How To Put It Back Together Again

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Four-score Men and Four-score more,
Could not make Humpty Dumpty where he was before

Samuel Arnold Juveline Amusements, 1797[i]


Humpty Dumpty is a character in an English nursery rhyme, probably originally a riddle and one of the best known in the English-speaking world. He is typically portrayed as an anthropomorphic egg, though he is not explicitly described as such. Its origins are obscure, and several theories have been advanced to suggest original meanings. I thought it particularly appropriate to describe the following article – what are the impacts on the global economy and how does it recover.

Impact and Response

Many commentators and economists are focusing on how governments go about rebuilding their national and city economies once the world has passed through what Christopher Joye calls the Global Virus Crisis (GVC).[ii] According to The Economist, policy response has generally been swift and decisive.[iii] Globally central banks have cut interest rates since January 2020 and have launched new and substantial quantitative-easing schemes (creating money to buy bonds) while politicians are opening the fiscal taps to support the economy.

In the US, America’s Congress passed a bill that boosts spending by twice as much as President Barack Obama’s package in 2009. Britain, France, and other countries have made credit guarantees worth as much as 15% of GDP, seeking to prevent a cascade of defaults. On the most conservative measure, the global stimulus from government spending this year will exceed 2% of global GDP, a much bigger push than was seen in 2007-09. Even Germany, whose fiscal rectitude is a cultural cliché, is spending more.[iv]

The analysts at The Economist caution though that to focus just on the quantitative changes misses something crucial, which is that there are important qualitative changes underway in how policymakers manage the economy—the responsibilities they have assumed for themselves, what is seen as a legitimate action, and what is not, and the criteria used to judge policy success or failure. On these measures, the analysts note, the world is in the early stages of a ‘revolution in economic policymaking’.

Central banks have in effect pledged to print as much money as necessary to keep down government-borrowing costs. The European Central Bank is promising to buy everything that governments might issue thereby reducing the gap in borrowing costs between weaker and stronger euro-zone members, which widened in the early days of the pandemic.

The analysts note that politicians, too, are ripping up the rulebook. In past recessions, enterprises could go bankrupt and people, too, become unemployed. Even in normal economic times, roughly 8% of businesses in OECD countries go under each year, while 10% or so of the workforce lose a job. Now governments hope to stop this from happening entirely. President Emmanuel Macron reflects the view of many when he vows that no firm will “face the risk of bankruptcy” because of the pandemic.

Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, contrasts his government’s response with the one during the last financial crisis: “Everybody said we bailed out the banks and we didn’t look after the people who really suffered”. Larry Kudlow, the director of America’s National Economic Council, calls America’s fiscal stimulus “the single largest Main Street assistance programme in the history of the United States,” comparing it favourably with Wall Street bailouts a decade ago.

To that end the analysts note that governments across the rich world are channelling vast sums to firms, providing them with grants and cheap loans to preserve jobs and keep their doors open. In some cases, the government is paying the wages of people who cannot work safely: the EU has embraced this policy, while the British state will pay up to 80% of the wages of furloughed workers. The American package includes loans to small businesses that will be forgiven if workers are not laid off. Households across the rich world are being given temporary relief on mortgages, other debts, rent and utility bills. In America, people will also be sent cheques worth up to $1 200.

Most economists support these measures. Nominally they are temporary, designed to hold the economy in an induced coma until the pandemic passes, at which point the world is supposed to revert to the status quo ante. But history suggests that a return to pre-Covid-19 days is unlikely.

Two lessons stand out:

1. Governmental control over the economy takes a large step-up during periods of crisis.

2. The forces encouraging governments to retain and expand economic control are stronger than the forces encouraging them to relinquish it, meaning that a “temporary” expansion of state power tends to become permanent.5

Road to Recovery

The extent of the economic damage and the time it will take for the economy to recover is subject to a high degree of speculation, and new models have been created to project a recovery trajectory. For example, the recovery can be V-shaped (after the downward fall the recovery will follow a straight line back to the original growth trajectory); U-shaped recovery (like V-shaped but with a longer turnaround period); VU shaped recovery (an initial pop, or sugar hit (the V), which is then superseded by a second, much slower growth phase (the U) due to a huge increase in debt repayment burdens and big creative destruction-induced output gaps (or excess productive capacity) as the virus forces the global economy to effectively rewire itself); Z-shaped (recovery follows the V-shaped trajectory but overshoots the original trajectory due to pent-up demand before falling back to the original trajectory); W-shaped (recovery begins buts fall back before climbing back up again); and L-shaped (growth recovers but ends up lower than that of the pre-C-19 economic growth).

In a survey of 106 economists and real estate experts conducted by Pulsenomics and Zillow, 41% of panellists expect the US recovery to follow a “U” shape, with the recession lasting several quarters before returning to growth.[vi] This prediction is in line with how the experts expect the US economy to recover overall. Forty-one percent said they think the economic recovery will follow a “U” shape, and 33% say it will be a bumpy, multi-year return to trend growth. Both patterns are characterised first by a sharp decline and then match how experts see transaction volume recovering, with the consensus generally being a more gradual journey back to normal.

Whatever the final shape may turn out to be, Eswar Prasad and Ethan Wu, writing for the Brookings Institution, warns, “The world economy is on the precipice of its worst crisis since World War II. As the newly updated Brookings-FT TIGER (Tracking Indexes for the Global Economic Recovery) makes clear, economic activity, financial markets, and private-sector confidence are all cratering. And if international cooperation remains at its current level, a far more severe collapse is yet to come.”[vii]

A wide variety of economic and survey data suggest that the economy will recover slowly even after the government begins to ease limits on public gatherings and allow certain shuttered restaurants and shops to reopen. Many economists and business owners say there will be no rapid economic rebound until people feel confident that their risks of contracting the coronavirus have fallen, either through widespread testing or a vaccine.[viii]

Prasad and Wu argue that while the current extraordinarily sharp downturn could prove to be relatively brief, with economic activity snapping back to previous levels once the Covid-19 contagion curve is flattened, there is good reason to worry that the world economy is heading into a deep, protracted recession. In their view, much will depend on the pandemic’s trajectory and whether policymakers’ responses are sufficient to contain the damage while rebuilding consumer and business confidence. They do not believe that a rapid recovery is likely due to ravaged demand, extensive disruptions to manufacturing supply chains, and a financial crisis already underway.

