would…”.
From a random quarter, that barrier has unexpectedly been removed.
A seemingly insignificant flying rodent on the other side of the world has single-handedly solved one of society’s greatest challenges: being time-poor.
A window of opportunity has presented itself. Maybe for a month. More likely for a year.
If you are self-isolating or quarantined. Locked down or working from home. Suddenly you have time.
All those wasted hours commuting are suddenly reclaimed.
Time previously invested in sporting or social activities has been indefinitely freed up.
The question is, what are you going to achieve with it?
Learn another language?
Reconnect with your immediate family?
Write that novel you have long talked about?
Start work on that MBA via distance learning?
Recapture that six-pack you last saw in back in university, using just yoga and bodyweight exercises?
Code that app or game or solve that tricky problem you’ve always dreamt of but never got around to?
Whatever your hopes and dreams, if you’re indefinitely stuck at home then seize the moment.
The window of opportunity may be brief, should an enterprising pharmaceutical company use the tools they already have at their disposal to identify existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat the Coronavirus.
The idea isn’t as far fetched as it sounds, those infamously uplifting little blue pills were originally used to treat heart conditions.
If we have to wait for a vaccine to be successfully developed and trialled until proven safe, then this window will likely extend beyond this time next year. Not something to rush, given it is those same elderly and frail folks we are collectively attempting to preserve who will make use of it.
I have spent much of the past couple of days prowling around my neighbourhood, chuckling at the irony of my impersonating a modern-day hunter-gather scouring empty supermarkets and picked over convenience stores to feed my family over the coming weeks.
We are mostly prepared. This mostly fruitless exercise brought home just how dependent we have become on the convenience of next day delivery. The absolute faith we have unquestioningly placed in retail supply chains for our very survival.
Troubling thought that.
While I wandered around my mind was racing at 100 miles an hour.
How would the motley crew of charlatans, who brought us Brexit with sound bites but no plans, manage to keep us all fed?
To distract myself, I pondered who might be the winners and losers of the lockdown? What follows is a brain dump of random thoughts and underdeveloped ideas. Some will prove to be wildly off the mark. Others might be on to something.
The hospitality, retail, and tourism industries are in for a bumpy ride. Hotel operators with excess capacity might innovate a sideline by pretending to be a hospital. If not enough volunteer, the government may well volunteer them.
Inconsistent goals threaten to be a problem. Talk of mimicking the Australian government’s successful “helicopter money” approach to keeping the economy propped up during the 2008 financial crisis would have limited effectiveness should all the shops apart from pharmacies and supermarkets be closed and all the prospective customers find themselves housebound.
Uber and Deliveroo will likely find themselves swapping ride-sharing and curries for delivering meals on wheels to housebound elderly and kids who would otherwise have received hot school dinners.
Amazon’s logistics network will prove to be one of the most valuable assets in the economy. Delivery drivers and grocery store workers will quickly see themselves added to the “key workers” list whose children can continue to attend schools so that their parents can work.
Rationing will be implemented without people realising. It already has. Gone are the blitz era ration books. In their place are supermarket administered buying restrictions.
E-sports will become mainstream. With no live sport to watch and bet upon, couch potatoes will seek out alternative things to cheer about and wager on. This is a trend that will persist after the lockdown ends.
Divorce lawyers with a strong internet presence will make a fortune. An uncomfortable number of households will start the lockdown like Lord of the Flies and finish it like Highlander: “there can be only one”.
Working from home becomes the default. Many of the jobs lost during the lockdown will not return.
Business owners of all stripes will rush to take up government schemes marketed at keeping them afloat.
What they will discover is normal bank administered loans and lending criteria, that have been only partially underwritten by the taxpayer. This aligns the commercials, while seeking to weed out “zombie” businesses that have only survived due to the continued availability of low-interest debt.
There is no such thing as a free lunch, this debt will need to be repaid.
Homeschooling will shift from the realm of the lunatic fringe, religious cults, and woke social justice warriors to a proven model that is well supported by technology and understood by educational authorities.
Few of the temporary “emergency” powers the government has granted itself to deal with the crisis will be rescinded. A year of confinement and conditioning paving the way for the style of government required to carry off the much touted low taxation low regulation “Singapore in the Atlantic“.
