JvM Green Papers #1
The silver lining to the crisis
Ten positive side effects of coronavirus
THESIS: Not everything is doom and gloom. Alongside the dry coughs and high fevers, there’s evidence that coronavirus is also having positive side effects on Germans’ values, attitudes, and behaviors.
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1. CORONAVIRUS IS TEACHING US NOT TO WORRY.
With coronavirus, we find ourselves caught between hope and despair: on the one hand, there are the people dancing on balconies, on the other, there are the skyrocketing infection curves. But Germans have so far been relatively relaxed about the increasing restrictions on their lives. In a study entitled “The German Balancing Act” by the market research company GIM, just 8% of respondents reported being “very worried” about coronavirus, while 53% are pretty laid-back about the crisis.1
2. CORONAVIRUS REVEALS HOW SPOILED WE USED TO BE.
“Thai again?” – “I’m bored sick of the lunch options around here” – “When is our gin bar finally going to get some new varieties in?” These sorts of questions, which were so pressing a few weeks ago, seem absurd today. Now, we can’t wait to sit down with friends for our first post-quarantine pizza – and it won’t need to be anything crazy or exotic, just a good old margherita. We can now appreciate the importance of enjoying authentic food in good company, and would take that over the latest fancy culinary fad any day.2, 3
3. CORONAVIRUS SHOWS US WHAT WE REALLY NEED. AND WHAT WE DON’T.
Germany is the only country that isn’t making up for being unable to shop in-store by doing more online shopping instead; 15% actually report buying less online than normal. That’s because we’re still buying the daily essentials (especially toilet paper) from brick-and-mortar stores, but in these times of furlough and short-time working we’re cutting out the inessential luxuries. If I’m sat at home this spring, I don’t need a spring wardrobe. Coronavirus might permanently alter our buying habits and mean we remain more mindful of what we buy even after the critical phase of the crisis has passed.4
4. CORONAVIRUS IS MAKING US LOOK AFTER OURSELVES BETTER.
“I’m way too stressed to meditate.” “I never get round to exercise.” – In pre-corona times, we often felt like taking care of our physical and mental health could be left to another day. But nowadays, many people have snapped out of this habit of procrastination because they’ve realized they need to be in tip-top condition to deal with coronavirus and its consequences. Instead of piling on the pounds in social isolation, they’d rather return to normality fitter than ever, and so they’re streaming workouts and downloading mindfulness apps.5
5. CORONAVIRUS IS BRINGING OUT OUR HUMANITY.
Jan Böhmermann puts it in a nutshell: “At the moment, what matters is not who we want to be, but who we actually are.” All of a sudden, everyone’s appearing on camera in conference calls from their living rooms or home dens with unbrushed hair and no makeup. We have regular virtual catchups with friends and arrange to buy groceries for the elderly couple upstairs in our mutual aid group. Alongside the toilet paper boom, sales of condoms and sex toys are also soaring.6 And the far right is finally losing ground in the polls. From one day to the next, solidarity is in, selfishness and showing off are out.7
6. CORONAVIRUS SHOWS WHICH GENDER DOES THE WORK THAT MATTERS.
The women working behind the supermarket checkouts or in care homes are suddenly the center of attention. People working in underappreciated, traditionally female jobs are now being publicly thanked by the chancellor and cheered by people from their balconies – and over 70% of these key workers are women. Within this group, nurses earn the most at €38,600 per year, and checkout assistants the least at around €26,800. Even the higher end of this spectrum is far below the average gross annual income in Germany, which stood at €50,300 in 2019. So this is a great opportunity to recognize who society really relies on and acknowledge that the economy would collapse without the workers and consumers who keep it going.8, 9
7. CORONAVIRUS MOTIVATES US TO LOOK OUTSIDE OUR BUBBLE.
Of course, even for those of us who are relatively privileged, the corona crisis is no picnic. But for those who were already struggling, who can’t work from home, who suddenly find themselves confined to a single room in a dormitory or residence hall, who are completely reliant on their next pay package, its impact is far more devastating. That’s something we shouldn’t overlook when we’re celebrating the opportunities opened up by the crisis or criticizing other people’s apparently irresponsible behavior. Remember, not everyone’s situation is the same as yours, nor is everyone having the same experience as you. But we’re all stuck in this crisis together. So let’s use this unexpected free time to think beyond our own individual bubble.10, 11
8. CORONAVIRUS IS FORCING US BACK TO THE WORLD OF FACTS.
From politicians to YouTube stars, the last few years have been dominated by polarizing figures whose motto seemed to be “the louder the better.” But now reliable knowledge, reason, and expertise appear to be making something of a comeback. Angela Merkel, a scientist by training, is taking a thoughtful, matter-of-fact approach to governing;12 virologists like Christian Drosten are providing us with level-headed scientific explanations;13 public service broadcasters are keeping millions of Germans informed with news bulletins and special programming.14 The populist era is making way for the new stars of rationality and enlightenment. Now we need to make sure this rekindled love of facts becomes permanently ingrained in our collective mindset.
9. CORONAVIRUS PROVES HOW AGILE AND CREATIVE WE CAN BE.
Volkswagen is exploring the possibility of manufacturing medical equipment.15 Mey is switching from lingerie to making face masks for nearby hospitals.16 Local restaurants, and in Portland17 even a strip bar, are suddenly offering food deliveries. Entire companies have rapidly made the transition to remote working and nobody is listening to the skeptics any more. All this ought to make us more confident about making changes once the crisis is over, too.
10. CORONAVIRUS CHALLENGES US TO THINK MORE LONG-TERM.
In what feels like a daily struggle for “survival,” we’re not thinking as much about big issues like global warming. Good news about the positive impact of coronavirus on the environment might reinforce this tendency. But hasty decisions taken now, even if they make sense in the short term, will be difficult to reverse later on. In a crisis, it’s easy to overlook the consequences of our actions for the future, so we need to make sure we keep thinking strategically as well as tactically.18
CONCLUSION: The present crisis is bringing hidden weaknesses to light. From physical health to personal relationships to companies, it’s putting immense pressure on anything that lacks a solid foundation.
But coronavirus also gives us the chance to build a better post-crisis world, with greater solidarity, genuine equality, and better pay and more respect for the people who really keep our society going. To achieve this, we mustn’t make the mistake of assuming other people’s experiences and situations precisely mirror our own. The biggest challenge after coronavirus will be maintaining our new ways of doing things instead of lapsing back into old patterns. So let’s stay healthy and rise to that challenge!