I recently participated in a panel discussion on this topic. There was not enough time for me to present everything I wanted to. This is meant to provide fuller discussion.
There are dangers and potential good outcomes as we get through COVID.
News organization investigations of government activities have suggested that some decisions have been due more to influence of other sources such as businesses and unions, than to health advisors. No one doubts that elected officials must listen to everyone being affected, but there is always the hint that some influence has been disproportionate, or has discouraged the kind of impartial, what’s-best-for-everyone approach which we thought was present in beginning. Some provinces have elections during COVID, and there may be a federal election in the fall, so partisanship is becoming more obvious.
I hope that Canadian politicians will somehow learn to preserve the better angels to whom they listened in the early days. Perhaps the studies will show how to diminish partisan attitudes, and we won’t be surprised at how well government and other institutions deal with the next crisis. More regular citizen involvement in the parties, to bring forth the best possible candidates, would help. Such involvement must ensure that our system of selecting political candidates, not just electing them once they become candidates, will get us the qualities we need in government. Character(see Character in politicians – Upon reconsidering…), competence, broad knowledge about the issues of the day, and the political structure which allows them to challenge the leadership’s sense of direction, must be secured. Also, the eternal question as to whether our politicians primarily represent their party to the citizens, or citizens to the government, must be resolved in favour of the citizens. See also my post Canada’s Political Parties Inhibit Democracy’s Flourishing – Upon reconsidering….
It would be tragic indeed if everyone reverted to politics as usual. But, facing the accelerated climate emergency-caused events, we’ve barely enough time to improve our politics. Many candidates have already been selected.
Having the backs of our care-givers
Ontario is expecting and/or has received a massive number of resignation of nurses (Record number of Ontario nurses may leave the profession after COVID-19: Survey | The Star), while the number of registrations for nursing schools has increased (Ontario Increases Enrollment in Nursing Education Programs at Georgian College | Ontario Newsroom).The nurses and other health-care workers tell stories of meanness and disrespect from other professionals, the hospital administrators, and the general public, together with outright abuse, perpetually exhausting work hours, and the stress of dealing with so much extraordinary suffering and death. There is a real question about whether our systems have the backs of these essential people. This is a key ethical question: does the system, and does the public, have obligations to the staff, and do they carry them out well? The same question can be asked of the education system regarding not only teachers but custodians, bus drivers, and volunteers, as well as daycare providers. Such people should be able to carry out their responsibilities in full confidence that due care will be taken of them.
There is reciprocal responsibility, though: to be vaccinated so that carrying out their duties does not harm others. The trust we place in those who care for our medical needs, and for our children, must be based upon accurately informed consent to their being qualified to carry out their responsibilities.
There are challenges to classic economics as we consider various COVID-necessitated on-ramps to basic income and the possible acceptance of Modern Monetary Theory and steady state economics (see Stephanie Kelton’s The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy and steadystate.org). Inflation is coming as stifled demand prompts massive purchasing and price rises. There is aggrandizement of housing even while there is not enough for people of lesser means. This widens the gap between haves and have-nots; the younger generations despair that they will not achieve adequate levels of employment and income, stable housing, and the ability to save for emergencies, the future and for retirement. The climate change emergency exacerbates their concerns. Already there are cries that government assistance to employees and businesses are piling up unrepayable debt while discouraging workers from returning to work at the pre-pandemic wages. It is unclear whether small businesses such as independent retailers and restaurants, will be able to ever reclaim the lost income of the past 16 months, let alone return to profitable business. With their futures, along with those of hospitality and entertainment, is tied the vitality of urban areas.
Classic economics may not be up to the task of getting us through the past months, let alone the immediate future of ending this pandemic and preparing for the next, let alone the climate emergency. This is connected with politics – no matter how useful improved economics may be in the future, politics tends toward the simplistic and the short-term. Changes in economics and politics must occur quickly.
Making safe public education and the social growth of children
This is a subject of continuing discussion on the public airwaves. Here I merely flag it, because I have no expertise and there is no clear consensus. The issues seem to be that children need the socialization of being with peers; teachers need to be physically present with children to be able not only to teach but to be aware of, and help, other issues with which children may be wrestling. There are in some homes matters of child safety, sufficient nutrition, and the miasma of people being cooped up together too much. Too, some experts contend that exclusive on-line learning has dragged some children behind. As I suggested earlier, discussion of these matters should be continuous, and involve all concerned, not just the professionals.
The new normal
What it will be depends upon the values we apply. Our norms have been that we compete to be the best we can be and better than many others; those who can`t compete are left with charity, inadequate welfare, or nothing.
Some of the most COVID-affected are poor through no fault of their own. They suffer even more during COVID. Their plights are emblazoned, like bright streaks of molten lava flowing through the gaps in our society: greater susceptibility because living in close quarters, or in no quarters; working in close quarters; transportation in close quarters. All these aspects aid the virus, not us.
