There’s a remote possibility that …
Hang on. To assert that something is highly unlikely – for example that civilization as we know it will come to an end as a result of this Covid 19 pandemic – presupposes a whole lot of knowledge I do not in fact possess. At best I’m flapping my gums on an inductive hunch. Civilization wasn’t brought to its knees by previous disasters, so it won’t be brought to its knees by this one. Or perhaps it’s just wishful thinking. I don’t know what I’d do if fill-in-the-blank. So I prefer not to fill in that blank.
Okay, so let me start again. There’s a distinct possibility that … by which I mean it’s possible but I don’t know how probable. But there’s an equally distinct possibility that this too shall pass, and everything will return to normal, just as it did after the Second World War or 9/11 or the crash of 2008. And then there’s a third distinct possibility that things will have radically changed.
There’s nothing very interesting about the first two possibilities, i.e. the end of days and business as usual. So all the speculation by talking heads like me will be about how the human world will have been radically altered by the pandemic of 2020. That is, the virus could, as it very well might, decimate us, and the remaining ninety percent of us will carry on. But in what way will we be carrying on differently from how we carried on before?
There‘s no end to the number of aspects of our lives that need carrying on, so let’s just pick one. Well over half of us – at least here in the developed world – have protected incomes. So the reason we’re not spending our money isn’t that we don’t have any of it to spend. It’s that other than essentials there are no goods and services that are accesssible to us. After three or four months of living without these non-essentials, when the stores and restaurants reopen what’s more likely to happen? That we’ll go on a massive spending spree? Or that we’ll realize our quality of life had been diminished by not one iota?
Well, for some it’ll be the one, for others the other. But it’s the proportions of each that will tell us to what extent our consumerism is and is not driven by (what business ethicists call) the dependence effect, i.e. by demand being driven not by any previously existing need for the product but by nothing more than its having been put on offer.
I have no idea how many of us will be rethinking our spending behavior in the wake of this having-been-unable-to-spend. But if it’s a significant number it will radically alter what’s being put on offer. That in turn will radically alter what’s being produced. And that will radically alter what vast sectors of the workforce do from nine to five.
Human beings are creatures of habit, a.k.a. momentum. Every half a decade or so, I take (what I call) “a walk in the snow”, to see if I can ratify how I’ve been spending my time, and my money. I’m guessing two things. First, that this crisis is going to be over by the first day of summer. And second, that when it is, there’s going to be a whole lot of people taking a walk in the sun.
Yes, some will, generally those who are already thoughtful and introspective. Some, such as my wife and I are not discomfited by the pandemic restrictions, since we have lived this way for decades. We’ve never bought non-essential stuff. We’ve never attended large gatherings, sports events, bars and crowded venues. We’ve always preferred long walks outdoors to large social gatherings.
The majority of people will heave a huge sigh of relief and get back to “normal” profligacy and excess accumulation.
The more important consideration is what is government and industry doing to take advantage of the current crisis?
Is walking in the sun as beneficial as walking in the snow to ratifying how you’ve been spending your time and money?
Old habits die hard.