Wednesday, 1 April 2020

We are here to serve (the economy)

In a previous blog I presented the argument that money is a virus that owns us – we are its servant, indeed its host, not its master.  The events around coronavirus (COVID-19) in Britain seem to underline this.

The early approach by the UK government to the virus (now discredited) was to allow the infection to work through the population in order to develop “herd immunity”.  This is a point at which so many people are infected, and then recovered, that the virus can no longer move through the population – it runs out of new people to infect.  Superficially this might sound sensible.  But epidemiologists considered it was so mad that it must be a joke!  Herd immunity is an outcome of a vaccination programme, not a plan for disease management.  Allowing herd immunity to build up through mass infection in a population would (perhaps still will) result in thousands of extra deaths.

The root of this disastrous approach seems to go back to a statement, reported in The Times, from government adviser Dominic Cummings.  Allowing the infection to move through the population to build up herd immunity would protect the economy.  Everyone just stays at work and carries on - and if a few pensioners die then so be it! 

This may be true to some extent if money is your highest priority.  Methods used to slow the spread of the virus (ie staying home) will have a huge negative impact on the economy.  Continuing to work and allowing a few elderly people to die would have less impact.  But this ignores the long-term impact of a sick and dying population (such long-term affects often being ignored by economists).

To sensible people, this is an outrageously callous approach.  It underlines that the priority is the economy and humans are secondary to money-making.  We are here to serve the economy – not the other way around.  Humans have now been totally infected by a virus; but the virus is not COVID-19, it is money.

That we are here just to serve the economy is not limited to our response to COVID-19; there are numerous other examples of decisions made in blind faith to serving the economy rather than for serving human wellbeing.

  • Our money is being used by the government to subsidise ever more fossil fuel exploration and extraction.  However, we must stop extracting fossil fuels.  Even burning the reserves we know about will drive our climate into meltdown. 
  • We must reduce travel and drastically reduce the amount of fossil fuels we burn in vehicles.  But again, our tax revenues are being used in a road building bonanza which will only ramp up congestion and greenhouse gas emissions further. 
  • Air travel is probably the most effective way to cook the planet, yet the aviation industry is demanding government bailouts to continue / accelerate its disastrous trend. 

The examples go on and on.  We have so much finance invested in the current economic system that we are locked into destruction way beyond the point of logic.

All these decisions are being made because they claim to be the correct economic thing to do.  And maybe it is not the individual decisions that are the problem, more the framing of our whole economic system.  Currently, decisions are made to support the growth of money not for the growth of human wellbeing.

If anything good comes out of the pandemic, it will be a move away from seeing humans as mere units of consumption whose only purpose is to serve the economy.  Maybe we do need herd immunity, but built up against a virus called money, not against COVID-19.  If enough of us have passed through this infection and become resistant to a disease that demands its own growth whatever the cost, then maybe we are starting the fight against that disease.  The economy must return to being our servant not our master.  As we see with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the human qualities of compassion, empathy, community and society that are the higher values – not growth in Gross Domestic Product!

1 comment:

Ralph Hobbs said...

Excellent as always Tony, this needs putting out to the wider world to galvanise herd awakening.