They, like many other commentators, draw a distinction between the 2008-09 crash, and Covid-19. Unlike the 2008-09 crash, which was triggered by liquidity shortages in financial markets, they point out that the Covid-19 crisis involves fundamental solvency issues for firms and industries well beyond the financial sector. In addition, they note, the current shock is simultaneous and universal. During and immediately following the 2008 crisis, some emerging markets, not least China, and India, continued to register strong growth, pulling the rest of the world economy along. But this time, no economy is immune, and no country will be able to lead an export-driven recovery.

Today’s collapse has increased deflationary and financial risks in the advanced economies and struck a significant blow to commodity exporters.

On top of it all, oil prices are plunging even more than they otherwise would, due in large part to Saudi Arabia and Russia flooding the market. In their view all told, the economic and financial carnage wrought by the coronavirus could leave deep, lasting scars on the global economy. While they recognise that central banks are stepping up to the challenge, they point out that central banks cannot offset the fall in consumer demand or stimulate investment by themselves. With both conventional and unconventional monetary-policy tools already stretched to the limit, fiscal policymakers will have to do more.

They suggest that well-targeted fiscal measures can soften the blow to consumers and businesses—especially small and medium-sized enterprises, which typically have minimal financial buffers—thereby helping to sustain employment and demand. In these desperate times, such measures should be fully embraced by all governments that currently benefit from low borrowing costs, even if they already have high levels of public debt.

They also emphasise that low- and middle-income countries that have inadequate health systems will need substantial support from the international community, potentially including concessionary debt relief.

But there is an elephant in the room: unfortunately, the world’s inability so far to forge a common front attests to the erosion of international cooperation, which is further damaging business and consumer confidence. They too, like many other commentators, call for this to change.

The world urgently needs honest and transparent information-sharing by national leaders, coupled with aggressive steps to contain the pandemic, extensive stimulus to mitigate the economic fallout, and a carefully calibrated strategy to restart economic activity as soon as it is safe to do so.

Christopher Joye agrees with the sentiments expressed by Prasad and Wu. Joye sees the global economy being burdened by a great deal more public and private debt because of the enormous fiscal policy responses that will need to be serviced through tax revenue and corporate/household earnings. This he argues will drag on future global growth after the initial pop in activity as businesses restart and the working-age population gets back into their day jobs.

On the matter of whether this precipitates a sovereign debt crisis, he believes that ultimately the central banks can cauterise this problem by continuing to do what they are currently doing: i.e., funding their domestic treasuries by buying government bonds via quantitative easing (QE).

After all, he notes central banks were originally created to fund governments during times of war (that term again), and that is arguably where the world finds itself now in terms of response.

On the question of inflationary shock, he expects the deflationary impulse of the GVC via the huge sudden increase in labour supply to overwhelm the inflationary impulse of the crisis over the short-to-medium term (in the next year or two) noting that the near-term inflation pressures obviously come through supply-chain rigidities as labour is taken temporarily offline.

He foresees a key consequence of the GVC as compelling much greater internalisation of supply-chains, especially those that service critical infrastructure and security-sensitive goods and services. In terms of changes, it is suggested that the GVC will result in permanent economic damage akin to a form of creative destruction where the virus kills off weak companies as well as unproductive employees. This he suggests is because many businesses will come back looking different, shedding low-quality workers, and closing unprofitable activities/subsidiaries.

Some industries will be permanently changed in both positive and negative ways, for example, entire communities are being forced to get much more comfortable with online shopping and the associated delivery process, reducing at the margin the demand for traditional retailing.

The cinema industry will be irreversibly damaged as consumption shifts away from theatres to on-demand digital platforms like Apple and Netflix, which will, in turn, allow these distributors to capture more of the value-chain in the same way Amazon did with bricks and mortar retailing. The commercial property sector is also likely to feel this change as there is a possibility of a permanent decrease in the demand for both office and retail space. Many companies may conclude they can save overhead by remaining disaggregated (not renting office space). This will result in a decline in the value of commercial properties, and the risk associated with commercial property debt could increase sharply.

Commercial property lenders’ LVRs might suddenly jump because of this. Indeed, he argues that a lot of distress in commercial property debt portfolios can be expected over the next 12 months.

The embedding of Zoom, or cheap video conference technology may dissipate the value of face-to-face meetings and result in a permanent decrease in the demand for expensive business-related travel and accommodation, adversely impacting airlines and hotels, as companies seek to enhance their operating efficiencies.

Creative destruction

All this creative destruction could result in unemployment rates not returning any time soon to their pre-GVC levels which will, in turn, place downward pressure on wages. Ultimately, he concludes that this will result in a battle between the shock of the new – a virus that derails life as we knew it – and the opportunities presented by the gigantic stimulus afforded by fiscal and monetary policy.[ix]

Some commentators are not as pessimistic: Paul Krugman, one of the world’s most influential economists and 2008 Nobel prize winner, is pretty upbeat about the economy. In a Q&A session with Noah Smith from Bloomberg, he suggests that even though this crisis is different from anything seen before, there is a rather good handle on the economics. In particular, he argues, enough is known to understand why conventional responses like stimulus or tax cuts are inappropriate, and why we should be focusing on safety-net issues.