In the new normal, no one should be unusually likely to be sick or starving or too cold or hot for healthy living. No one should be isolated through lack of means to make it in this world. And yet, this is the world we have constructed.
What’s wrong with this?
For one thing, you yourself could be too poor and have different physical, emotional, or mental abilites– inadequately equipped to survive cold and heat, rain and snow, to have a place of your own where you can keep your things to yourself. Your abilities and potential to contribute to society may be squandered because the world is not open to what you can do in the way you can do it. The world is denied your talent and contributions. You are denied a pleasant sense of self. If you manage to have a family, you may be keeping them down, inadequately fed, etc. One person’s suffering should not, as a matter of ethics, cause another’s, especially not a child’s.
We have learned through experiments with some forms of guaranteed income, that especially during the current pandemic, having enough money initially may make it possible to get off the treadmill (source: interview with one such person in Ontario’s recent trial of basic income). If you don’t have to work three part-time jobs, requiring time to get to and from them, and somehow having time to stop in to the pharmacist to pick up medications (if you can afford them) and basic necessities, and to have a bit of time for your partner and kids, and perhaps other family, and maybe even yourself; if you can work just two jobs and use the newly available time to do these things and do some planning about how to improve your lot by getting more education or searching for better employment, and getting enough healthy air, well then that basic income has helped beyond measure. Once you have discovered that you can now improve your circumstances, your self-esteem rises, and your confidence. As you better your own circumstances you may better others’ as well, either your family, or the vendors from whom you purchase, and (if you become a tax payer) the public in general – schools, hospitals, first responders, and so forth. You might even have time and security to enter public realm, get involved in a group to improve your neighbourhood or some charity, or a group which provides emotional support for you and for others. That is a great deal of value, indeed, that basic income.
If government is responsive to information about such changes, perhaps it can regularize not only the basic income for yourself and others like you, but establish accommodations as a normative policy. You will be “normal” in the sense that you can successfully appraise your situation and plan for and work toward improvements in your circumstances.
We can see that our economy and social values have not been built for the newer generations whose employment is not reliable, nor paying enough to enable saving for retirement. Something new must be done for that future, for all the same reasons. The benefits become circular: people who can, partly because of basic income, keep themselves healthy in terms of shelter, protection against heat and cold, nutrition and health, will call less upon emergency medicine, and perhaps less upon services for mental difficulties. The rising costs of one service will decrease the costs of others. But the rising costs of one provide the additional benefits noted above.
The rest of us must advocate that these things happen. Our government must seek opportunities to make it possible for people to improve their own lots. We must let go of our sense of charity for whoever isn’t making it, and change systemically to value making it possible for anyone and everyone to make it if they wish and if they have their own ability. We must learn to value other people’s achievements, without comparison to others’. We need not think of some as more deserving or less, or more valid than not, or more important than others, or less famous and prestigious than others. These are not useful values; they don’t improve life nor help it flourish; they distort our real worth and others’. They create envy and hurt, and stifle the achievements of others.
But we must be careful that improving the lot of some, does not unnecessarily threaten the needs, including emotional needs, of others. It is necessary to minimize others’ sense of loss of status, employment, community, and self-esteem.
What have we learned and not learned from the pandemic so far?
Probably we have learned about the
- doubtful competence of politicians and the political processes that put them in place
- the wrong values in our society,
- the inadequacy of long supply chains outside our borders
- the inherent inadequacy of not having pharmaceutical production in our own country,
- the kinds of institutional buildings which promote disease (i.e., nursing homes and small-room schools),
- the dangers inherent in personal suppler workers working at several locations;
- the inherent unhealthiness of inadequate paid sick leave;
- the fact that public services can be much nimbler than previously seen (Canada Emergency Response Benefit, popups, street restaurants; distribution of computers to students, etc.)
- the astonishing enhancements to life to be found in on-line visual communication including university and school courses and doctors’ consultations, remote monitoring of physical health, and keeping up social relationships.
What have we not learned about:
- The necessity to tend to the whole world – the current dearth of vaccines in many, many countries, and the disproportional and undeserved suffering during the climate crisis, are inexcusable, yet continue. We who are always at the front of the line, must start standing in a circle with the others. See also Understanding the past differently – Upon reconsidering…
- the ethical aspects of good supply management (PPEs, etc.) and planning for the rainy day.
- perhaps the need to end of treating people like sardines, i.e., crowded public transit, waiting rooms in medical facilities, elevators;
- the need for independent air supplies in condos and office buildings;
- the need to plan for more than one catastrophe at a time, e.g., air distribution in a high density building during a power outage and cold snap or heatwave.
Much of this discussion would apply to the climate emergency as well. Perhaps our new tools to deal with COVID will be useful regarding the climate crisis. Treat people better, and we will treat the environment well, too.
I’m sure the readers can add to all this, and I hope you will through comments. All this was written in preparation for a recent on-line panel discussion about the moral and political consequences of COVID. But I think these ideas should be more widely reconsidered.
The discussions should continue as we add ever more informed consent to improving the world, eh?