Coronavirus shines light on our unfair economy as millions join the ranks of the jobless and hungry
- The scale of the destruction of people’s livelihoods, from China and India to the US, shows that for too many, job and income security was only a mirage
- Policymakers, who already have a tough job balancing lives with livelihoods, must ensure that once the crisis is over, a fairer economy can be built
It seems a bit rich coming from a man who earned US$31.5 million last year – up a miserable 1.6 per cent from the year before – to say that the pandemic is “wake-up call” to build a fairer economy for millions of people “who have been left behind for too long”. Step forward, Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase who – if we discard our cynicism for a moment – makes a lot of sense.
Most Indian jobs are in the informal sector, with many of the workers under 30 years of age and among the poorest. When I asked an Indian journalist what unemployed people do, the answer was just three words, “dying of starvation”.
Indian migrant workers walk home amid coronavirus lockdown
Europe and Britain have largely furloughed employees, with the British government paying 80 per cent of salaries, but companies are still shedding jobs. The latest figures show the number of jobless claims in Britain went up by 69 per cent between March and April, to around 7 per cent of the working population. About 2 million are now receiving state aid, with the young and those just short of retirement being worst-hit.
One of the most striking scenes has been long lines for food banks in rich Western countries. Complaints about the slow pace of state support are also heard across China, Europe and the US, which add to the uncertainty.
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With this picture in mind, Dimon’s comments ring loud and clear. The devil makes work for idle hands and policymakers from Beijing, Brussels and Washington know that millions of discontented, unemployed people are a fundamental threat to social stability. What if they demanded a fairer system?
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Politicians around the world took fright at the prospect of intensive care units filling up with patients struggling to breathe. For many in the West, air travel restrictions, quarantines and other measures could have come sooner. Hong Kong, with memories of the deadliness of the severe acute respiratory syndrome still fresh, showed that strict early measures are better than a late total lockdown.
It is not easy balancing lives against livelihoods, but we are getting to the stage where people will have to get back to work, albeit in a restricted fashion.
Richard Harris is chief executive of Port Shelter Investment and is a veteran investment manager, banker, writer and broadcaster, and financial expert witness
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