On the issue of duration, Krugman argues that data would suggest a fast recovery once the virus is contained. But he provides some big caveats. One is that the duration of the pandemic is not known: if countries open too soon, it will extend the period of economic weakness. The second is that even if there were not big imbalances before, the slump may be creating them now. Business closures will require time to reverse. He also wonders how much long-term change will be experienced because of the virus. If there is a permanent shift to more telecommuting and less in-person retail, then there will be a shift of workers to new sectors, which will take time. All that said, he does not see the case for a multi-year depression.[x]

Analysts at The Economist believe that some economies will suffer much more than others because economic crises expose and exacerbate underlying structural weaknesses.

They argue that three factors should help separate the bad economic outcomes from the dire ones:

1. a country’s industrial structure; the composition of its corporate sector; and the effectiveness of its fiscal stimulus. Regarding the first, those countries that depend on labour-intensive activities will be harder hit. This includes countries reliant on their construction and tourism sectors. Conversely, those industrial structures that enable more people to work from home should not be hit as hard.

2. Economies with a large share of small firms are likely to be hit harder because smaller enterprises tend to have few if any cash buffers, making it difficult for them to survive a drop in revenues.

3. The ability of the country to roll out large stimulus packages. Some countries have provided significant packages while others, especially those with high debt levels, are more constrained. The design of the stimulus also plays a part: some countries are providing support directly to households while others are subsidising wages.

Post-C19 Economic Structural Reforms

Analysts do not generally support government pledges to protect jobs as it prevents workers from moving from failing sectors to new emerging ones, thereby slowing the recovery. If the lockdown ends early some economies will be able to resume production quickly.[xi]

A huge question remains however: what will be the lasting effects of Covid-19? Every day, in ways small and large, the spread of the coronavirus is reshaping politics.

John Cassidy, in a piece in Bloomberg.

As the death toll rises and the economic fallout spreads, he argues that measures once considered unthinkable are being adopted, and not just in the public-health sphere.

Analysts from The Economist believe that the size of the state will alter. In the short term, they foresee government debt rising sharply as spending jumps and tax revenues collapse. Thereafter, government attention will turn to repaying the debt.

They also see central banks’ innovations having lasting consequences. They, as do many other economists, do not see inflation rising any time soon, but do have a concern about deflation especially as central banks are pressured into lowering interest rates to zero to support government borrowing.

Then they see the possibility that this novel idea that the government needs to preserve firms, jobs, and workers’ incomes at practically any cost may become embedded in government, especially if the intervention proves successful in narrow terms. Although the policy may formally end once the pandemic has passed, political pressure for similar support schemes—from the nationalisation of tottering firms to the provision of a universal basic income—may well be higher the next time a sharp downturn comes along. If politicians can preserve jobs and incomes during this crisis, many people will see little reason why they should not try again in the next one.

In the same vein, they see calls for a more activist fiscal-monetary government coming against a backdrop of structurally higher demand for state spending. The public sector tends to provide labour-intensive services in which productivity improvements are difficult, such as healthcare and education, yet it must match the salaries of workers in other sectors to retain its own, even as they become less productive relative to the overall economy—a phenomenon which raises the cost of provision. Governments focus on social support during C-19 might raise expectations that it is the new normal, especially in the health sector. In the US, net support for Medicare for All—those who support it minus those who oppose it—has risen by nine points.[xii]

In another significant development, the mass layoffs that have resulted from the pandemic have also laid bare the iniquities of the gig economy, in which Uber drivers and other online-platform workers, temp-agency workers, and a whole variety of freelancers do not have access to health insurance, sick leave, or unemployment insurance. During an appearance on CNBC, the investor James Chanos said he was selling short the stocks of gig-economy companies because their business model, which is based on classifying workers as self-employed to avoid giving them costly benefits, is likely to be challenged by both political parties.

The Economist’s analysts believe that the likely economic effects of the pandemic reach far beyond the role of the state. Countries could become even less welcoming to immigrants based on an argument that it will reduce any likelihood of infection from foreign arrivals.

Using the same logic, resistance to the development of dense urban centres could mount, thereby limiting the construction of new housing and rising costs. More countries may seek to become self-sufficient in the production of strategic commodities such as medicines, medical equipment, and even toilet paper, contributing to a further rollback of globalisation. However, they argue that the redefined role of the state could prove to be the most significant shift noting that the rules of the game have been moving in one direction for centuries.

Their conclusion: another radical change is looming.[xiii]

Trend transformation

Scholars from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program on the other hand believe that a major transformation is unlikely and point out instead that the Covid-19 crisis seems poised to accelerate or intensify many economic and metropolitan trends that were already underway, with huge implications of their own.[xiv]

One of those trends they foresee is automation. Mark Muro, one of the scholars, notes that while automation in the workplace has been spreading over the last decade, it will likely surge in the coming years because as firms’ revenues decline, workers become relatively more expensive. In this case, Covid-19 won’t so much change the automation trend as amplify it, increasing the vulnerability of young people, people of colour, and those with less education and further dislocating jobs in food service or cashiers as they become automated.

Another trend they ponder is whether the trauma of social distancing and the rise of telework will finally empty out the ‘superstar’ cities and lead to a decentralisation of the nation’s hyper centralised urban map. They believe this might happen.

Then there is the continuance of Big Tech itself: while it seems natural to assume that virtually every industry will be humbled by Covid-19, they think it is likely that the big tech titans—Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Netflix, etc.—will emerge from the crisis stronger than ever.

These titans previously captured dominant market shares in the decade following the last recession and are likely to further capitalise as stay-at-home workers rely on their remote work tools, video calling, e-commerce, and video streaming. They point out that these giants are sitting on huge piles of cash and will be ready to snap up any choice tech or other properties that stumble.

Tracy Hadden Liu, another team member, argues that retailers, their landlords, and suppliers were already responding to multiple industry-wide trends before the coronavirus struck, including tariffs, a shift in consumer demand from products to experiences, e-commerce, and the sharing economy. The resulting strains that were already motivating these players to innovate or exit are simply accelerating the need to be creative and embrace new models to deal with the disruption arising from the pandemic.

