This article is written in May 2020 and explores some potential impacts – beyond the immediate – of the current Covid-19 pandemic. It is based on an original (longer) piece published for the Long Finance Pamphleteers blog in April 2020.
All the news might push you back into primeval brain patterns – making you think, about the pandemic – “OMG it’s a bear! Fight or flight?” How could we come to perceive the pandemic and its longer term effects as “No, it’s NOT a bear?” This would release our energy and imagination. As Milton Friedman said “Only a crisis – perceived or actual – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. Our function is to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.” Or, as we say, the Overton Window has shifted.
How do we stop seeing the world’s events as if we were facing a Bear? We think that the world will be very different after the pandemic has receded and there will be a reassessment of many facets of life and society. We are optimists, so we look for the opportunities which will emerge from this disruption. In this article we have uncovered some opportunities and would welcome thoughts from readers on others.
Close to home, the potential for political disruption in Europe is enormous – the disjoint between disparate national health systems has led to the closing of borders for the first time in decades. Europe’s future will depend on the ability to rebuild trust between nations.
Taking a wider view, we can see that though the 1 billion people across the planet at Level Four (in Hans Rosling’s terminology) may be comparatively protected, the large numbers of people who have recently moved to Level Two or Level Three are likely to be radically affected. They have little economic cushion and may well lose their new incomes and savings. We think that loss of their consumer power will have the biggest impact on global recovery.
The pandemic is changing behaviours; here are some thoughts:
- The role of volunteering to work for the community – working for strangers – over 750,000 people in the UK volunteered to back up health and social care services as they struggled with the pandemic;
- The extent of scientific collaboration in life sciences has broken many barriers as companies and researchers share data and information on the virus in the literature as soon as it is available in the lab;
- Governments could fall if their response to the pandemic is seen as incompetent – rumours abound as we write of what is happening in Brazil;
- Urban surveillance, mobile phone tracking and face recognition is likely to be introduced as emergency measures, and civil society will need to regulate this;
- As IT platforms become ever more ubiquitous, reducing social face to face interaction, it raises questions. How they are regulated and who owns the data?;
- Once IT-enabled teaching has been proven to be effective, we could have refocused education from kindergarten through to universities;
- The role of experts in contributing to policy has started to be recognised – after the rise of populism in the last 50 years;
- There is an opportunity here to revalue and rethink social infrastructure as the pandemic decimates many small enterprises and the income of people at Levels 2 and 3 across the globe.
Also, the impacts of restrictions on travel are both immediate and long term:
- Severe reduction in the amount of travel has a large direct economic impact (travel and tourism account for about 10% of world GDP);
- Globalisation is questioned. Potential positive impacts are diversification and greater stability of supply chains;
- Airlines and the aerospace industry are particularly hard-hit and shedding highly skilled labour;
- It changes the nature of family links, which for several decades have been maintained through cheap flights and could change immigration patterns;
- The rise of video conferencing tools like Zoom and Skype for personal connections is being mirrored by their use in business to replace all sorts of face to face meetings. Work and lifestyles will not completely revert when travel is again on the agenda;
- Office space may well become an oxymoron, so property prices in city centres and industrial parks may plummet. A positive impact could be reduction in residential prices because of its repurposing for housing;
- Reduction in demand for oil has caused prices to plummet and economies based on oil revenues to suffer. There is a positive environmental impact: the reduction in air pollution is visible globally and deaths due to asthma are down in several cities;
- Reductions in travel will add to the problems faced by fossil fuel companies as they try to realign to renewables and recover from the low oil price.
While the headlines are about the crisis of dealing with the pandemic’s immediate effects, we think that exploring possible longer term impacts will prepare for action. It can help us see, that all of what is out there, is ‘NOT a Bear’. The exploration makes clear where we have choice and influence. It builds hope.
Written by Patricia Lustig, SAMI Associate and MD, LASA Insight, and Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow and Director, Ethical Reading They are authors of ‘Megatrends and How to Survive Them: preparing for 2032’ and are continuing to explore these trends.
The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.
SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.
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