Over recent weeks and months the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on our society and the global community. We have suffered massive losses to our economy, leaving an unknown employment future for many Australians. We have also accepted dramatic limitations to our ability to participate in social and cultural activities, adjusting to life with an uncertain future.
We have also learned many things.
- We have learned to distinguish the real economy of goods and services from the financial system which has come to dominate it over recent decades.
- We have come to recognise which resources and services are central to our common wellbeing and we have learned to value the knowledge and experience of our health professionals and the facilities they rely on.
- We have learned that widespread cooperation is essential to effectively address a common threat.
- We have agreed that everyone needs a right to protection and support for a society to function well.
- We have learned that the political leadership can lay aside ideology in the face of challenges and take unprecedented measures.
We have also learned that partisan self-interest and market forces fail us when faced with a common threat of this magnitude.
With an uncertain future ahead we must now consider what lessons we will take into the future as a return to "normal" is clearly not an option.
What we know
The current conditions have confronted us with our insecurity and the reality of our total interdependence on each other and the natural environment. They have also helped us to re-evaluate what is important in our lives and what needs to be protected; we now know that the existential challenges we face can no longer be avoided. At the same time we may be heartened by the creativity and generosity of human beings, while not losing sight of our fear based self-interest.
Social justice has long been subjugated to an economic system based on the neoliberal fetish that unrestrained market forces will create optimal outcomes. However a sliver of light has entered in with the unprecedented federal government distribution of payments to individuals. This is indeed acknowledgement that access to the material needs for existence is a human right and should not be subject to market forces.
The promise or threat of a return to economic orthodoxy in Government policy must not be overlooked as it is bound to force an austerity regime and even greater inequality on this country for the foreseeable future. Current levels of private debt can only lead to widespread depression and the notion that we can expand production to pay our way out is not simply fanciful, it is also reckless. Our increasingly fragile natural environment cannot tolerate any expansion of current economic practices.
What we can do
It is time for the best minds in economics and social policy to openly examine the money creation process by the Australian Government and put to rest the misleading notion that money is just another commodity subject to scarcity. We will then be able to have an open and mature discussion about societal values without the limiting mindset encapsulated in the words: “how are we going to pay for it?”
We now know it will be our natural resources, infrastructure and human creativity that will provide for our future well-being. The assertion that future generations will have to somehow repay the federal government for its fiscal injection has been exposed as patently untrue. So let’s stop the "debt myth". Now is also time to explore a debt jubilee as a real option for "resetting" the economy
Now is the time to strengthen our sense for common justice, what it means to be a civilised society. We must relegate the economic process to one of service to our collective needs and interests. The economy should no longer dominate our thinking about social purpose but be recognised as one element in a society which also includes human rights and social justice.
In amongst everything we stand as individuals with our hopes and fears, talents and potential. Everything we undertake depends directly on our capacities, our vision and commitment. We must look to education, science and the arts for the ideas and inspiration that can address our collective concerns. The free flow and sharing of ideas and imagination will be our strongest ally in steering a future course.
A word of caution
Uncertainty easily leads to a retreat into old habits. We are all subject to limitation and a tendency to see the foe in “the other”. A new paradigm requires sacrifice of the old, maybe letting go of comforts, especially mindsets. Before we demand that others change their views are we able to examine our own by way of example?
Our future is in our hands if our minds are free
The challenges we face are not just material. They include the full spectrum of human experience. New ideas like seeds need a fertile soil to germinate and grow. We can all contribute to that by committing to learning and exploration as well as letting go of old thought habits.
We may take courage in the motto that we are never confronted with a challenge that we do not have the capacity to address.