In the property market, it is suggested that a 10-year commercial lease in a single-use building will no longer be standard: seasonal retailers were already experimenting outside of the big box, including markets and pop-ups in flexible spaces.

So were office tenants through WeWork and other co-working spaces. In addition to new formats and lease terms, profit-sharing leases will become an increasingly important tool to help new businesses get started, survive slowdowns, and provide a return to landlords who invest in their tenants’ success.

In the food sector, convergence and hybridisation will accelerate in food retail, which will return to be a revitalising force in urban life. Liu points out that IKEA was already a furniture showroom, warehouse, and restaurant. High-end grocers were encouraging shoppers to have a beer prior to the outbreak of the pandemic.

Restaurants were increasingly not just dine-in, but fast-casual or mobile food trucks. Whether through app-based delivery or prepared food from wholesalers’ people will return to eating much of their food prepared outside the home. In 2017, jobs in leisure and hospitality (which includes all bars and restaurants) grew to outnumber jobs in retail trade.

Liu believes that for commercial real estate and local governments, food retail will continue to grow in importance. Restaurants, in whatever format, will continue to be a growing share of tenants and sales tax generators as other storefronts are impacted by tariffs and e-commerce oligopolies. And the more people eat out, the more proximity to food retail will shape office and residential tenant demand, as well as home sales. Her summation: the pandemic is a setback, but not a reset.

Another pre-Covid trend raised is the housing crisis. Martha Ross and Jenny Schuetz, two members of the team, note that in the best of times—for example, when unemployment is below 4%— tens of millions of workers still earn barely enough to live on, meaning that basic costs like housing were already a stretch for these and other workers. More than 75% of low-wage workers are ‘housing-cost burdened,’ i.e., they spend more than 30% of their income on rent. The typical low-income renter household spends more than half of its income on rent.

In the Covid-19 era—with mass layoffs in hospitality, retail, and entertainment—earnings have simply disappeared for millions of workers and many households that previously strained to pay rent will now find it impossible.

People commonly reduce housing costs by “doubling-up” with family or moving into lower-quality housing. Given the thin financial reserves held by renter households, many people will be forced into one of these options. Notwithstanding a halt on evictions in some countries, stronger and more direct financial assistance will be required for households. While the housing affordability crisis predates the current health crisis, it will worsen in the short run if governments are slow to respond.

Inequality increases among older Americans is another trend identified by Annelies Goger and Nicole Bateman. They note that 40% of workers over age 62 earn low wages. Covid-19 is likely to have eroded savings across the board which means that many older workers may have to stay in their job out of necessity. It is possible that labour outcomes could worsen for older workers who lose their jobs in the sense that it will take much longer for them to find another job, and generally that will come with a pay cut too.

Covid-19 will accelerate yet another trend namely the declines in microbusiness employment. Microbusinesses with under four employees are only half as likely to add jobs as larger businesses already. Recent statistics demonstrate how microbusinesses have been on the losing end of long-run structural shifts in the US. The team estimates that about 2.9-million microbusinesses are in industries at immediate or near-term risk from Covid-19. How many of those microbusinesses survive will depend, they think, on the duration of social distancing measures and the success of countervailing policies. They do stress that without a robust policy response to not only mitigate small business damage in the immediate term but also support entrepreneurship more robustly in the recovery, the pandemic will accelerate the structural decline in microbusiness employment.

Humpty Dumpty Economies

At a more fundamental level, Kallis G., Paulson, S., D’Alisa, G., and Demaria, F. argue that the pandemic has laid bare the fragility of existing economic systems, and what will be required to become more resilient to crises – pandemic, climatic, financial, or political – is to build systems capable of scaling back production in ways that do not cause loss of livelihood or life: “We need degrowth” they suggest. Their argument is based on the observation that current economic systems are organised around the constant circulation, where any decline in market activity threatens systemic collapse, provoking generalised unemployment and impoverishment.

While they point to commentaries made by publications such as Forbes, the Financial Times and the Spectator who have been quick to claim that the pandemic has revealed the ‘misery of degrowth’, they argue that what is happening is not degrowth, but purposefully slowing things down in order to minimise harm to humans and earth systems and to reduce exploitation. In their view, degrowth is a project of living meaningfully, enjoying simple pleasures, communing, sharing, and relating more with others, and working less, in more equal societies.[xv] 

New Green Deal

There is widespread support for the recovery spend to be used to simultaneously address the other elephant in the room – climate change. Many argue that the pandemic must not be a reason to weaken the commitments to net-zero emissions. In fact, the argument is made that climate action is vital protection against further global shocks, especially as governments plan their post-pandemic stimulus packages.

It will be tempting for some governments to overlook the climate change challenge in the rush to restart the economy. Anna Skarbek cautions that some governments are already eyeing the fossil fuel sector as a beneficiary of any post-Covid-19 stimulus. Not all governments have responded to a rising chorus of voices demanding a green economic recovery.

The International Monetary Fund has been tracking national stimulus and economic recovery plans. So far, only a handful of them directly targets climate change, the IMF reports. On the contrary, some spending is headed in the opposite direction through government fuel subsidies and other fossil fuel-friendly measures. The IMF’s Covid-19 recovery tracker notes a lot of global spending on electricity cost relief. Other measures the IMF has noted include fuel price discounts for aviation. Some governments are buying fuel for their fishing fleets, while others are extending economywide fuel subsidies instead of eliminating them as the United Nations’ top leadership has called for.[xvi] The energy minister in Australia is flagging gas-fired power to stimulate the economy.[xvii]

There is particular concern over how China will design an overall economic recovery plan. Following the global financial crisis of a decade ago, Beijing launched a massive round of infrastructure spending that saw its greenhouse gas emissions soar to new heights. China is now by far the world’s largest producer of heat-trapping emissions. In a recent study published in the journal Nature Sustainability, scholars in Malaysia and Australia expressed concern over China’s vaunted Belt and Road Initiative, noting that Beijing has already directed nearly $575-billion overseas in efforts often aligned against sustainability objectives. They see more to come and are urging receiving nations and financing arms to put restrictions on the funding to ensure greater protections for biodiversity and other “indicators of environmental governance,” according to the research team, led by University of Queensland professor Divya Narain.[xviii]

For many countries, the lockdown response to Covid-19 has presented a horrific binary choice: economy at the expense of climate change, or climate change at the expense of the economy.

