What does COVID-19 tell us?
For once, we are in this together.
Whether you are the Queen, Prime Minister, Minister, serial head of statutory bodies or a genius, you are as vulnerable as the cashier or porter in the hospital.
In the United Kingdom, society now realised how important it is to maintain a universal health care system, free at the point of delivery. And a welfare safety net for all.
We also realise that the real heroes in this crisis are the nurses and doctors at the frontline. Hopefully after this crisis, we can bury all the neo-liberal schemes aimed at privatising the health care system under the guise of efficient management of resources through the market system.
Over this crisis, we further acknowledge that without the “low skilled” workers, society will come to a halt, and more will die than COVID-19 can infect. Businesses too will perish.
Only yesterday, the news showed large strawberry and asparagus farms in Europe ready to be harvested, but there are no hired hands available to do the picking. Robots to do the job? They too need human hands at the keyboard.
The much derided Karl Marx of Communist Manifesto fame would explain that those asparagus and strawberries are of no value unless brought to the market. The hands which eventually deliver those fruits to the market are the creator of value, therefore wealth. And that is the value of labour. But that labour is given the derogatory term “unskilled” or “migrant” to justify their poor and precarious existence.
If we are in it together now, if we stand to applause the work of the nurses and doctors as we did in the United Kingdom, we too should do the same for the cashiers, the delivery persons, the train and bus drivers, the security guards, the cleaners and the strawberry pickers.
Until recently, we were told there was no magic money tree to be fair and kind to all. Miraculously, we now have an orchard of money trees.
Donald Trump, until now denied the threat of COVID-19 for ideological reasons. A lockdown would force the state to deliver the magic money tree to help those out of work, and even the homeless. For him, that is introducing socialism through the backdoor. But this is what he now has to do.
The Economists, a UK establishment weekly, is quick to say that introducing the big state is just an aberration to cope with this crisis, but Capitalism is still fundamentally fine. Let’s watch and see.
Meanwhile, tiny Singapore copes better than any other Western country in curbing the spread of COVID-19 with testing and tracking. By Western standards it is intrusive. The ruling party is quick to capitalise on this success by attributing it to style of illiberal governance, and no doubt will award themselves further pay rise in the near future. They have already boasted about being able to draw on the huge state reserves to pay those out of work, and affected businesses.
Even though it is bad taste to politicise on COVID-19 for party political gain, the Singapore ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is unashamedly preparing for elections despite advocating social distancing. They intend to harvest the COVID-19 dividend.
No doubt the opposition would remind the voters that South Korea and Taiwan are equally successful in fighting COVID-19, despite their far more open and democratic governance, while countries elsewhere with reserves not as big as Singapore are also able to harvest their orchard of magic money trees in time of need. Whether that will persuade the Singaporeans at the impending elections is yet to be tested.
Singaporeans in particular are fed with the ideology that society should be thankful to the elites, without whom the system would collapse. But like everywhere else, elites are in fact dispensable. It’s the ordinary skilled, semi-skilled, unskilled and migrants who are in it together. They should have a fair share of the fruits of our collective labour at all times, not only in the period of crisis.
The world after COVID-19 may have a brighter future after all this mayhem.
Tan Wah Piow,
Lockdown in London, lockout of Singapore