I remember the early days of the lockdown when there was a sense that maybe we would emerge out of this as better people, living in a better society. Three months into the start of the pandemic in the West, these thoughts sound so naive.
Let’s be factual. Consider two of the major problems that our society was experiencing pre-COVID: environmental damage and income inequality. The longer it takes to eradicate the virus, the more dramatic and irreversible the acceleration of those two pillars of our society’s decay.
Environment, first. Remember, in the eighteen months before COVID we were witnessing encouraging, albeit tentative, developments. There was a choral movement of citizen awareness, developing regulation, and, finally, real initiatives from corporations.
Recess is over (sound of a bell).
Understandably, the primary concern of people, right now, is protecting themselves and their beloved from contagion. Add to this, households’ financial stability has suddenly and dramatically worsened, due to the jump in unemployment levels. The environment has lost many positions in the ranking of preoccupations. Even worse. In the memory of most, the clear skies we are enjoying in typically hazy cities will link to the tremendous social and economic distress the lockdowns have caused. Climate change sceptics will quickly resuscitate the trade-off between environmental sustainability and economic growth that, as a society, we were starting to overcome.
An easy prediction: nation-states — that in this crisis have revealed what they are: a badly aged political institution— will re-direct resources earmarked for environmental improvements to other means. Of course, it is understandable to try to protect households through subsidising employment. But this is an unconditional subsidy to corporations, and it is a wasted opportunity. Policymakers should only grant financing to corporations that contractually commit to a better engagement on corporate sustainability. Or maybe it is too naive to hope that our national politicians could incubate such a complex thought.
For corporations, it is even easier to unwind the modest pre-COVID progresses. Here as well, it makes perfect sense that the priority of CFOs and CEOs becomes to repay debt that they are accumulating in…