The socio-economic devastation the virus has inflicted is a reminder of our systemic vulnerability, and the importance of prevention and mitigation. As Anna Skarbek stresses, Covid-19 provides fresh evidence of the scale of economic shock the world faces if it fails to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

In a major study published in Nature Communications last month the dollar value put on the cost of climate inaction was between US$150-trillion and US$792-rillion by 2100 making the global shock even more financially catastrophic than coronavirus.[xix]

Fortunately, there is a third way out of this binary choice: Don Hall posts that one of the most hopeful things he has stumbled across since this crisis began is A Green Stimulus to Rebuild Our Economy: An Open Letter and Call to Action for Members of Congress which was published by a team of 11 prominent academics, scientists, policy experts, and non-profit advocates. More than 1 800 individuals and organisations signed on within the first nine days of its release.

The overall approach of the Green Stimulus Letter is based on five main principles namely:

1) health as the top priority for everyone

2) providing economic relief to directly to people

3) rescue workers and communities, not corporate executives

4) make a down payment on a regenerative economy while preventing future crisis

5) protect the democratic process while protecting each other

These five principles are supported by four key strategies:

1) create millions of new family sustaining, career-track green jobs

2) deliver strategic investments like green housing retrofits, rooftop solar installation, electric bus deployment, rural broadband development, and other forms of economic diversification to lift up and collaborate with frontline communities

3) expand public and employee ownership

4) make rapid cuts to carbon pollution[xx]

The research published in Nature Communications also points out that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would deliver a corresponding boost, with the global economy growing by US$616 trillion compared to inaction. Skarbek notes that research undertaken at Oxford University by Nobel-prize winner Joseph Stiglitz and climate economist Nicholas Stern concluded that climate mitigation actions deliver maximum economic growth multiplier benefits from a stimulus perspective.

The study catalogues more than 700 stimulus policies and makes comparisons with the global financial crisis of 2008. In the study they compared green stimulus projects with traditional stimuli, such as measures taken after the 2008 global financial crisis, and found green projects created more jobs, delivered higher short-term returns per pound spent by the government, and lead to increased long-term cost savings. Clean energy infrastructure construction is one example, generating twice as many jobs per pound of government expenditure as fossil fuel projects around the world. Others include expanding broadband so more people can work from home.[xxi] Stern also warned that stimulating new jobs in heavily emitting sectors was short-sighted. “The jobs of the past are insecure jobs,” he said. “[To create future jobs] we need the right kind of finance in the right place at the right scale at the right price.”

Net-Zero Zero-Net future

The strategic targeting of stimulus funds is therefore critical: the greatest risk to a systemic change in consumption and production patterns is for governments to occur increasing debt through spending trillions of dollars on propping up business, as usual, leaving no economic capacity to invest in building resilient local communities and moving toward a low-carbon future.

Researchers from the University of Oxford, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Columbia University, and the University of Cambridge, undertook a survey of 231 central bank officials, finance ministry officials, and other economic experts from G20 countries on the relative performance of 25 major fiscal recovery archetypes across four dimensions: speed of implementation, economic multiplier, climate impact potential, and overall desirability. Their study identified five policies with high potential on both economic multiplier and climate metrics: clean physical infrastructure, building efficiency retrofits, investment in education and training, natural capital investment, and clean R&D.

To monitor the stimulus spend, a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University has set out to measure what percentage of the billions of dollars that world governments are spending on the recovery might result in lasting reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. They note that studies of the impacts of past economic downturns, such as the recession of 2007 to 2009, provide scant information on what percentage of the recovery money spent delivered long-term benefits to the climate. Estimates of the 2009 recession show that somewhere between 5% and 16% had impacts on climate change-related issues.

They caution that information from the aftermath of earlier recessions shows that typically rebounds have more than offset greenhouse gas reductions from the recessions themselves and quickly surpass what might have been saved if it is not done well.[xxii]

There is precedent from targeted directing of public funds that have worked in the past: President Obama was able to introduce a stimulus package stacked with incentives for green investment and tougher environmental regulation after the economic crash of 2008.

A post-pandemic economic reconstruction based on restructuring the energy map makes sense.

Enrique Dans

But for the Covid-19 event, signs thus far are mixed. The $2.2-trillion stimulus package agreed by the US Congress may have avoided sinking taxpayers’ dollars into a rescue plan for the country’s struggling coal industry, but it also failed to make any environmental requirements on those industries, such as the aviation industry, that were bailed out. Congress members have argued that in this case the holding up a desperately needed economic-rescue package in the name of climate action was an untenable proposition. However, care must be taken to avoid using that argument again.

The renewable energy sector is one of the sectors favoured by many commentators as a prime vehicle for stimulating the economic recovery while also mitigating climate change.

One of the concerns about RE in the past was its ability to carry the electricity mix, but as Tom Andrews, a senior analyst at Cornwall Insight notes, while the generation balance is likely to return to normal as countries come off lockdown, this has demonstrated that managing a grid with high renewable penetration is feasible. This may therefore become the new normal as more renewable generation is deployed across Europe.

Renewable energy is also supported by the International Energy Agency (IEA) who, in their Global Energy Review report, supported the view that renewables are the only power generation source that is experiencing rising demand and penetration amid the slump in energy demand brought on by Covid-19 industrial shutdowns. Due to priority dispatch for renewables and lower operating costs, the IEA expects solar, wind, and hydropower to experience uplift during the public health crisis and subsequent economic recovery.[xxiii]

In a policy brief for policymakers, the IEA presents four strategic considerations:

  1. Energy efficiency actions can support the goals of economic stimulus programmes by supporting existing workforces and creating new jobs, boosting economic activity in key labour-intensive sectors, and delivering longer-term benefits such as increased competitiveness, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved energy affordability and lower bills.