Blogging, podcasting, and vlogging will experience a resurgence in popularity as under-occupied folks seek creative outlets.
Artists and celebrities will become direct B2C providers, performing or broadcasting directly to the punters over mediums like YouTube. That is a genie which event promoters and record labels will not be able to put back in the bottle.
Bumbling populist politicians who promise easy answers but deliver only disappointment and division will be found out and shown up for the charlatans they really are. The pendulum will swing back towards the centre, as the public seek the reassuring presence of a grown-up to run things.
The anti-globalisation backlash of recent years will rescind as countries end up having to cooperate and coordinate the response to the pandemic and navigate the disrupted logistical supply lines. Long term this may help address world hunger, which has always been a logistical rather than supply problem.
The pandemic takes care of the unfunded pension crisis and helps to address the imbalance between givers and takers in the social security system. Unfortunately, many baby boomers will no longer be around to collect their pensions.
At the same time a new baby boom will be triggered by housebound folks with little to keep themselves entertained.
Our generation’s age pensions will be secured, financed by the taxes paid by this new Coronavirus boom generation.
Tiktok and YouTube will surge in popularity. Bored teenagers doing dumb stuff for the approval of the masses. A new generation of celebrities and social media stars will emerge.
Instagram, by contrast, will fade. All those airbrushed designer life images and impossible dreams will become increasingly unrelatable the longer folks are locked down. The age and true hair colour of influencers will be exposed, as they run out of cosmetics and their expensive dye jobs grow out.
Twitter will become a primary source of news for many, as they seek to peer through the government propaganda and misdirection being broadcast in the mainstream media. This is a double edged sword, as Twitter is also a gossipy rumour mill of fake news and armchair experts. Here there be dragons!
Emerging market economies will thrive. Countries that place a lower value on human life, either because of ideology or necessity, will emerge from the pandemic much faster than developed nations. Their old and frail will simply die.
This will allow them to steal a march on idle developed economies, stepping in to plug gaps in the supply chain. Once incumbent, in many cases they will have permanently displaced the previous occupants.
Leading this charge, the pandemic will herald China’s ascendancy to becoming the dominant economy in the world.
Meanwhile, the developed world will experience the mother of all debt hangovers once their economies do eventually start moving again.
The cure or the disease?
How does the story end?
Will it be like a fairy tale, happily ever after?
Or more like a Game of Thrones episode, where half our favourite characters don’t survive to see the closing credits?
Bankruptcy, dislocation, empty project pipelines, and vast unemployment will present numerous hurdles to be traversed before any sense of normalcy returns.
Financially a lot of folks are going to be in bad shape by the time this ends.
Emergency funds exhausted.
Credit cards maxed out.
Investments sold at the bottom of the market.
For some, out of ill-advised panic.
For others, meeting the adult responsibilities of keeping the lights on and their children fed.
For many, the financial impact of an extended lockdown poses a longer-lasting threat than the virus. A case of the cure being worse than the disease.
Which brings us back to that thin veneer of civilisation.
Isolating to preserve the elderly felt like the right thing to do at the top of an epic bull market, with full employment, and then record low-interest rates.
I wonder how long that collective goodwill lasts, once people start getting hungry?
Loved ones start experiencing adverse health outcomes, not because of the Coronavirus itself, but as a consequence of the overstretched health services?
Allergic reactions. Cancer diagnoses. Depression. Emergency caesarean sections. Heart attacks. Strokes.
Routine maladies that in normal circumstance would be readily survivable.
Now each a potential death sentences in their own right.
There are no easy answers. Every decision creates both winners and losers. To misquote a wise lady: society can save anybody, but not everybody.
It is a choice. Not an easy one.
One thing is for certain, the next few months will be interesting times.
A great opportunity for some to shine.
To realise their dreams.
Do their best work.
Make a difference.
What will you be doing with all your extra time?
What lasting changes do you predict as a result of the pandemic?
- Department of Health & Social Care (2020), ‘What the coronavirus bill will do‘
- Golding, W. (1954), ‘Lord of the Flies‘, Penguin Great Books
- ‘Highlander‘ (1986), Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment
- MacNeill, K. (2018), ‘The Story of Viagra, the Little Blue Pill That Changed Sex Forever’, Vice