People or Our Economy –  What matters most?

Any journalist will tell you that anything you write about in the moment – especially a big moment like COVID-19  – is, at best, a very rough draft of history. The passage of time will tell you whether you were close. So, I write this with careful footsteps, but I feel compelled to write it anyway. I feel a thread of optimism that won’t be silenced, and while I don’t want to look away from the pain of the present – nor could I, as there’s much too much to be done – I do want to look forward, just a little.

As the current situation unfolds, there are so many angles to look at, it’s almost surreal. Depending on the media you tune into, it is either 18 freight trains coming together in the biggest ever crash or a perfect storm of complex systems that are so complicated that they can barely be understood. Whatever your preference, it’s pretty overwhelming for most of us.

What are the angles:

Media, Government, Medical, Economic, Human?

Let’s start with the Media.

I’m an early person, so every day starts with either the 5am Australian news or the tail end of the US news. They both seem to be on an alternating rotation between “bloodbaths of job losses” and exponential curves of ‘deaths by country’. The accompanying footage is make-shift hospitals in parks, the photo of some dearly loved person who has passed away, the red graphs of some country’s stock exchange and long queues for social security.

The impact? Exhaustion. Sometimes tears.

The Medical Angle

After ten minutes of ‘news’, the mainstream media handover to the medical experts – Chief Medical Officer, Head Nurses, Deputies of both – who update us on our societal scoreboard. How many new cases overnight, any new ‘hotspots’ where people have done the wrong thing, and have we stayed isolated enough to flatten the curve? They remind us, we’re saving lives. They inspire us to do better.

Then the Government Speaks

They start with new restrictions and new rules to save lives. They move to new packages of money to support the people who have stayed home to save lives. They move to packages to support business, so they’re still around to employ people after we’ve finished saving lives. The remind us what happens to people who are isolated (and the impact on mental health) and unemployed (and the impact on poverty and health) and without income (and the impact of violence and crime) and then they attempt to wrap a stimulus package, or seven, like band-aids on all those issues.

A Banker Speaks

As if we’re not overwhelmed enough by the Government speaker, next up is a banker or an economist. They talk about the application of measures to support business or individuals and their impact on both individuals and the collective. They try to make sense of the stock exchange graphs, which are bouncing all over the shop. They’ve never seen anything like this, and they remind us of that.

They warn that the impacts will be awful today and awful tomorrow. We’re putting our economy into hibernation, and whatever fat we have will not be enough. There will be pain.


So, what does all mean?

Is it really a Battle Royale between people and economics?

Or are we smarter than that?

Do we already deeply appreciate they go together?

Two definitions of Economy

Ironically, there are two definitions – and meanings – of Economy.

The first is “the state of a country or region in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services and the supply of money”.

The second is “careful management of available resources”.

In the first definition, it is nothing without people. We are the producers and the consumers and everything in between. In short, there is no economy without us.

In the second definition, we could also be the “resources” that need to be carefully and thoughtfully cared about and managed.

I think we already get it

So, as I watch the news and see “the retail and hospitality bloodbath” I struggle to reconcile the words with our friends who’ve built beautiful stores and restaurants and gyms and are heartbroken, but very understanding, they need to stay home right now. I hope the package and all the changes in rules will hold them safe, but I don’t underestimate their pain and frustration and disappointment.

And I worry for all the little businesses, who have been someone’s life’s work for years. I so hope they also survive to come back and be part of it all again.

Amidst all that pain, there is some hope.

As I listened to the first government ‘stimulus package’, I remember thinking “that’s not an economic package, that’s a society package’ and every one of them since has been the same. They’re not just looking after the economy, they are avoiding anarchy or they’re looking after as many of us as they can, or more than likely, both.

As this unfolds, we’re all understanding that that is exactly what it is.

A health crisis, linked to an economic crisis, that is a societal crisis, that has become a crisis of humanity, that is an opportunity to reset and rethink what’s important.

It’s a hard truth that we sit in the deep pain of the present.

But the future will also be ours.