2. Governments can deliver stimulus at scale and speed by leveraging existing programmes and standardising designs, eligibility criteria and contracts; choosing shovel-ready options for retrofits and technology upgrades, and considering how energy efficiency can be built into all government stimulus programmes.

3. Important market considerations include aiming for high energy efficiency without constraining programme delivery; setting sufficiently attractive incentives to deliver high uptake without significantly increasing program costs and risks; considering the capacity of suppliers to scale up rapidly while maintaining quality and safety of products and services; and considering the consumer motivations and demand for products and services.

4. Government can facilitate better outcomes from large-scale investment programmes by addressing unnecessary regulatory barriers; turning short-term impacts into long-term transformations by raising energy efficiency standards; and considering the resource efficiency impacts and recycling sector opportunities as part of programme design.[xxiv] It is argued that apart from the climate change benefits, solar and energy storage in particular offer swift, job-intensive opportunities for growth, with average ground-mount sites able to be built in a few months and rooftop installations often taking only a day or two.

The EU’s C-19 recovery plan aims to do just that: their €750 billion ($825 billion) recovery package for the coronavirus pandemic includes plans to address the other global crisis, climate change. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen views the proposal as a vehicle to steer the continent toward carbon neutrality by 2050, a critical deadline if the world is to avoid the worst effects of global warming. The EU plan calls for investments in clean technologies and value chains and for increasing investments in renewable energy, energy storage, hydrogen, and carbon capture as well as storage technologies. Funds under the plan would be directed toward installing 1-million EV chargers. It also proposes a renovation wave of basic infrastructure investments to create millions of jobs in construction, renovation, and other labour-intensive industries.

Most of the EU’s plan would be paid for via debt raised in capital markets, loans with very long-term maturities, by new taxes, including taxes on carbon emissions, a new carbon border adjustment mechanism, and taxes on big companies that benefit most from the single market. [xxv]

France also announced an €8 billion bailout of its automotive industry. However, the French plan is to boost domestic production of electric vehicles and see France emerge, as President Emmanuel Macron put it, “As the leading producer of clean vehicles in Europe.” The subsidy plans include exceptional support measures to help consumers purchase battery hybrid and all-electric vehicles.[xxvi]

South Korea ― the world’s seventh-largest source of planet-heating carbon dioxide ― too has set course to become the first East Asian country to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The ruling party named its official climate manifesto the Green New Deal, becoming the biggest emitter yet to endorse moving toward the kind of industrial planning and social safety net expansion rarely seen outside of wartime. South Korea’s proposal includes ending public institutions’ financing of domestic and overseas coal projects, establishing a new program to retrain workers for green jobs, and making large-scale investments in wind and solar energy. The plan also pledges to research and consider a carbon tax.[xxvii]

As Enrique Dans put it, a post-pandemic economic reconstruction based on restructuring the energy map makes sense. We know we must do it, and we know the reason we haven’t done it so far is because it challenges the interests of a powerful few. The time has come to abandon outdated concepts, to change our mindset, and to put the use of renewables at the top of our list of priorities.[xxviii]

Some concern has however been expressed that a lack of a gender lens when designing the stimulus packages generally has favoured sectors dominated by men. In New Zealand, the Ministry for Women warned its minister that the stimulus package risked further exacerbating gender inequalities, particularly for wahine Maori, Pasifika, disabled and rural women. This is a likely unintended consequence of favouring infrastructure projects, a sector traditionally dominated by the male workforce. The ministry noted that women were just 14.4% of the construction workforce, and 24.5% of the electricity, gas, water, and waste services.[xxix]

Other industries such as retail, tourism and hospitality – also hard hit by the shutdown – employ high numbers of women. Johnston makes the argument that investing in social infrastructure such as health, caring, and education would create more jobs than the same investment in construction. It is argued that the absence of a gender lens is reflective of budgets being prepared without investigating ‘who” would benefit from the investment.

Cities are also responding to the opportunity. Amsterdam is pursuing a unique approach by adopting the so-called ‘doughnut approach’ developed by British economist Kate Raworth from Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. This model forgoes the global attachment to economic growth and laws of supply and demand in favour of a set of minimum needs required to lead a good life as encapsulated in the UN’s sustainable development goals which include food and clean water to a certain level of housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, gender equality, income, and political voice.

The model defines an outer boundary that represents the boundaries across which humanity should not go to avoid damaging the climate, soils, oceans, the ozone layer, freshwater and abundant biodiversity. What is critical about the approach Amsterdam is following is the desire to “not fall back on easy mechanisms” as Marieke van Doorninck, the deputy mayor of Amsterdam, put it.[xxx]

Raworth puts it more succinctly’ “The central premise is simple: the goal of economic activity should be about meeting the core needs of all but within the means of the planet. The “doughnut” is a device to show what this means in practice.”[xxxi]She explains, “The world is experiencing a series of shocks and surprise impacts which are enabling us to shift away from the idea of growth to ‘thriving’.” This approach, she argues, recognises that our wellbeing lies in balance, and this is the moment we are going to connect bodily health to planetary health.

In the private sector, Covid-19 appears likely to reshape sustainable investing in part, because in the aftermath of the pandemic more focus will be placed on social factors, such as health and safety, and the treatment of staff. Some asset managers think that the pandemic will become an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) litmus test. They envision interrogating firms about their actions during the crisis to gauge the businesses’ sustainability credentials.

The pandemic may also help to focus the minds of private sector investors on other threats such as the impact of climate change. Few investors or companies took the risk of a pandemic seriously at the start of the year, and the threat of devastating floods or once-a-century storms often get a similar treatment, but C-19 may just change that.

Our wellbeing lies in balance, and this is the moment we are going to connect bodily health to planetary health.

And encouragingly a remarkable list of business leaders is adding their names to a call for stimulus funding to be invested in what they refer to as “the economy of the future.”[xxxii] Chief executives, chairs and senior executives from major organisations are urging for massive investments in renewable power systems, a boost for green infrastructure and buildings, targeted support for low-carbon activities, and other similar measures.

In Europe, this call is aimed at making the European Union the ‘world’s first climate-neutral continent’ by 2050. In Australia, a leading business group is calling for the two biggest economic challenges in memory – recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and cutting greenhouse gas emissions – to be addressed together, saying it would boost growth and put the country on a firm long-term footing. This group is among a band of community leaders and industry groups urging governments to back climate solutions in the pandemic recovery rather than projects that entrench or increase emissions. The Investor Agenda, a global group of institutional investors and managers in a statement said governments should avoid prioritising “risky, short-term emissions-intensive projects”, and that accelerating the shift to net-zero emissions could create significant employment and economic growth while improving energy security and clean air. As they put it, “The path we choose in the coming months will have significant ramifications for our global economy and generations to come.”[xxxiii]

The Australian business group has identified a number of opportunities including improving energy management in homes and buildings by plugging drafts, modernising equipment and backing local electricity generation and storage; boosting electricity networks by rolling out smart meters and moving edge-of-grid customers onto mini-grids; helping shift heavy industry to run on clean electricity and hydrogen, and supporting large and small energy storage. On transport, the group said it was an excellent time to prepare cities and major corridors for mass take-up of electric vehicles by installing or preparing charging points at service stations, in public and government car parks, and at apartment blocks. They suggest governments would have different preferences on whether to use regulatory reform, tax incentives, grants, or other approaches but, using the example of electricity, urged government to settle on a sound long-term design for market rules and climate policy could do as much to boost investment as direct public financial support.

The public too is wanting to use this moment to recalibrate the structure of the economy. Polls taken in the United Kingdom finds that most Britons want quality of life indicators to take priority over the economy. As reported by Fiona Harvey, a YouGov poll has found eight out of 10 people would prefer the government to prioritise health and wellbeing over economic growth during the coronavirus crisis, and six in 10 would still want the government to pursue health and wellbeing ahead of growth after the pandemic has subsided, though nearly a third would prioritise the economy instead at that point.

The finding comes as millions of people face economic hardship because of coronavirus and the lockdown, while some measures of the quality of life – such as air pollution and the natural environment – are showing signs of improvement.[xxxiv]

Perhaps Kallis et al (2020) summed it up best in their study when they noted: “As we move from the rescue to the recovery phase of the Covid-19 response, policy-makers have an opportunity to invest in productive assets for the long-term. Such investments can make the most of shifts in human habits and behaviour already underway.”[xxxv]

Build, Build, Build: Investing in Infrastructure

Not surprisingly, most governments are including infrastructure development as part of their recovery plans: it makes economic sense to invest in asset formation rather than encourage consumer spending. However, there are debates about what type and scale of infrastructure to invest in. Some commentators are arguing for investment in housing, while others are looking for large-scale infrastructure investments.

As the US Congress and the White House contemplate the next phase of the government response to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic toll, legislators are increasingly raising the prospect of enacting a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plan that, they claim, could create thousands of jobs. As the novel coronavirus ravages the economy, parties appear to be coalescing behind the idea of something akin to a New Deal-style jobs program to help the nation cope with what is expected to be a deep recession.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California outlined the contours of their proposal, building off a five-year, $760-billion framework. Among the new provisions are an extra $10-billion for community health centres fighting the spread of the pandemic and a programme that would provide federal grants to pay for drinking water and wastewater utility bills in low-income households during public health crises. Democrats’ infrastructure plan includes billions of dollars to expand the country’s passenger rail network, improve Amtrak stations and services, maintain ports and harbours, increase climate resiliency and further address greenhouse gas pollution. It would also dedicate funds to expand broadband access, a response in part to the extent that millions of Americans have depended on internet connectivity while staying at home to slow the spread of the virus.[xxxvi]

It has long been argued that construction has a significant multiplier effect in terms of upstream and downstream job creation. At the same time, providing affordable housing appears to be a serious challenge for most governments. Paul Emrath marries these two issues together when he makes the case for investment in homebuilding based on the economic impact that residential construction has on the economy. The most obvious impacts of new construction, he notes, are the jobs generated for construction workers.

But, at the national level, the impact is broad-based, as jobs are generated in the industries that produce timber, concrete, lighting fixtures, heating equipment, and other products that go into a home or remodelling project. Other jobs are generated in the process of transporting, storing, and selling these products. Still, others are generated for professionals such as architects, engineers, real estate agents, lawyers, and accountants who provide services to home builders, home buyers, and remodelers. He found that in the US construction sector building an average single-family home created 2.9 jobs; an average rental apartment 1.25 jobs; and for every $100 000 spent on remodelling 0.75 jobs. The above numbers are for full-time equivalents, i.e., enough work to keep one worker employed for a full year based on average hours worked per week in the relevant industry.[xxxvii]

The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, seems to favour a “dig yourself out of the hole” approach as well, according to The Economist. In a speech on June 30, he announced a plan to increase capital spending to 3% of GDP, the highest consistent level since the 1970s, and will speed up £5bn of repairs to roads, schools, and hospitals. But Colin Talbot of the Centre for Business Research at the University of Cambridge makes the point that calling for more infrastructure without answering the questions of why and for what makes no sense. For example, will ailing towns be best served by becoming attractive commuter hubs for neighbouring cities, or by trying to revive their industries? Henry Overman of the London School of Economics argues that what ultimately makes places prosperous is a high density of skilled workers, which means thinking hard about education, welfare, and public health.[xxxviii]

There are however concerns about the quantum of funds needed to adequately fund infrastructure backlogs, notwithstanding the impressive numbers being quoted in government budgets. The findings of National League of Cities (NLC) new Covid-19 Local Impacts Survey of 1 100 US municipalities found that critical infrastructure is a key at-risk area as 65% of surveyed cities look to delay or cancel their infrastructure projects, which could create an “economic ripple effect” if actions aren’t taken to support capital expenditures and projects. As the vice-president of NLC put it, “I hate to say it, but the latest Covid-19 financial impact data we’re sharing with you today is painting a dire picture for our infrastructure future.”[xxxix]


As the world tries to deal with the ongoing challenges of Covid-19, it is worth reminding ourselves that infrastructure investment and climate action are both urgently need and that with the right approach, both goals can be achieved simultaneously. This article provides some indications of what the right approach may be.



