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  • Writer's pictureThink Upstream

None of us are safe until all of us are safe

In the age of COVID-19 trying to tackle so many enormous issues like jobs, wages, and investments is like throwing kerosene on the fire of economic uncertainty, according to Plan B podcast guest Armine Yalnizyan, economist and fellow at the Atkinson Foundation researching the future of workers.

A person working on their laptop at home.

Ralph Benmergui

This virus has been, in Armine Yalnizyan’s words, “A blitzkrieg on huge sectors of the economy.” 

It’s upending everything: how we work and where we work. Do we value our new telework reality and demand that we commute less? If so, what are the implications for commercial real estate? 

Some believe that we will want more work-life balance. A positive. But there are many uncertainties.

The recovery will come in waves for many businesses. When it does unfold, it might lead to a green opportunity. 

Infrastructure projects can pivot away from an already precarious oil and gas sector to retrofitting hundreds of thousands of residential and commercial properties. Renewable energy can leave us in a global leadership position.

Yalnizyan helps us to remember that we were already a deeply indebted society, with household debt up to 172% of incomes, before COVID-19 sent the global economy crashing.

Could we move away from business as usual towards a more caring economy as we clear the rubble of the COVID-19 moment? 

One of the most transformative aspects of this crisis is happening because we have pared away all non-essential activities. There might be many Canadians who are now examining their spending habits. We might awaken to the siren song of consumption that has steered us away from the insatiable cycles of want.

How we look at markets and governments is changing, too. This is an unprecedented economic collapse that has governments stepping in to save their countries from the worst.

And we face new questions and challenges as we look toward recovery. For instance,  what do we do with the national debts of countries that will never be able to pay it back?

Yalnizyan wonders if it is time to forgive those crippling debt burdens, unleashing innovation and entrepreneurial energies that can contribute more positively to the global reset.

We are indeed, as she points out, “through the looking glass.” But to mix my metaphors, perhaps this time all the Kings/Queens’ horses and all their men/women can put Humpty Dumpty together again. This time shedding some of the remnants of an economy more suited to the twentieth century; to create, in its place, a resilient and caring society that values our social safety and rewards our work in a more balanced way. 

Inside this virulent and existential threat may be the seeds of a brighter, cleaner, and more sustainable future. We certainly have that within our power.

Perhaps we can move from flattening this COVID-19 curve to creating the tools to flatten the climate crisis trajectory and strengthen our public health institutions—so we are ready for the next pandemic, whenever it may come.

Sounds so daunting but, on the other hand, this crisis could leave us with the truth that, as Yalnizyan states: “None of us is safe until all of us are safe.” 

Ralph Benmergui is an award-winning broadcaster, host of Plan B, and a sudden homeschooler who is now afraid of going to the grocery store. 

This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.


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