Apologies in advance: this is not a positive piece. I cannot find a way to express my concerns in an upbeat manner. There are solutions to this – should we wish to choose them.
The current Covid-19 pandemic has put the current political system into stark reality – it is very clear that if money doesn’t survive, then neither do we.
The dramatic reduction in economic activity although global, has hit some sectors of what is referred to as our ‘economy’ more than others – lockdowns, social distancing and a change in priorities have resulted in closures of hotels, bars and restaurants across the world; leaving all those employed in such precarious industries reliant upon support packages from existing or newly announced legislation: legislation which was never intended to deal with crises of this magnitude. Other business have also been dramatically hit, a clear example being sport; with competitions and leagues being suspended or cancelled – which in some cases leaves the organisations unable to pay the vastly inflated wages of their playing staff.
However the effect will not be seen only across industries, but also across regions or small geographical areas – in France all of the ski-resorts closed as one, sending the lift engineers, ski instructors and the staff and owners of shops reliant upon tourism home, unable to work. This is clear evidence of the unpitying lack of compassion that is evident in a (capitalist) market economy. For years (if not decades) large corporations and governments have been following the rules of capitalism; indulging in ever more efficient ways to deliver the same product or service for a lower cost. Such efficiency is not necessarily in terms of resources however – efficiency is only sought in one area, money. Techniques such as specialisation by process or by product, combined with an increase in free trade globally has resulted in centres of production becoming ever more concentrated on single products – often no more than a component part of a final good. Clear examples of this (although there are many, many more) are the Bosch factory in Rodez, France and the Peugeot plant in Sochaux-Montbelliard. Factories such as these can employ approximately half of the local population. In the event of sudden closure, these communities will be devastated: half the population will be out of work. This would not only affect those who used to work in the factories, but also the local business – with bakers and bars and hairdressers also being affected deeply. (The pit closures of the UK in the 1980s is testament to the effects of the closure of industries engaging in such specialisation.)
Governments are now looking (or being asked) to provide bailouts to such industries – with travel companies such as airlines among the first to file a request – although it probably won’t be long until the football clubs and breweries follow suit. The result: the taxpayer will foot the bill. (Just as in the financial crash of 2008 – society as a whole will pay for decisions made by a few people in search of ever greater wealth.)
Supporting the people who need it the most is (from my perspective) an important role that government should play – ideally it is the driving force behind any system of taxation. Yet the economy in which we currently reside is imbalanced; and artificially so. The drive of companies towards ever greater efficiency (in the search of ever greater profits) results in specialised production being undertaken in specific places. The imbalance created by humans is not one aimed at the survival of the species – but at the survival of profit.
Companies establish factories in countries where wages are low, they import a natural resource from another location, manufacture a product and then ship it to a more lucrative market. Clothes factories in Bangladesh making more pairs of jeans than they could ever possibly wear – factories in France making more diesel injectors that will ever be needed in cars in the local market. Entire local economies become based on a single product and as a result are no longer self-sustaining: they can only survive if the economy survives. The ‘life’ of money takes precedence over human life.
This is not natural. In the natural world there are either sufficient resources in a location for a species to survive or there are not – species either adapt to the surroundings or they cannot survive in that place. For humans however, things are different. Humans can see a value in artificially creating an environment for survival anywhere – as long as it is financially viable: and only for as long as it is financially viable.
Humans have become disposable commodities within their own societies: our lives and well-being are secondary to the great ‘economy’. In point of fact, the whole of the natural world is secondary to the mighty economy. Companies will move to locations where wages are cheaper whenever they please, as too will they destroy whole swathes of rainforest simply to graze cattle to make money. Some companies are even poisoning the land and causing earthquakes simply to extract shale gas so as to make a profit.
The crisis society faces now isn’t about a pandemic – the pandemic simply highlighted the evident stupidity of our own system – whereby we don’t even value ourselves as a species.
If this crisis has demonstrated anything, it is that the desire to preserve and grow the ‘economy’ at the expense of anything else is by definition detrimental to the survival of our (and every other) species.
It is only possible to have one priority – the priority of making money puts everything else in second place. If humanity wants to survive, this needs to change. Society needs to re-appraise and find values which respect and value life itself, otherwise the legacy of humans will be a lifeless planet and a bank full of gold bars.