There are intense calls to shut down schools in the wake of people being urged to avoid pubs and theatres. If the kids can go to school, why are grown ups being asked to stay away from large groups of people? Schools have another problem in the form of teachers either getting ill or self-isolating. Closing schools could become unavoidable.
There is the science to discuss – the fact that kids may still spread the virus amongst themselves, school or no school – but I want to avoid that. I don’t know enough about it to tell you anything meaningful. Yet one dimension that gets played down in all this is how doing things like shutting down schools or all pubs and theatres has all sorts of side-effects that are being minimised. A constant moan is how the government is worried too much about economic matters and not enough about lives. Except that economic matters have a huge impact on people’s lives and health as well.
Imagine that this crisis results in hundreds of thousands of job losses. Could anyone credibly claim that such an outcome wouldn’t have any large-scale health downsides? All right, probably less than hundreds of thousands of people dying of Coronavirus – but I can only say “probably” because it is hard to know. The point is a). all of this is really complicated and b). an economic downturn is not without massive health downsides, some of which could be long-term.
For those still saying that Coronavirus is a symptom of “late-capitalism” and that it would all be better if we lived under socialism, there are several things to say here. One, having a socialism economy does not mean that the economy does not matter anymore or that the government can control every aspect of it all the time seamlessly. In fact, socialist economies that existed in the 20th century were obsessed with how to keep themselves running and often made some pretty horrific economics for human lives trade offs as a result. I know some of you think that socialism solves all problems but the 20th century experience of it pretty much proves that it does not.
You cannot get over the fact that a pandemic presents huge complexity to all governments facing them. There are no easy answers. I know that’s not what some of you want to hear right now – it’s easier or more comfortable to believe that the government is acting heinously on purpose, and that if we just had a better government the answers to the problems would be easy to find and implement. This is why conspiracy theories are so widely subscribed to; it’s pleasant in a way to think that someone amongst us hive of confused human beings is controlling everything, even if they are doing so to evil purposes and pursuits. It suggests that if good people could be put in charge of the same stuff then all of our problems would disappear. Instead of the reality: no one really knows enough to make the right decisions all of the time. Everyone is trying their best to do the right thing but that is often not enough. We are more helpless as a species than we often fool ourselves into thinking.
The upshot here is not to get carried away with weirdly comforting thoughts that the bad guys are screwing things up and if they just stopped this would all go away. It is sadly a lot more complicated than that.
In a few weeks time, I have another book coming out. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge.
It’s out on April 9th, but you can pre-order here: