I was thinking recently about the Coronavirus situation, and without wanting to go into the specific Irish question (for the record, I want North and South to strongly co-ordinate with each other), I have noticed that despite all our best wishes – on paper at least – to want to just “follow the science” and make the right decisions “based on science”, this is usually beyond us all whatever the peer reviewed studies will say about the virus over the next weeks and months.
All of us, if we are honest, seems to have a slightly favoured personal default position, I know that I have certain sympathies for the Swedish “Prof. Johan Giesecke” position and that others have sympathies for the “ICL” or “Prof. Neil Ferguson” position. Nearly all of us are of course strict amateurs when it comes to the actual in-depth science, it goes without saying.
I noticed that the scientists themselves have this bias too, Prof. Neil Ferguson in his recent interview on YouTube for the Unherd Lockdown TV program, said that we all have to learn directly from China on how to contain and beat the virus. Interesting, his politics are shining through, was what I gleaned from this pronouncement of his.
I do think we should all be upfront and honest about this. If we as individuals are more conservative-minded or libertarian (full disclosure: I fall into this category) we believe (in general) that life is risk, that people are free, that we are all going to die one day (perhaps much sooner than some of us think), and that life is a challenge to be accepted and enjoyed; every day that I leave my house I am subjecting myself to a certain risk by driving my car, having stress at work drives my blood pressure up, and a hundred other things.
I must be careful and protect myself and others of course, but not too fearful – life is not to be lived in fear. Government is only there to serve the people and not the other way around; its role is necessarily very limited and strictly defined. It must never exceed its competence. It is there to do our (the people’s) will, never the other way around. Government is under us, reporting to us, never above us. If I want to drink too much, or smoke too much, or whatever, that is no concern of the state (unless I drink and drive). It may be immoral in a personal sense, but that is my business, not that of government.
If we as individuals are more oriented towards the left side of the political spectrum, then we have a different set of general beliefs or ideas. (I will try to do justice to them here and not pigeonhole them in an unfair way – difficult but here goes). We will believe in general that the state must be strong, very “in control”, and often very centralized, must step in and intervene much more to try to ensure that weaker elements of society are protected against the stronger that may exploit them, and must do everything possible to alleviate any death, distress, sorrow, hardship etc.
If that means that the state must take on extra powers and special powers and centralize more and weaken somewhat individual freedoms, then so be it and all the better. The goal is to make things better, to drive towards an ideal society, so the state must get the power to be able to achieve this worthy goal of making the world a better place.
And then came the Coronavirus. What we already know about this virus I will sum up as follows: it is by far the worst pandemic in living memory (living memory extends back to the late 1970s in my case). It is nothing like as bad as the 1918 Spanish flu, which claimed in huge numbers the lives of the young and the healthy also. Thank God that our children seem to be spared and that we must not fear for our young this time around. It is far more like the 1957 Asian flu or the 1968 Hongkong flu in terms of seriousness. “Much worse than the normal ‘flu, much better than the Spanish one” would sum things up.
My first instinct is to think about how blessed and fortunate I have been to have lived well over 40 years on this earth without ever encountering such a threat as this. I freely admit that I was terribly scared going into work in mid-March in the midst of the virus’s big first wave. I feel fear even today as I go to work. After an initial period (17th March – 21st April) in which I mostly tried to work from home and only went into work physically once a week, I have since more or less started up normal physical work presence again. It seems that I haven’t had it (yet).
But the fear is still there. I think that conservatives must acknowledge this, that there are two completely normal competing instincts, the instinct to get back to activity and get the economy working again, and the instinct to be prudent and protect oneself and to want to stay at home.
Now on to the more controversial stuff. Conservatives like myself will tend to fall on the side of “getting back to work” and left of center individuals will tend to emphasize caution in lifting the lockdown. I understand very well that we have already destroyed our underlying economic strength through this lengthy lockdown. For socialists, there are of course 2 motivations for wanting to keep the lockdown in place as long as possible: firstly to be as careful as possible and maybe “save lives”, and secondly, the longer we destroy our free economies in the West through lockdown, as we are undeniably doing at present, the more the people “en masse” become utterly dependent and of necessity more amenable to what the Germans call “Vater Staat” principles – the “father state” will provide for you.
The final bill from this terrible virus is yet to be presented to the population of each country. But the enormous shortfall in each state can only be offset by a) a huge increase in taxes when we start up again (not going to happen, just not feasible politically) or b) central banks expanding their balance sheets and printing “funny money” to cover the shortfall. At the same time, it is obvious that socialist calls for universal income, free stuff for everybody out of nowhere in other words, which were already present before this crisis, will multiply tenfold as we come out of it.
From my perspective nations printing more money is clearly the worst of all solutions and hides within it the crash of the complete system (à la Germany 1923), but I also think this is the solution which all states in Europe at least will move towards. Probably the US too. It will be perceived as the path towards re-election by many politicians. Just let the Central Banks sort it out.
On a long term perspective, obviously the country that is (sadly once again) the source of this terrible outbreak (China) and whose government has taken clear steps to inhibit and block the free flow of information on the virus, with catastrophic results for the world, has stepped up its PR relations work. It has offered (sometimes faulty) gifts of PPE and testing equipment around the world to emphasize what a good government it is and to upgrade its image.
The PRC is also emphasizing how wonderfully well it has dealt with the virus compared to its rival, Trump-led USA. China has understood that post-Covid the US is going to withdraw completely from China and a new Cold War era is opening, so it must position itself as a friend of the rest of Asia, Russia, Africa, and most of all, Europe.
Can we detach Europe from the US is the key question that the Communist Party in China may be asking itself? This will be the defining question for the EU and the other European nations in the aftermath of these crises. How do we define ourselves vis-à-vis China and the USA, the two Super-Powers of the modern world? Who do we orientate ourselves towards?
Ulster “Frenchman”. Socially conservative, mildly unionist, strongly capitalist.
Likes Edmund Burke.