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What now? Post Covid-19

Viewed 620 times 2020-4-8 07:38 |Personal category:Quote Me|System category:Economy

It is obvious the world has changed. It is not just the Coronavirus that has us worried for our immediate survival. We are seriously worried for the times to come, post COVID-19, well after the novel Coronavirus has washed over us all, retreated or we achieve a sort of equilibrium with it, just like with so many other diseases and viruses.

What seems to be fueling a lot of the worry, the anger, angst and venting in many 'advanced' countries, my own Australia included, seems to be rooted in a very powerful realization - the powerlessness, the feeling of helplessness, frustration and vulnerability when it comes to our critical dependence on other countries for about 90% of the things we use in our daily life, things we took for granted, things we got at ridiculously cheap prices for about a generation now, that we no longer have the factories, the skills or the scale of economy to produce for ourselves.

While the immediate availability of some critical medicines, medical equipment, masks, personal protective equipment, ventilators, toilet paper, paper towel, hand sanitizers etc get all the immediate attention, almost everyone realizes that we cannot produce most of the other things that are less critical but just as important in our daily lives - toothbrushes, mobile phones, pens, drinking straws, plates, cups, small appliances, lighters, cling wrap, saucepans, the list is endless.  We realize that if our easy supply to these at very low prices is cut-off, we cannot easily make any of them in a hurry or in a crunch. It will take years to set up factories, skilled people and supply chains of all raw and processed materials to churn out a toothbrush here in Australia that will cost $20 perhaps. It cannot compete with what is available for less a dollar on the shelves, even today. A lot of us cannot afford the more expensive options for these, even if they were available!

I am constantly amazed at the value I get buying something in a $2 shop - a set of nail-clippers for 2 dollars or a pair of scissors, very good quality steel and finish, in sealed package and sold for a profit here in Australia or any advanced country. It boggles the mind for how much less the original manufacturer makes it and sells it for a profit to the middlemen along the way who export it, import it and then retail it and sell it to me, the consumer, for $2!! Twenty years ago, the quality of these simple products was not very good, but they keep getting better and better. The price has changed very little in twenty years.

Now, we ask ourselves the critical the question - Can we produce something like this nail-clipper or toothbrush in Australia for $2? Can we do it soon after this Coronovirus crisis passes? Can we do it ever? Can we produce it for say $5? How much are we willing to pay for it? How soon can we do it? How exactly do we do it? Should we attempt to do so? We need to answer these questions, however uncomfortable they may make us.

Well, on each and every one of the about a hundred products around the house that we use regularly, critical sometimes, bought cheaply and in plentiful supply from around the world today, we will need to make a considered decision - should we attempt to make it ourselves? How critical is it? If we want to establish a manufacturing base in our 'advanced' country now, should we only make some products and not others? Does it not make sense to make many products so that the scale of economy of large numbers benefits us using the common raw materials for many products?

Now, every developed and developing country in the world today should and will ask these questions of themselves.

So, what is the way forward to overcome our present situation of over-dependence on others and the scar it has created on our psyche?

I would contend that one of the critical changes we will need to make in our 'advanced' societies is - as a permanent feature, we need a large section of our society to be motivated to manufacture the little, unglamourous products we use everyday. We will need to value a life lived in 'giving to one's country' by running  profitable, capitalistic, viable, useful businesses. The countries we import a lot of stuff from have managed to do this to a great degree. The skills, expertise, knowledge of STEM and other subjects in a sound manufacturing base is one of a nation's treasures.

We will need to encourage and empower enough people to be everything from entrepreneurs to workers in highly productive factories, to do so earning modest wages and profits, to do so with a vision of larger time frame than their own working lives - taking into account the future and lives of their children, grandchildren and future generations. These producers will need to keep their expectations and greed within reasonable limits - the fear of joblessness on one hand and the motivation to do something for the future generations on the other hand can together help to achieve this end.

We will need to motivate others to support these efficient producers of goods and services - policy makers to reduce the burden of regulation and taxes, the consumers to commit some loyalty to local manufacturing, the culture and arts to value and encourage an active capitalistic culture of local businesses. We will need to generate respect for a spirit of 'giving of oneself' to build a better society for our future generations that live within our country. "Sacrifice", except in military seems to have become a term with negative connotations. Sacrificing the desire for greater profit and settling for a smaller profit is considered unusual in our present culture.

We will need to change the mindset of our banking systems, our political leaders and policies in government in significant ways. Our current culture  unrealistically sends the message that only the 'biggest' dreams, highest technology, the most glamorous professions or products or loftiest goals are worth pursuing, encouraging most to aim for those and sending a lot of our kids ill-prepared into real life. Our current culture encourages too much selfishness  and a sense of entitlement in all of us. While our present levels of wealth-plus-debt has made life easily sustainable and comfortable (relative to many countries from where we import so much stuff), the current Corona crisis and its aftermath will, without our extra effort, provide the real fear and possibility of much lower quality of life and hard struggle. That is one of the main sources of 'motivation' for a lot of people to work hard and to succeed in making something or making something of themselves. I grew up in somewhat similar circumstances in my youth in India.

Here in Australia, we have  raised a generation or two that is used to getting things instantly, cheaply, taking things for granted, encouraged to pursue their most attractive dreams at the 'higher' levels of a fanciful pecking order and taking most of the 'lower tech', mundane products and services for granted - to be provided by others in other countries, for the cheapest prices, readily available. Now that we have been bitten by that flawed notion, it is time to make a change. It is time to learn from countries that have developed the capacity to produce the most mundane and unglamorous products we need to use everyday or those that are critical for some life-and-death situations!!

Until we reach a level of maturity of a functioning manufacturing base in Australia, we might have to accept and see some not so high quality products, that are not as cheap as we are used to, but we must persist and help improve over time, not just criticize and desert them. Loyalty and commitment to a nation in this area of self-reliance in manufacturing  of crucial items should be applauded not condemned as 'narrow thinking'. This new moment in history provides some incredible opportunities if one looks at it from this angle.

Copyright (c) KIyer 2020
All rights reserved

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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