Coronavirus Is an Opportunity for Social Change, and We Can’t Let It Go To Waste
Coronavirus has effectively suspended capitalism across a lot of the world. In a bid to keep national economies and societies from collapsing completely, many governments have announced mortgage holidays, bans on renter evictions, furlough schemes, and billions of pounds worth of financial aid for affected businesses.
We are living temporarily in a wartime economy resembling socialism.
Of course, none of this is sustainable in the long-term. The global economy is on life support, reliant on the ventilator of governmental aid as it tries not to buckle under the pressure caused by coronavirus disruption. This pandemic has only exploited the pre-existing frailties in capitalist systems and supply chains, emphasizing how unstable they were to begin with.
Capitalist economies aren’t built to withstand something like this without intervention.
However despite the chaos it’s wrought, coronavirus has also given us a glimpse into an alternative model of society. What if living in an increasingly unstable, destructive, and growth-obsessed form of capitalism isn’t the only way forward?
Since the U.K went into lockdown, I’ve spoken to friends who are anxious and scared about the pandemic, but who are also grateful to have more time to spend indoors with family and feel under less pressure from work. I’ve seen neighbors reaching out to each other to offer assistance, strangers starting book clubs on social media, and friends making an effort to meet virtually. I’ve seen communities rallying together and people posting about taking up new hobbies while in quarantine. We’re all spending more time out in nature, and less time in shopping centers or pubs.
Companies who once abhorred the idea of flexible working have now had to accept it as the norm and are realizing that it isn’t the disaster they imagined. Society is coming to the realization that our key workers, the backbone that keeps everything together, are not the hedge fund managers and millionaire CEOs. It’s the supermarket workers, nurses, doctors, teachers and cleaners who are risking their health and working overtime to keep things running.
This pandemic has shown us that salaries are not an indicator of the value of someone’s job, and very often it’s the lowest paid who we rely on the most for the everyday conveniences we take for granted.
It’s also had a positive impact on the environment, with global CO2 emissions falling sharply due to the economic slowdown. From clear waters in the Venice canals to pollution-free skies over New York City, there’s a visible difference that proves that as soon as we stop polluting the planet, the planet starts to heal itself.
I’m aware that I write all of this from a place of privilege, being able to work from home and keep my job. I know I’m lucky and that for many people this is an incredibly stressful time and that the government’s measures are still not enough to ease financial uncertainty. However, I don’t believe that this privilege is static and that just because I’m lucky this time I’ll always be this secure.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our parents were wrong and that job security is a myth because capitalism itself exists on a tightrope, only one crisis away from collapse at any time. Yet, in the words of famous economist Milton Friedman:
“only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”
In her ground-breaking book ‘The Shock Doctrine,’ author and social activist Naomi Klein exposes a long history of governments using crises such as these to conduct “orchestrated raids on the public sphere” while treating disasters as “exciting market opportunities” to advance their free-market ideologies at the expense of their citizens. She calls this ‘disaster capitalism’ and has already publicly talked about how coronavirus could be the next instance of this.
I’m hoping desperately that this future doesn’t come to pass and that we can learn from historical mistakes, because even though the darkness feels overwhelming right now, there’s also an incredible amount of empathy and kindness in the world. These are the things I want to take forward, to carry into a post-corona future with us.
I hope that this pandemic has shown us that the way to overcome disasters is by prioritizing human interests above financial ones, coming together as a community, and collaborating internationally. Crises like this are a natural instigator for social change, but it’s our responsibility to make sure that this change is in the interests of every part of society and not just the elite few.
I hope that discussing what we want this new society to look like, before the decision is made for us by those in power, will allow us to avoid the fate of disaster capitalism and choose something different.
Most of all I hope that this time around we have some better ideas lying around.