This is a question that most of us have mixed feelings about. Me and my co-author come from the two worlds that end up gaining or losing the most depending on which side the decision turns. Here’s what he thinks.
However, I feel it is inevitable to open up the lockdown, irrespective of the state of affairs, once the virus has reached community spread stage.
Is it the capitalism talking?
I am studying right now at HBS, the institution that coined the term “capitalism”. And, in a time of crisis like right now, decisions of USA’s government, the heart of global capitalism, has called into question the belief in this system. Capitalism had been losing popularity as we all know it (see the graph below). But it might cease to exist after this pandemic, atleast in its current shape and form.
But, what is capitalism? Money over people? Only focus on profits? Maybe. Maybe not. The definition has twisted over years, and the actions of a certain set of people has destroyed the original construct.
What alternative do we have?
In the last article, we spoke about this pandemic is affecting different people differently. But, the biggest difference is across the socioeconomic strata of our society. My brother can work from home in a tech company, that can maybe weather the storm sitting online. But what about the millions of migrant workers who have nothing back home to go to and nothing to look at for the coming months? Who do not have enough money for food? Who are not even literate enough to apply for the ration distribution government schemes? Or those who don’t have a place to live or rather is a family of 6 living in a one-bedroom house with limited internet?
Someone told me how this virus is a social neutraliser. You can be a Boris Johnson and catch the virus, or you can be a farmer in a rural developing country – the virus might hit you equally.
But, the truth is that social distancing, working from home, or even having the resources to buy enough disinfectants or sanitisers is a privilege. In a country like India, where a huge chunk of population is dependant on daily jobs and it is extremely difficult for government’s fiscal stimulus to reach the person in need, the economy can’t stay shut for long.
Our people will die of hunger if they don’t die of the virus.
Can there be a middle ground?
We have to take the middle ground – that is the only way. Countries that did not resort to lockdown are standing examples of the kind of disaster we can expect. But, keeping everything shut for long is an equally disastrous example that India might not want to create.
The healthcare providers in the country are already overloaded as the number of cases are shooting up. Letting 1Bn people walk around freely in a landmass that is globally the most densely populated is a recipe for disaster. The initial signs of a relaxed lockdown period are alarming of what can go wrong.
But a staged gradual revitalisation of the economy could be helpful.
Government-funded infrastructure and manufacturing projects working towards self-sustenance can be a great way to generate employment for the ones who need it the most. Using our tech talent to create better supply chain platforms for agriculture industry can be another way. This could engage the two far ends of our society together. All these projects however, have audacious funding requirements.
Tax collection has been one of the biggest challenges for India. Hence, raising debt seems to be the only plausible option. And a depreciating currency and weakening sentiment can make it hard. Public donations could make things better. But every small act of keeping domestic help employed through this time or providing for the people in need around you can go a long way!