Given the global quarantining in place (some pegged it at 3 billion people doing it), the world is not just on pause, it is also on reflection and introspection.
As many of us move away from normal routines to the abnormal ritual of staying at home, and radically changing our interaction habits, this is a time to reflect, re-think, and evaluate what is really going on.
For many, staying at home or disrupting the work routine is a break from the rat race they are used to, but it is also a perfect inducement for some critical thinking.
Here are the key themes that are sticking in my mind:
Working at home: exception or normality?
As more of us get used to this new normal, many will ponder if they would ever want to return to an office again. This forced situation might be a blessing, and I am sure it will lead to some reduction in actual permanent office space requirements.
Prosperity to online services
Suddenly, banks are now touting their online services and reminding us that we can do much of our banking without visiting their branches. Not only banking, but also education, e-commerce, entertainment, self-services, and online deliveries are getting a big shot in the arm. Again, these new tastes are going to linger for many, and much of this will not go back to physical choices.
Reliance on China: damned if we do and if we don’t?
China is the manufacturing hub for the world. The virus disruption has sent ripple effects to the entire world as supply chains, manufacturing, and product availability were all affected, domino-style. I am sure that many businesses are going to reconsider the degree of dependability they have on a single country. It’s simple risk management 101.
Global interdependencies are real
I have been a fervent student of globalization and its impact on the world economy and society. The current pandemic, like many others that preceded it are global in nature. I am surprised that the World Health Organization waited until March 11th to declare COVID-19 as a pandemic, for pedantic reasons. The alarm bell should have been sounded much earlier, as the disease was on its way to becoming a pandemic. This gives me great concern about the effectiveness of non-governmental global organizations that are plagued with bureaucratic and rigid processes, and not always grounded in reality.
The nanny states are at their best, but at what cost?
Many Western and developed governments have enacted emergency relief measures to make-up for the economic losses at the personal and business levels. They are handing out subsidies to ease the financial pains, left right and center. Yes, they can print money and that’s in their powers, but they are also perpetuating nanny state behavior. We will owe it them back. That said, the better government responses are the ones that reacted much earlier with a focus on reducing the outbreak with aggressive universal testing, so that the eventual economic impact was dampened (e.g. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore). Governments that are front-ending their strategies by handing out big checks are playing catch-up sadly and trying to cover-up the latency in their leadership.
Was there Chinese misinformation?
I am still pondering that question. I do read (in English) some of the Chinese published reports and newspapers, and one can discern the degree of doctoring in what is published. While the subject of Chinese government control practices is a longer one, in this case, this wasn’t an internal issue, because it has affected how the world reacted to this pandemic. I wished China had done more to sound the alarm bell earlier, and been more prescriptive with the rest of the world about what they learned and what they did. It appears they are doing more now, but also the fire is now raging. It is no longer the flame it was in January outside of China.
Focus on self-reliance and savings
Many people live paycheck to paycheck. Many businesses rely on daily cash flows to continue operating. While this is inescapable for many, the current situation is a time to consider ensuring that emergency funds are always in place. I am sure credit card bills are going to go-up as a result of going through this crisis.
Bill Gates’ Moment
We are all thirsty for knowledge trying to understand this global virus situation, and I do believe that the more informed we are, the better we can fight it and curb it. There is more to it than learning about regularly washing our hands, a practice that was religiously ingrained in me at a young age. As the son of a doctor, my Dad used to wash his hands at home like he was scrubbing for surgery, and washing our hands prior to a meal was a rite of passage into the dining room table.
I was particularly impressed and learned a lot watching this recent TED video interview of Bill Gates by Chris Anderson. I highly recommended it. It made me more knowledgeable, and mentally better prepared to deal with COVID-19. Bill Gates has been thinking about pandemics and how the world can deal with global health emergencies much longer than most of us. His depth and insights shine throughout the 50-minute interaction.
I liked his idea of issuing digital certificates to record and verify that people have been tested, and following that with a national (maybe global?) tracking system. I am sure blockchain enthusiasts will jump on that idea, but there is more to it than just technology. A good database system could do the job equally well.
Bill Gates notes the tragedy of this situation is that we are going to take the pain in the economic dimension, in order to minimize the pain in the disease and death dimension. He says, “Bringing the economy back is a reversible thing, but bringing people back to life is not.”
Like many other tragedies of our times,- world wars, civil wars, natural disasters, previous health outbreaks, global terrorism, we will survive them and get stronger as a result. The world is resilient.