Time for a new story
A corona is the halo of light around the solar eclipse. The coronavirus crisis can ensure a more balanced economy. Care and solidarity must support our economy and society.
Under a crystal-clear sky and the chirping of birds, our economy glides into a state of slow motion. Foremost, the virus is a drama and poses a great risk for society and its people. Next to that, it is also a strange experience. It is quiet, mostly dogs with their owners populate the streets.
Only “vital functions” are fulfilled. Non-vital employees have to stay at home or work from home. They are not really necessary. Childcare is only available for people who work in healthcare, and other employees that we really cannot do without. The rest must arrange childcare themselves. Raising children is a vital function in society, and suddenly childcare is too.
This is remarkable. Our view of the economy and income is rapidly changing. Our values change. The term “Working Netherlands” takes on a different meaning than before. Our health is number one, and better-paid employees sit at home these days. We have traded shopping for a quiet walk. Nature makes itself heard, people no longer dominate everything.
And that new reality leads, next to all the illness and disruption, to crucial reflection. Considering how we have organized our society and our economy. We reflect on the value of well-paid, low-paid, and unpaid labor for the economy and our society. We reflect on the value of (working) time. And we reflect on what everything is all about.
Ever since the coronavirus spread throughout the world, there is great appreciation for the people who work in healthcare. Everyone now sees that these vital functions are worth a lot, but that at the same time they are not the highest-paying jobs.
It started with applause from balconies in Spain and Italy, followed by applause and flags in the Netherlands. A standing ovation. Professionals take care of the sick and are at risk themselves. This crucial interest is now visible and visibly appreciated.
In addition, there are care activities that are not paid. We also applaud all these unpaid people! Unpaid care activities, such as care for children, family, for the earth, the environment, social contacts, and culture, are vital as well. And this is more visible as well. In this time of crisis in the Netherlands, we are seeing more solidarity and more unpaid voluntary initiatives.
A different world
The current old economy is being hit hard, and we will soon have to deal with it when this is over. We are curious to hear what Prime Minister Rutte will say on behalf of the national government. Will it again be: “Buy the car you wanted for a long time”, trying to stimulate consumerism? Or does this crisis bring a different vision and a different world closer than ever?
Will there be a reflection on our incomplete society with our focus on rules and procedures? We need a vision of how we can organize society differently. A society where not money but people are completely central again.
Once again: paralyzing the current economy gives us time to reflect on this and think about a different economy. An economy in which we realize that it mainly consists of services and care. An economy in which solidarity and security of existence are paramount.
Making unpaid work visible
The crisis is a disaster, but it also shows us where we come short. And it brings up essential questions. How can we take better care of each other? How can we take better care of our Earth? How can we also make unpaid intrinsically-motivated care work visible in our economic model?
We should think about care credits. Some examples: a pension for unpaid caregivers, a universal global price for oxygen, better reimbursements for volunteers. And yes, we should consider a universal basic income.
These proposals and ideas can be a lever for changing values and appreciation for all the (unpaid) care work and solidarity that is now visible in this crisis. And these measures can be a safeguard to achieve a different society and a new economic model. Because there is no one who has never been taken care of, and everyone will ever take care of someone.
A corona is the halo of light around the solar eclipse. A fragile light shines behind the dark. The coronavirus crisis can provide a more balanced picture of the economy. It is not the banks and stock markets, but it is solidarity and care that support our economy and society.
It’s time for a new story.
Jan Atze Nicolai
Political thinker and poet
Member of the Board of Vereniging Basisinkomen (BIEN member)a