I’m writing this on the evening of day six of our four week “lockdown” (as if we were in prison) in New Zealand. So far we have survived pretty well, something I put down to having jobs which have so far not been too disrupted by the shutting down of the entire country, and good weather which means that we can get the kids outside to the trampoline as much as possible.
We are having difficulties working from home of course with our three children (aged 7, 5 and 2) but overall we are happy and fairly contended.
What I am less happy about is the long term implications of this crisis. Economically, this is going to be so devastating for New Zealand (and the world) that the ripples will be felt for years and decades from now. The number of jobless will probably skyrocket as will the number of failed businesses — not just here but around the world. This won’t be remedied as soon as the lockdown is lifted, and I wonder whether we will see fewer goods and services available in the short/medium term future.
The finance minister here is warning that unemployment will be worse than during the Global Financial Crisis, while government borrowing is going through the roof. New Zealand is lucky that we have a relatively low level of public debt so can absorb some expansion in the government’s indebtedness. On the other hand, our ability to pay for this increased borrowing in the future will be lessened due to an decreased tax take.
Unfortunately this concern about the economic repercussions doesn’t get a lot of coverage here so far. Instead we are getting a lot of articles about how lovely this time can be to slow down, to reconnect with family, to take up a hobby etc etc. This suggests that the people in the media and writing these stories are completely disconnected from those who cannot work from home, who aren’t white-collar workers and who have either lost their jobs or are concerned that there will be no business for them to go back to when the lockdown is over.
What is even more concerning is the large expansion of police powers in this country. The police have the power to stop and question anyone out and about and have the discretion to determine if you should be out at all. They also have the power to enter properties without a warrant to break up suspicious gatherings.
And they have set up a website so that we can dob in our neighbours who we think are breaking the lockdown rules (or who we don’t like…) Just to show what a healthy society we live in, it crashed soon after launching from too many people using it. All these measures better have been worth it.
Finally, will there be a rethink and a reordering of our relationship with China after this is all over and we are back to something approaching normality?
Many of our supply chains of important medical equipment far too reliant on China. This is a concern if it closes down due to something like this, or if our own borders shut down.
But it is also a concern that we are giving leverage to a country which is a brutal dictatorship with scant regard to the existing international order which is seeking to assert itself more on the world stage.
More generally, the Chinese regime lies and covers up everything, including crucial information about this virus (with help from useful idiots in the WHO). The wet markets are back in business there, apparently killing off the entire global economy and killing thousands of people (so far) is not a good enough reason to stop selling live and recently deceased animals in squalid conditions for human consumption.
So will anything change? Will the Wuhan Flu rush the USA and China into conflict? Perhaps, if not a shooting match, at least something approaching a Cold War? (I think this would merely be hastening the inevitable – great power jostling never went away and we are seeing two competing superpowers here with very different ideas about how the world should be run.)
Perhaps we are seeing signs of this already elsewhere in the West. If so, even after the virus is over we are in for a bumpy ride to say the least.