What will the world look like when we emerge from the lock down?
For those of you who haven’t yet seen our favourite Peaky Blinder in the role that made him famous, look for the movie 28 Days Later and enjoy the gloriously eerie pictures of London in the opening sequence. I sincerely hope that’s not what the world will look like, when we come out of our self-induced coma, but one thing is for sure: it will be very different.
This was no ordinary disaster. This one struck at the heart as mankind suddenly realised that we are all very vulnerable indeed. What was unimaginable in the beginning, like forcing people to stay in their homes, became acceptable in an instant. We got scared. It was everywhere, and you could see people beginning to panic. Losses in the stock market are one thing, but the thought of dying randomly as a result of being on the bus at the wrong time, changed things forever. One sneeze, one cough, one small touch and it could be all over. Not only for us, but everyone we touch, we become the infected.
A V-shaped recovery is highly unlikely. Consumption accounts for about 70% of GDP in most developed economies. Demand has fallen off a cliff as many people have simply stopped any forms of discretionary spending not related to food or home entertainment. And even when they do relax the shutdown, it’s doubtful that all of us are going to rush out there and buy new cars, move houses or get that new designer wardrobe we have been missing out on. Everything is likely going to stay suppressed until all of us feel comfortable being around people again and going back to our place of work.
The numbers are frightening. Many businesses are simply not able to survive for very long with such a massive drop in revenues and there is a huge wave of bankruptcies under way. As a consequence, the number of unemployed jumped by unprecedented levels last month and there is no end in sight. There just isn’t enough government stimulus in the world that can prop up an unproductive economy and masses of people without income for very long.
Our habits have changed. They say it takes 28 days to induce a change in our behaviour. Well we are going to be locked away in self isolation for quite a bit longer than that. We are slowly getting used to working from home. When things need to get done, now they get done, because they need to get done. We are strangely productive, we are becoming task masters, our kids go to virtual school, and we are spending a lot of time with the family. Fact is, we have got used to doing things differently now and undoubtedly, some of these changes are going to have profound impacts on our society, economy, politics, and culture more generally.
Taking all of this in makes you want to curl up in a ball and hide underneath the bed, but of course, there is always hope and we are very good at adapting to new realities when we must. Maybe the planet will survive now as we have stopped polluting the environment and stick to some of our new habits. Maybe we will be happier as we are able to spend more time at home with the family yet remain productive at work. Maybe the world will be a better place and this was the shock therapy we all needed. And if you are wondering about the title, it took Wuhan 76 days to re-open again from the start of the outbreak of the virus. Best of luck to all of us.