Seeing people get infected with the new coronavirus or COVID-19 all over the world is not the best premise for looking at the big picture. But I still couldn’t help noticing a couple of things that seem to be happening in parallel to the mayhem.
First, nature is recovering. Pollution is dropping everywhere because economic activities have ground to a halt and people are stuck at home. Whether it is fish in Venice or blue water in Manila Bay, the signs are clear: just a few weeks were enough to produce impressive results in the natural world. And these are just the first and most obvious results.
Second, we learn which services are truly essential. The narrative has, for a long time been, that the more value you add to the economy, the more money you earn. But except for a few exceptions, many of the people that are keeping the world running today are part of the lowest-paid segments of the workforce.
Third, the pandemic shows in impressive fashion how important resilient, affordable and available healthcare is. The main thing it highlights is the failure of private healthcare systems. There is probably a bigger argument to be made here, but the fact of the matter is that the main goal of private businesses always is, always must be, profit. Perhaps it is not a great idea, then, to privatize an industry that should prioritize care over profit.
Fourth, a universal basic income or UBI safeguards the economy. Drawing a definitive conclusion about this now is probably premature. But what we seem to be seeing now is that a UBI makes sure the economy will not grind to a halt, even in the face of unprecedented disaster – and is much cheaper than the fallout of the alternative.
Fifth, we can do so much better. As the world scrambles to handle COVID-19, all the missed opportunities of the past are coming back to haunt us. The data, the warnings, the capacities were there to be ready for this. But we chose not to be.
As I’m writing this, the Pope pointed out that we went ahead “at breakneck speed”, ignoring the wars, injustices, and cries of the poor and our ailing planet. It may seem a bit dramatic (he is the Pope, after all), but as we examine the priorities of many societies around the world, perhaps the best thing this pandemic can do for us is to help us reconsider who we are and how we want things to be – both as individuals and as a collective.
So, for these new perspectives, thank you, coronavirus.