On CoViD19 and Jobs
The New Normal
CoViD19 is all about distance. The only way a human gets sick is if they are close to another human who is ill.
Hence, any “CoViD19 Defence Plan” is significantly about distance and “distancing”; making sure that humans are not too close to other humans.
Economies are webs of people, buying and selling goods and services. Those with ability produce and sell. Those with need buy and consume. Often, especially in Market Economies, what you can buy is equal to what you sell.
We buy and sell different “things”. If the “thing” is “touchable” we call it a “good”, like a banana or a car. If not, we call it a “service”, like a doctor’s advise.
All human work consists of producing services, though some of these services might contribute to producing goods. For example, a “farmer” is selling a “farming service”, which goes into producing a “farmed good”, like a banana.
Information Exchange and Services
Services involve the exchange of information. This information must travel back and forth between buyer and seller.
For example, you might tell a doctor your temperature. And in return, the doctor might tell you what to do about it.
Some information can travel over telecommunication lines, like text, sounds and pictures. Other’s can’t; like touch and smell.
If all the doctor needs to know is your temperature, then you can consult them over the phone. If he needs to feel your cheekbones, you need to consult him in person.
CoVid19 and Jobs
Does “distancing” affect a human’s work? That depends on the service they provide, and the information exchange involved.
If the information exchange can happen entirely over the telephone or internet, that human could work from home; assuming that the home is “connected”.
If the information exchange doesn’t involve other humans or being close to other humans, the human could work from work, like regular days.
The problem arises if the information exchange does involve other humans; many humans, in the worse case.
For example, a medical nurse has no choice but to interact with hundreds of humans every day; many of them might be sick. A teller at the supermarket does the same.
It’s easy to understand why a nurse has to be close to many people. But why a supermarket teller?
Logistics is one. If people could buy groceries and other items online, efficiently, there would be no need for grocery shops. The lack of such a system means that people need to flock to supermarkets.
Trust is another. Many people might not trust an e-commerce site to send them high-quality items. If they visit a physical store, they can hand-pick what they need.
And cost. A fancy electronics store could afford to list its wares online. A poor hawker on the Pettah pavement, cannot do the same. Cost is also proportional to development. We could imagine a more economically developed world, where any business could afford to list on the internet; and any consumer could afford to access and buy.
If we find solutions to these problems, more and more jobs may happen “from a distance”.
But what about Nurses? No amount of technology could distancify many aspects of the “nursing service”.
A different approach to “distancing” could be to limit close contact to small clusters.
For example, what if hospitals and nurses only served patients who lived within a 5-mile radius of a hospital? The same could apply to schools and work. While humans would still be at risk, any epidemic restricts to clusters. Small clusters are robust, while a hyper-globalised world is fragile.
In the future, we might have to forgo various levels of “globalisation”; both nationally and internationally, especially if crises of all sorts are more common. We can’t over-rely on more extensive networks.
And what about the day labourer who tends to your garden? You might pay them well, but only on the days they work.
While tending to plants is no CoViD19 risk, measures like curfews and #LockDowns mean that day labourers can’t travel to their customers. And hence, can’t work.
In a world where humans need separation from other humans, at the drop of a hat, these jobs become vulnerable. Hence, we need ways in which humans are protected from periods of lost work. Some form of insurance.
The “New Normal”, like all new things, is not innately better than the “Old Normal”. It merely choses a different trade-off. Distancing, Localising and Equalizing are not “better”. They are just different. They choose robustness over efficiency. Or, statistically, smaller means, over larger variances.
The history of history is the history of changing tradeoffs. And significant points of history involve substantial changes. CoViD19 might be one of the most significant.