TUMBY BAY - There is an interesting and still underlying debate going on about what will happen once the COVID-19 crisis abates.
On the one hand there is the expected conservative view that everything should return to normal.
This is promulgated by most politicians in Australia and elsewhere and seems to be the accepted view of businesses and the public at large.
There is, however, a minority view that the COVID-19 crisis and the draconian steps being used to address it will “change the world forever”.
This view sees the crisis as an opportunity to reform political and economic systems for the better. It is a view informed by the glaring shortfalls that the crisis has exposed in the present arrangements.
Given our past history of responses to similar crises, using this one as an opportunity to improve human civilisation can be seen as an optimistic view at best.
Our natural instinct in time of crisis is to return to ‘normal’ as soon as possible.
‘Normal’ is invariably understood to be the situation that pertained immediately before the crisis. Whether that situation was good or bad is a moot point in most people’s thinking.
Certain sectors of our community have a vested interest in returning to ‘normal’. Not least the corporate sector, which wants to get back to profit making as quickly as possible.
Other sectors, however, hold out hope that matters of exploitation and inequity will be addressed as part of recovery plans.
More enlightened individuals even hope that governments will realise that preparedness for unexpected events like COVID-19 requires more investment in systems (like health) and addressing social inequality.
This kind of shift in focus would not be a prelude to some form of anti-capitalist movement but rather a modifying and moderating of its worst effects.
For want of a better expression such a shift could be carefully described as a socialisation of democracy.
Something along these lines occurred during the global financial crisis of 2008-9 when Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
That law increased US federal spending by $573 billion for health care, infrastructure, education and social benefits, with the remainder used for tax relief — including a $116 billion income tax cut that benefited 95% of working families.
Democrats overwhelmingly supported this measure, but it won little support from Republicans. Under Donald Trump the Republicans have been actively dismantling these measures ever since.
Something similar happened at the same time in Australia under prime minister Kevin Rudd. Again socially beneficial programs were dismantled by the Conservative governments of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison.
My own sense is that the opportunities for change presented by COVID-19 will be wasted as long as we have conservative governments in power and while both our major political parties are beholden to large corporations.
The attitude of these corporations is represented in its rawest form in recent comments by businessman Gerry Harvey, who owns Australia’s large retailer, Harvey Norman.
He has extolled the opportunities that the crisis presented to his company through panic buying.
“You know this is an opportunity. Our sales are up in Harvey Norman in Australia by 9% on last year. Our sales in freezers are up 300%. And what about air purifiers? Up 100%,” he boasted during an interview.
There was a community backlash to this triumphalism when so many people were in a state of shock at the difficulties they were facing.
The media reported that many people are vowing to never purchase anything from Harvey Norman again”.
“Gerry you couldn’t be more deluded and deranged if you tried,” was typical of social media comments. “So many people have died. And there will be so many more victims to come.”
This sort of crass opportunism that underpins what is ‘normal’ in our society is what will mitigate against any hopes of meaningful change following the crisis.
I suspect that just like the global financial crisis the COVID-19 crisis will be just another blip in our inevitable progress down the slippery slope of oblivion we seem so intent upon following.