Emotional Well-being vs. Economic Growth vs. Public Health — In Corona times, what should you care about other than Corona?
Why do we even care to make plans? Life never really goes as we plan.
The novel coronavirus or Covid-19 has changed all of our lives for better or for worse.
The most basic principle of Economics is that resources are limited and have alternative uses. So how to use them for optimization is the question.
Nothing reinforces this principle like a pandemic. Resources are limited and have alternative uses, and all the eyes are on the government to distribute the resources to citizens, and every step of the government is looked at because each decision affects everyone
A lockdown can mean anything from not being able to call the plumber or running out of milk or bread or eggs.
You can’t ask that girl out for a date because there is no going out anymore. If you hate exercising at home then, bad news because gyms don’t exist anymore and dear extroverts, you shall be scarred for life during these months. No more brunches or swimming or traveling. Just stay inside.
Life isn’t the same anymore.
But, the one thing I noticed in this lockdown is that since the moments of our lives are so extreme these days(you either have food or you don’t), people have become polarized at each stage.
Few are ready to listen to the other side to understand and empathize with the other side. They either believe others are incompetent or downright stupid, but that may not always be the case. This problem is not exclusive to the public space but our private lives also.
Our daily routines have changed, many of us are doing things we previously never did, and that has again created choices in our personal life like what to do with the extra time we have, or maybe you don’t have any spare time because you have to cook all by yourself.
Choices and decisions and consequences lie ahead of us, and in the midst of all this, I find myself confused as to how should I think and if there are any right choices and if there are what are they
I am going to elaborate on five such discussions
1. Freedom vs. responsibility of citizens (Indian context)
Nothing has put forward the debate of freedom versus responsibility like the lockdown.
None of us have ever in our lives been subjected to the confinement that we are witnessing. Going back to the basics — we are all today in a lockdown because we are a threat to each other so that we don’t spread the ‘novel coronavirus.’ We must take responsibility for our conduct and stay within our homes and not go out for a stroll or hang out with friends, and then we see pictures and videos of police officers beating people who are going outside.
The argument is that freedom needs to be curtailed and being responsible citizens; we must adhere to it, and I absolutely agree to it, except the case goes both ways.
Should the government be able to curtail freedom only when it takes responsibility for its citizens? To ensure essentials like food and medicines so that they need to go out minimally and with max social distancing and people who lose their jobs because of it are provided with financial assistance so that they don’t have to go out. The option should not be to die due to hunger, if not Corona. Survival makes people do stupid things because our minds go in the ‘fight or flight’ mode. Ensuring the absence of that is key to making people follow orders — most people would want to.
Also, let’s not forget that we can question the government too. Do we think the government was late in putting a lockdown? Or if we believe the government is using lockdown for taking extrajudicial action against specific sections of society, then we must question the move as well.
2. Economic growth vs. public health
This one seems like a no-brainer. The lives of people are obviously much more than what is the GDP growth rate. Why is this even a debate? Is what my instinct would be, but the story is not that simple.
First of all, not everyone has savings to pay their rents and mortgages. Some of us are living paycheque to paycheque. One cheque less, and our life falls apart. We don’t know how to pay EMI of our home, education loan interest, rent of our apartments, and this is still the Privileged of us. The laborers who live on daily wages have little left to even buy for food, and such a crisis eats through whatever little savings have.
Secondly, the cost of lost opportunities is much higher for some people. Some people who were just now making changes to their lives like quitting jobs and starting their ventures will pay a higher cost of economic loss than people in stable employment.
Thirdly and most importantly, not everyone will survive it economically. ILO predicts that 25 million jobs may be lost. Unless managed, it can be catastrophic for their mental health. For some, quality of life matters just as much as life does, and for them, economic health is just as much a crisis as public health. Suicide rates increased significantly percentage points higher in the 2008 financial crisis compared to other years.
We need to ensure that the situation does not come to that.
None of this discounts the fact that saving lives should remain the priority.
3. Mental health vs. High-performance
This is more of a private debate. The optimists of the world, though needed for the sanity of the world have created a situation, where there is so much pressure on every human to come out of house arrest with at least one new hobby, chiseled body, new perspective in life, four degrees of online courses, having read all holy books and having achieved Nirvana.
We are in the middle of a pandemic, and humans must not have so much pressure on them when their anxiety is at an all-time high with minimal social interaction and limited options to go out. This is in no way to say that high performance and mental health are not compatible — they are, but one must not be at the cost of the other. People need to be given some space to get used to their new routine like cooking twice or thrice a day, cleaning the home every day and getting used to working at home (it is the toughest challenge for me who needs hoomans around to be able to work). We are also dealing with the stress of thinking about the health of our loved ones, if our organizations will survive or not, and what our future looks like — so let’s cut people some slack if they don’t exactly discover Laws of Gravity when they are out of their quarantine.
4. Privileged vs. poor
In several interviews of The Fault In Our Stars, John Green has spoken about how most often — people look at physically-challenged people to draw ‘inspiration’ and see their life as something that you need to learn from since they continue to face challenges and yet live . John emphasizes that that is what not their life is, it is a life with its own problems and its own terms and conditions and many other problems which are same as ours such as heartbreak, car breaking down in the middle of a rain and having a bad manager at a job.
Most of us have a similar attitude towards the underprivileged of our society — looking at them as ‘others’ — with a sympathetic view rather than empathetic. We like to show mercy instead of understanding them on their own terms.
For example, people often like to donate their older clothes which they may have discarded to their house helps without even giving it a second thought if or not they want to wear second hand clothes, assuming , “he is a poor chap whatever I give to them is obviously good for him/her.”
Always putting ourselves on a pedestal while looking at them.
Nothing makes it starker than the crisis.
We could send airplanes to rescue Indian students in Italy, but we have left Indian inter-state migrants to die. With no work, no home, and no money — some of them are forced to walk to their homes and are beaten on the way by police.
We are asking The Haves to take care of the have-nots, but why must the poor be forced to be in a situation where they’re at the mercy of someone’s will? Shouldn’t the government be taking care of them?
The poor are either engaged in industries which are either shut down like car factories or industries, where one must go to work every day including delivery executives, farmers, retail and they, must continue to show up as they don’t have the luxury to use their savings and take an off.
It’s either a pathetic life for them or a risk of life.
The ask isn’t to not employ people. We will continue to employ just as we will continue to be employed by others — the ask is to stop looking at them as beneath us and to stop charity work as acts of a messiah.
5. Gender roles
Even when the world is ending, women take up burden more of more household chores and childcare even when they are doing their office work
I wonder why is it so challenging to teach even modern men to contribute equally to household chores? Why are women taught just to tolerate more than men when they are just as much of a human as men?
The only argument against it, I have heard is that men generally feel more burdened for the financial well being of the family. I wonder how true it is that with women just as much being worried about the family’s economic well-being if not more in modern times.
So towards the end, I would conclude with yes, house arrest is necessary, but the way to do should remain open for discussion. Let’s not make all those enemies who give a differing opinion or question the government or question the efficacy against the alternatives.
And yes, in the end, there are many things I can care about even amid the coronavirus and will continue to worry myself because other troubles of life don’t cease to exist even during a pandemic.