What we’ve learned so far from the pandemic

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June 21, 2020

What we’ve learned so far from the pandemic

Written by Robin Sears for the Toronto Star. Click here to read the original.

For many of us across Canada, this past week was the first time that we could share a beer and a burger with friends on a patio. There was a small childlike giddiness to the occasions. It feels like we can see the end of the tunnel now, even if it is still a long way off.

So, what have we learned in the lost spring of 2020?

First, it’s time to begin preparing for the next pandemic, now. We have had a virus attack emerge more than twice a decade since the turn of the century. Let’s never again enter the next one as shambolically as we did this. Better public health funding, regularly inspected and replaced PPE stockpiles, and public health classes for every elementary school student are a minimum.

We have learned how scandalously we allowed our parents to be treated by some in the elder care industry. We treat cattle better than some of the miscreants in this crisis were doing secretly. Every long-term care facility must have legislated requirements about staffing levels, medical support, and no more than two clients to a room. Government oversight was often stunningly careless. Regular inspections and stiff penalties, and timely public reporting on findings, are required. We should all give our heads a shake for allowing these appalling abuses to have taken place under our noses.

We learned that massive and fast injections of cash and credit work. One small example: the U.S. Fed injected 700 per cent more liquidity into their economy in three months than it did in the three years after the 2008 crash. What we don’t know is what the fiscal legacy will be. There appear to be two schools of thought.

One group of mostly younger economists say that the global economy can absorb far higher debt levels for longer than we ever thought possible. That high levels of public sector debt are manageable without being inflationary or currency crushing. The United Kingdom, slower than many to respond — but still a provider of massive levels of assistance — has just reported their inflation sits at one half of one per cent. This is not what mainstream economists, let alone right-wing monetarists, said would happen.

The second school, still believers in the traditional fiscal and monetary orthodoxies, say we have bequeathed an alarming unfair burden to our grandchildren. No one knows, today, who will be proven right.

One thing we know for sure: if we had blinked at generously supporting families, small businesses, indeed entire economies, we would have faced greater economic devastation, possibly even civil unrest. Now we need to assess what worked and what didn’t – and what we would do if another lockdown were required, in just a few years’ time.