Coronavirus: Learning curve for leaner, meaner generation ahead

Coronavirus: Learning curve for leaner, meaner generation ahead, by Adam Creighton.

Already, conversations about gender balance and the climate “crisis” have evaporated and such issues will seem less urgent in the wake of the pandemic. …  It’s been a reality check for the national conversation, which had drifted almost to the absurd. While the deluge of news about the coronavirus is relentless, at least it is something real.

Households will become more frugal as they learn how cheaply they can live once frivolous expenditures are excised. Spending $350 on a concert ticket will no longer be the norm. Having learned to exercise outside, that $70-a-fortnight gym membership might not seem such a good deal.

A nation making their own lunches and dinners will become far more apprised of grocery prices. “The pandemic will challenge rampant individualism, reminding us we’re all interconnected,” adds [demographer Hugh Mackay].

So far, the burden of job losses has fallen almost exclusively on workers who, in normal times, we actually need: cafe and retail staff, pilots and taxi drivers, for example.

By contrast white-collar workers, although compelled to work at home, have been insulated. But many of them will start to question the point of their jobs. Shorn of the charade of pointless meetings, it will become clearer who actually does what. Putting in “desk time” to please the boss will no longer be an option.

Businesses will become leaner, and possibly meaner. They’ll question whether acres of commercial real estate are worth the rent. Bosses in large enterprises will question the value of staff who they haven’t seen in weeks, and who have appeared to produce quite little — apart from social media posts with “#WFH”. Workers with little verifiable, individual output should be concerned.

The least affected by the crisis inevitably will be the political class, who have shut the economy down without any risk to their pay and conditions.

Politicians concede privately this is unsustainable politically.

News the upper echelons of the bureaucracy and judiciary will forgo a 2 per cent pay increase in July as a way of sharing the burden is probably not enough to quell the anger that by July will be red-hot. “People will come out of this with a heightened anxiety; they’ll be wounded and cranky,” says Mackay.

Government has never in history tried to shut an economy down; we’ll soon see for how long it is possible in a democracy. …

The slump has thrown up a slew of moral questions too. The inevitable confrontation between tenants and landlords over rent, for instance, has no easy answer. What has happened is neither’s fault, yet the loss is real and must be borne. …

Respect for the economic system will fray too. When the Reserve Bank starts creating money artificially to buy government bonds, many will question the value of money, and the morality of how it can be handed out to favoured constituencies.

Why not give it to households directly, many will ask, preventing the financial sector clipping the ticket on the way? The notion of a free market in the financial system will become more farcical.

Even if our relative performance in managing this disease is along the lines of the Spanish flu 100 years ago, when Australia had the second-lowest death rate in the world, by a large margin, society and the economy will be changed irrevocably on the other side.

In the Spanish flu, Australia managed to quarantine itself in time, closing the borders early. This prevented the disease from getting into our population — initially. Some quarantine breakers got in eventually — probably off ships, by lying about their health — and after about three months the Spanish flu took off in Australia too. However, that three month delay probably meant that we caught a less deadly strain (most diseases mutate towards less deadly versions as time goes by). So overall our deaths rate was relatively low.