“Endurance is patience concentrated.”
We are all adjusting to a new way of being, as the virus emergency closes in on us. While the obvious signs of no aircraft, empty roads and supermarket rationing are clear for all to see, it’s not hard to notice how business and entertainment is also retrenching. Even the BBC is relying more on repeats as live programme production is becoming more difficult.
The news is so full of the virus emergency that it’s almost as if nothing else exists. Donald Trump is clearly desperately impatient to break free of its grip but it’s more likely that, in the period leading up to the presidential election this autumn, the virus will have the upper hand. As we forecast on 2nd March, there may be a harsh economic upside alongside a human tragedy for the United States – but, if there is, Mr Trump is unlikely to be in Washington to witness it.
The game changer for the United Kingdom was the Imperial College team warning of the danger of going for ‘herd immunity’ too quickly. So, this week we indulge in a little time travel to imagine what the world might look like in a couple of years from now.
It’s at times like these when we realise that all the great attempts to bring the world together, such as the United Nations, the European Union and even, to some extent, the United States are really skin deep. ‘Each to their own’ is the mantra, when the chips are down.
The only countries which can really clamp down hard and fast are authoritarian regimes such as China - but will they have left sufficient scope for ‘herd immunity’ to build, before the vaccine becomes available: or will the virus return with a vengeance?
Southern Europe is in chaos, as indiscipline exposes not only their incapability of stopping the virus spreading, but also the sheer inhumanity that can accompany it – such as care homes in Spain being deserted by their carers, leaving their patients to die in their beds.
Meanwhile, the Eurozone faces a ‘do or die’ moment of its own: will Germany and the Benelux nations at last embrace fiscal union, or will it break up? The European Central Bank might provide some monetary relief for the stress of the pandemic, but it cannot assume unified political control requiring the stronger nations to stand alongside the weaker nations.
The federal government in the United States tries to push recovery measures into individual states rather than assuming central responsibility, and at the same time appears hellbent on removing the restrictions, thus inviting the virus to despatch its senior citizens before their time.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has set its course by carefully assessing forecast pressure on its National Health Service, at the same time as permitting a semblance of business normality through home-working.
What a jumble of motives!
In two years’ time, the demographics of the United States are likely to be significantly younger if the current policy is maintained, and they may have to open their southern gates to Mexico. Southern Europe will be even more of an economic desert than they are today. And many of those in developed Western countries will emerge from the new experience of home-working and video-conferencing to wonder whether we do really need to fill the skies with aircraft and the roads with traffic.
A foretaste of this new world is given by Brother Richard Hendrick in his interview with Vicky Sayers, inviting us all to step back in wonder at this new environment which are forced to inhabit.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. The economic situation will be a real mess. Government debt at stratospheric levels will lead to many defaults, and the International Monetary Fund will be the next public body to be overstretched, following on from the world’s health systems. And what impact will there be from all that helicopter money, as This Is Money asked last week?
Economic logic would suggest that it must result in higher inflation - not just due to the amount of currency in circulation, but also because supply will inevitably be heavily impacted by the shutdown.
But will demand recover to pre-2020 levels when the crisis is over? If not, and if automation continues to fill the holes in employment left by the virus, perhaps there will be no surge in prices on the other side. And perhaps we will have got so used to 80% of income is being paid by the state, that we will opt for that universal basic income which has been discussed so often recently.
So, the world could look very different on the other side. My guess is that one of the best placed nations to mature into this new world will be the United Kingdom, not least because it is showing genuine care for its citizens, while not throwing the brakes on business to the fullest extent.
Perhaps also, we will learn from coming face-to-face with our mortality that, going forward from here, we need to focus rather more on our spirituality.
Gavin Oldham OBE