After the Coronavirus - What will Wealth Mean?

Updated: May 24

The global economy is in meltdown but all our experts and leaders say it will bounce back stronger than ever. It may take many years of course, and in the period between now and then fortunes will be made and lost. Lives are being lost and will be lost. Some people will inherit great wealth, others will have their dreams of inheriting great wealth dashed by this singular event.

Meanwhile governments all over the world will be scrambling to find ways to pay back all they have borrowed in order to keep society afloat through the lockdown. Countries which prioritised austerity within the past decade suddenly found the crisis great enough to abandon such methods and replace it with guarantees of income for all, including the homeless and those reliant on food banks to feed their families.

It's a period of compassion and consideration not seen in many countries since the Second World War. But will it continue or is it is due to come to an end at some as yet unknown date?

What then will the future bring?

As virtually bankrupt countries strive to revive their virtually bankrupt economies, will governments tax what's left in ordinary people's bank accounts? Will the homeless people's stays in hotels end abruptly and will they be shunted back out onto the street, without even a sleeping bag? Will the poorer families go back to the food bank, and will the food banks have enough food to give them when the new normal kicks in?

Ordinary people stepped in to fill the food banks with stock when governments cut benefits and businesses cut salaries to the point where many working women and men couldn't afford to buy all the food they needed for their children. These generous, ordinary people who bought food for food banks may themselves no longer have a job; they may no longer have customers if they are self-employed; or they may no longer have their small business, lost in the economic shutdown. Who will then buy the food for the food banks?

In short what will become of us as individuals, as families, as a society, and as a global community?

Before the crisis there were many extraordinarily wealthy people. Many of them slipped their vast riches into off-shore accounts in order to avoid paying taxes. Some governments decried this, saying they therefore couldn't afford vital things like essential supplies for the NHS and other essential services. Other governments, some with ministers who held shares in the corporations who avoid such taxes, colluded in the tax-avoidance, either through a neo-Darwinist philosophy of survival of the fittest - which means the degradation of the most disadvantaged - or through sheer simple greed and selfishness.

After the crisis there will still be extraordinarily wealthy people. And there will be many more "quite wealthy" people. And there will be millions of people who are well-off but normally well-off. And there will be people who are getting by but life's a bit harder and old age might be harder still. And there will be masses of people for whom life will become an almost unbearable stuggle.

This is what the default position is going to be. Wealth as normal.

Meanwhile all the ways of life enforced on us during the lockdown will disappear.

The time to think.

Time to walk.

Use of technology to talk with loved ones.

A much more modest, lower-cost lifestyle.

Simple living - hard for some but a welcome respite for very many.

This is planned to all go in the re-opening of the economy.

Many will find themselves in a new lockdown - a poverty lockdown.

Others will fall back into line in the old pre-crisis lockdown - the hedonic treadmill lockdown. This is the lockdown that impels you to go meaninglessly from one novelty to the next in a never-ending buying spree that brings no lasting worth or inner wealth at all.

And the rich and very rich, will they still avoid paying the taxation that's needed for the NHS to pick up the pieces?

Will they still avoid taxation that would pay for comfortable rooms for the homeless, and the mental health specialists they need to help them recover a sense of stability and wellbeing?

Will they continue to avoid paying the taxes needed for governments to afford benefit payments of sufficient scale to allow people the dignity of going into ordinary supermarkets to buy food for their families instead of undergoing the humiliating indignity of begging for food at a food bank?

And all the heroes? The people who got us through all this...

Will the governments, and the very rich and the ordinary rich, remember how we clapped our gratitude for them every Thursday because they were saving lives every day, risking their own in the process?

Not just the doctors, nurses, and their colleagues;

and not just the care home workers, the social workers, and others directly helping the most vulnerable;

but the bin men,

the folk who served us in the supermarket tills,

and their colleagues who put the food we bought onto the shelves in the first place?

Will we remember them, like we do the fallen from World War One on Armistic Day?

And if they are so important as today we currently think they are, will we pay them as much as the wealthiest in society?

Are they worth as much as the wealthy? If not, why not? If so, how do we reflect that in terms of wealth and incomes?

How we pay people does not need to reflect the market. We could take the entire decision about what people earn out of the market completely. Think about it. Why should work be sold to the lowest bidder?

What is real wealth anyway?

For me wealth means a good roof over my head, clean water available on tap, enough money for food for my family, and a ready supply of utilities and health services. It also means as much safety and security from birth to death as can be realistically offered in an uncertain world. That level of wealth should be there for everyone.

I don't need £1 million for that, and if I had £1 million it would mean that someone else - some other people - wouldn't have as much as they deserve, because so many people in society and around the world are doing vital work for the benefit of us all and they are simply not earning their fair share.

I would be hoarding that money for myself, when most of it actually belongs to them.

What is the new normal going to feel like?

A new fairer beginning, or back to the old ways where some have way too much and some have way too little? When we stop clapping those who kept us alive, those who kept everyday services going, at real risk to themselves and their families, when all that stops will we argue that every person deserves a fair share of society's wealth, reflecting the fact that most workers contribute equally to the wellbeing of everyone else?

Everyone deserves a life of wealth, and that means the financial wealth in our world must be shared far more equally that it currently is. How we accomplish that I don't know, but we do need to be clear that it is how it should be. Otherwise all the clapping, all the gratitude, will have been just a token gesture, a romantic display, but with nothing real behind it.



© 2019 by Martin Stepek.