“We should not go back to the old ways.”

We are living through a global pandemic and life as we knew it will perhaps never be the same again, That’s the hope anyway. Because there are a lot of things about the way life was before that need rethinking — and COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to do this.

In the 21st century, there was life before the virus, there is now lockdown and life during the virus and, at some point, there will be life after the virus — but will the latter be the same as our old way of living? There is much discussion now of ‘getting the economy going’ again, of getting things back to ‘normal’ again but is our plan just to restore the same economic model and the same old systems?


Or is now the time to rethink the way we live?

Several falsehoods about our lives have been exposed by the lockdown. Key among these is the myth that the old way of working and studying was the only way: fixed hours of attendance at sites you had to physically travel to. It turns out that this ‘hazri’ culture is not actually essential, and many of these ways of working were just constructs whose aim was to strengthen a type of corporate or darbari culture. Not allowing people to work from home stemmed perhaps from a reluctance to lose control of staff. The institutions that would hire expensive consultants to help them ‘save money’ and work efficiently told us that it was too expensive to have individual desks for staff and subjected them to the horrors of hotdesking. This apparently ‘saved’ some money yet these same organisations would be reluctant to allow staff to work from home routinely even though that would have saved even more money. The permission for ‘working from home’ was given not as the norm, but as some kind of great favour or concession which involved HR, applications and a degree of workplace politics.

Well now nearly everybody’s working from home and we realise this has actually been possible for many, many years and that perhaps the workplace would have caught up with technology long ago if there weren’t so many dubious management practices and vested interests involved. Apart from the workplace, there is the question of the classroom and what it is — is it a physical reality or an intellectual one? In Britain, university education was once state-funded and all about education rather than businesses.

“We’ll have to rethink education completely — especially university education.”

But in the last decade universities have been turned into businesses which are less about education and more about profits. The students are called ‘clients’ and since university fees are now more than three times what they were ten years ago, they are saddled with crippling student debt (student loans are given by a private profit-seeking company). Students invest so much that they are afraid to challenge intellectual views of question anything professors say because they know that they need to get good grades because of their investment. Instead of concentrating on the wellbeing of their students, universities seem to have become more focused on marketing their brand in order to attract a maximum number of ‘customers’ or ‘clients’. But even when the riches poured in, it never seemed to be the academic staff who’d benefit but rather the ‘managers.’

We’ll have to rethink education completely — especially university education. In Argentina, most young people get their first degree while working full time. Work by day and take evening classes. It might take longer but it definitely seems to be a more productive way to live. Oh, and state universities are free.  Of course, education can not all be virtually based but perhaps a large part of it does need to be.

Then there’s the question of how society values work. Of how bankers are more highly paid and valued than ‘unskilled’ workers. How financial managers are much better paid than medical professionals. Now we realise who are the professionals that society really needs when in times of trouble: they are the medical professionals, the cleaners, the garbage collectors, the bus drivers, the police, the fire brigade, the people who run food shops and stack shelves. These are essential, these are the people we should value, these are the jobs we need to pay people well to do.

We need to think of new businesses too. Instead of having an endless number of restaurants and coffee shops to ‘provide employment’ perhaps we should have more businesses whose goal is to contribute to community welfare employing people. We need more cooperative models of working and more localised businesses. Instead of manufacturing fast fashion and throwaway clothes which encourage frivolous spending and whose plastic fibres are clogging up the oceans and rivers, we perhaps should concentrate on businesses that produce food.

“And guess who governments need to fund now? Not bigshot entrepreneurs and investment bankers, they need to support medical professionals, health workers and research scientists.”

The virus and subsequent lockdown exposed a number of vulnerabilities in life as we were living it, and one of these was the matter of food production and supply. Perhaps now we need to have a national policy of localised production: local dairy farming, local livestock, locally grown fruit and vegetables. Apart from the fact that this will avoid the issue of complicated supply chains, many people in the health, economic and development sectors have long argued that this is a healthier and more sustainable way to live. This way food production would be organic and fresh – not shipped from the other side of the world. And in terms of food, we need to unlearn the mantra that endless choice is good. The illusion that the more choice you have in choosing, for example, a brand of chocolate shows how ‘free’ you are as people needs to be dispelled. And we need to move back to the idea of quality not quantity in the way we live.

And new initiatives need to be set up to care for the environment. The enforced detox brought on by the lockdown has shown us bluer skies, clearer air and cleaner waters. We need to have a policy of setting up local initiatives to support this which are goal-oriented and not just motivated by a profit motive.

And guess who governments need to fund now? Not bigshot entrepreneurs and investment bankers, they need to support medical professionals, health workers and research scientists. And they need to provide free broadband and digital access to all citizens because when push comes to shove this is something that will benefit the whole of society. We need more government spending, new frameworks and new initiatives based on a clear vision of what our priorities are now.

People and governments need to come together and come up with a new way to live and a new model of economics, We can make a whole new sort of world; a world minus dodgy ‘outsourcing’, privatisation, unsound financial instruments, economic disparity and unbridled greed. But what’s needed is a lot of imaginative ideas and a bold new way of thinking. We need to be creative.