The Great Depression of the 1930s gave us the Bank of Canada, Employment Insurance (EI) and federal equalization payments. The Great Recession of 2008 produced a revolution in monetary policy and a legacy of concern about household debt.
Will the Great Lockdown of 2020 bequeath us guaranteed universal income?
It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent pandemic shock doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the Screen New Deal. Far more hi-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent – and highly profitable – no-touch future.
It’s a future in which our homes are never again exclusively personal spaces, but are also, via high-speed digital connectivity, our schools, our doctor’s offices, our gyms, and, if determined by the state, our jails. Of course, for many of us, those same homes were already turning into our never-off workplaces and our primary entertainment venues before the pandemic, and surveillance incarceration “in the community” was already booming. But in the future that is hastily being constructed, all of these trends are poised for a warp-speed acceleration.
The time is ripe for us to refocus on what really matters: not GDP, but the health and wellbeing of our people and our planet.
he pandemic has lain bare the fragility of existing economic systems. Wealthy nations have more than enough resources to cover public health and basic needs during a crisis, and could weather declines in non-essential parts of the economy by reallocating work and resources to essential ones. Yet the way current economic systems are organized around constant circulation, any decline in market activity threatens systemic collapse, provoking generalized unemployment and impoverishment.
It doesn’t have to be this way. To be more resilient to crises – pandemic, climatic, financial, or political – we need to build systems capable of scaling back production in ways that do not cause loss of livelihood or life. We make the case for degrowth.
Conservative outlets such as Forbes, the Financial Times, or the Spectator, have been pronouncing that the coronavirus crisis reveals “the misery of degrowth”. But what is happening during the pandemic is not degrowth. Degrowth is a project of living meaningfully, enjoying simple pleasures, commoning, sharing and relating more with others, and working less, in more equal societies. The goal of degrowth is to purposefully slow things down in order to minimize harm to humans and earth systems and to reduce exploitation.
As the pandemic continues, it is revealing just how deeply flawed our societal institutions really are. Government programs reward the affluent and punish the poor, and are often ineffectual or politically corrupted. The market/state order is so committed to promoting market growth and using centralized hierarchies to control life, that the resulting systems are fragile, clumsy, and non-resilient. And so on. It is increasingly evident that the problems we face are profoundly systemic.
This crisis is a chance to rebuild our economy for the good of humanity. Let’s bail out the living world, not its destroyers. Do not resuscitate. This tag should be attached to the oil, airline and car industries.
The “precariat” has suddenly expanded to denote a potentially universal condition. So, a familiar idea has once again returned: that of a universal basic income (or UBI), whereby all of us would be entitled to a regular payment from the state, enough to cover such basics as food and heating.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of “spade ready” food projects that can virtually be launched tomorrow and focus on promoting ecological resilience and human dignity.