COVID has shaken the world because we can’t be in contact with each other. This has had massive ramifications for how we manage society, the economy, and people.
The virus has forced society to work publicly the way it is designed to – it is clear where the investment has been put because those sectors of society have a higher likelihood of peace in a pandemic.
Consumers can’t consume and when we only buy what we need, the economy crashes. Meanwhile, credit is being loaned to those who need it. Simultaneously, capital has depleted in some arenas and doubled in others – mostly managing to ride out the panic where it’s a no contact sport.
The three main players in the pandemic are embroiled in a game of hot potato. The public pass on our costs to the government who pass on some to business who pass it back to us and then some to the government, and it goes around and across.
The UK Government has pledged to spend £350 billion on a business bailout – equivalent to 15% of UK GDP. In addition, the Chancellor provided £30 billion of support to the economy to deal with the crisis by investing in public services, increasing support for vulnerable people and providing business with tax reliefs and loans [Source]. In addition, there’s a £750 million package of support for frontline charities [Source].
All that is spent will be recovered in the future. A big picture look at Conservative policy would suggest that there would never be a re-nationalisation and that it’ll be a warm day in hell if marijuana and prostitution is legalised and nationalised to recoup the money.
Meanwhile, the costs of COVID-19 get passed around and when the music stops, the hot, fiery debt potato will be borne by the player left holding it.
I’m watching the public watch the hot potato go between the Government and business as if we aren’t key players. Whilst the government and business sector develop their strategies to pass the potato on, we watch it pass us during the pandemic, without having plans to pass it on post-COVID.
We will be left with the hot potato.
The distance between the consequences of COVID-19 are too far for us to imagine right now because we are facing the immediate violence of the pandemic.
We will be left with the hot potato because we can see that in times of crisis, neither the government nor business have the capacity or the skills or the willingness to shoulder the burden of violence.
The way that we organise our society in the UK is violent and it is strategically violent because the first people that are impacted are the public, especially those who are not involved in business or the government.
COVID-19 has shone a light on how our society works and how violent the structure is – what we are experiencing now is how our society is meant to work. Whilst the public do the day to day fighting, the longer term strategy is already being determined, without our input.
We are the buffers that give the government space, time, and information to make an informed decision about how to solve a situation and turn it into an opportunity. I say this working for a Big Four firm for whom my normality has largely continued as we ‘WFH’ and where we support business with cash flow and the government with crisis policy making.
This distance from the violence of COVID-19 is purposeful because it brings a degree of peace to government and business.
Zygnunt Bauman sums up what characterises violence in our day and age as not just the physical and geographical distance that technology allows, but the social and psychological distance produced by complex systems in which is seems that everyone and no-one is complicit.
Can you imagine the shock that Boris had with two nights in intensive care? It wasn’t supposed to impact him. The violence never is.
In the UK, you currently cannot shit, sleep, or eat without incurring a cost. Yet, the country literally doesn’t work without consumers – we are the batteries of the economy.
Despite this, the basic needs of people are not met without conditions. One the one hand we are totally necessary yet on the other hand, the expendable one in the COVID-19 crisis both currently and in the future is neither the business nor the government.
We will be left holding the shitty, debt-filled, combusting, hot potato of doom.
We are close to the violence now, and we will be as close as ever in the future. COVID-19 has highlighted the violent way that we organise British society and this structure is exemplified perfectly in the initial approach of the government to the virus.
Devi Sridhar sums up the approach initially taken by the Government to address COVID-19 known as “herd immunity”. That is, to have much of the population contract coronavirus, develop antibodies and then become immune to it. The thinking is that, if most of the population is vaccinated, a small percentage can go unvaccinated without cases emerging.
The original plan of our Government was that the space between us and the virus be removed and the public be expected to be actual human shields for the virus.
This is an inherently violent approach and not based on the information that was received from China, Italy, or Spain. It’s no surprise that it didn’t work, and the Government had to change tack because of the public and structural threat.
The structural threat became apparent as the NHS would literally snap, what then for prisons? For politics? For the police? For the army? It’s never about the public, it’s a fine dance between economic loss and the political power.
There is one positive though - can you believe that the next time we want to protest, literally all that needs to be done is for people to stay home and not buy a single thing?
We could even continue to go to work and just commit to keeping our cash, and the economy would grind to a halt because business would stop working.
Until then we remain a buffer. A battery. And always the closest to violence.