[i] Opie, J. and Opie, P., ed. (1997) [1951]. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 254. ISBN 978-0-19-860088-6.

[ii] Joye, C. 2020. “Calling a ‘VU’ shaped recovery: and creative destruction induced by GVC.” Coolabah Capital Investments, 7 April 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Tuesday, 07 April 2020.

[iii] Briefing, 2020. “Rich countries try radical economic policies to counter covid-19.” The Economist, Mar 26, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: March 26, 2020.

[iv] Briefing, 2020. “Rich countries try radical economic policies to counter covid-19.” The Economist, May 26, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: March 26, 2020.

[v] Briefing, 2020. “Rich countries try radical economic policies to counter COVID-19.” The Economist, March 26, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: March 26, 2020.

[vi] Olsen, S. 2020. “Experts: Spring’s missing home sales will be added in coming years. Zillow, June 3, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: June 5, 2020.

[vii] Prasad, E. and Wu, E., 2020. “Anatomy of the coronavirus collapse.” The Brookings Institution, Monday, April 13, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Thursday, 16 April 2020.

[viii] Tankersley, J. 2020. “Economic pain will persist long after lockdowns end.” The New York Times, 13 April 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Wednesday, 15 April 2020

[ix] Joye, C. 2020. “Calling a ‘VU’ shaped recovery and creative destruction induced by GVC.” Coolabah Capital Investments, 7 April 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Tuesday, 07 April 2020.

[x] Smith, N. 2020. “Paul Krugman is pretty upbeat about the economy.” Bloomberg, May 27, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Thursday, 28 May 2020

[xi] Finance and Economics, 2020. “How deep will downturns in rich countries be?” The Economist, April 16, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Friday, 17 April 2020

[xii] Cassidy, J. 2020. “The coronavirus is transforming politics and economics.“ The New Yorker, April, 6, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Sunday, 05 April 2020

[xiii] Briefing, 2020. “Rich countries try radical economic policies to counter COVID-19.” The Economist, March 26, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: March 26, 2020.

[xiv] Muro, M., Loh, T., Ross, M., Schuets, J., Goger, A., Bateman, N., Frey, W., Parilla, J., Liu, S. and Tomer, A. 2020. “How COVID-19 will change the nation’s long-term economic trends, according to Brookings Metro scholars.” Available from: Downloaded: Friday, 17 April 2020

[xv] Kallis, G., Paulson, S., D’Alisa, G., and Demaria, F. 2020. “The case for degrowth in a time of pandemic.” The Ecologist, May 18, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: May 31, 2020.

[xvi] Gronewold, N. 2020. “E.U.’s coronavirus recovery plan also aims to fight climate change.” E&E News, May 28, 2020. Available from:

[xvii] Skarbek, A. 2020. “Why it doesn’t make economic sense to ignore climate change in our recovery from the pandemic.” Available from: Downloaded: Friday, 08 May 2020

[xviii] Gronewold, N. 2020. “E.U.’s coronavirus recovery plan also aims to fight climate change.” E&E News, May 28, 2020. Available from:

Downloaded: May 30, 2020.

[xix] Skarbek, A. 2020. “Why it doesn’t make economic sense to ignore climate change in our recovery from the pandemic.” Available from: Downloaded: Friday, 08 May 2020.

[xx] Hall, D. 2020. “From what is to what if: A green stimulus and the importance envisioning the ‘impossible’”. Resilience, 22 April 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Saturday, 25 April 2020

[xxi] Harvey, F. 2020. “Green stimulus can repair global economy and climate, study says.” The Guardian, May 5, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Thursday, 28 May 2020.

[xxii] Fialka, J. 2020. “Researchers will track whether coronavirus recovery spending benefits climate.” E&E News, May 13, 2020. Available from: Thursday, 14 May 2020

[xxiii] Hall, M. 2020. “COVID-19 weekly briefing: Evidence abounds of renewable energy gains at the expense of fossil fuels as the clamor for a green recovery rises.” PV-Magazine, 6 May 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Saturday, 09 May 2020.

[xxiv] IEA 2020. “Energy efficiency and economic stimulus.” International Energy Agency, 8 April 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Monday, 20 April 2020

[xxv] Gronewold, N. 2020. “E.U.’s coronavirus recovery plan also aims to fight climate change.” E&E News, May 28, 2020. Available from: May 30, 2020.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Kaufman, A. 2020. “South Korea tackled the coronavirus. Now it’s taking on the climate crisis.” Huffington Post, May 8, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Saturday, 09 May 2020

[xxviii] Dans, E. 2020. “In a post-pandemic world, renewable energy is the only way forward.” Forbes, May 5, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: May 6, 2020.

[xxix] Johnston, K. 2020. “Govt’s COVID-19 response slammed for ‘favouring men’.” The New Zealand Herald, 22 May 2020, A8.

[xxx] Boffey, D. 2020. “Amsterdam to embrace ‘doughnut’ model to mend post-coronavirus economy.” The Guardian, 8 April 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Thursday, 09 April 2020

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Morton, A. 2020. “Australian businesses call for climate crisis and virus economic recovery to be tackled together.” The Guardian, 4 May 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Wednesday, 06 May 2020

[xxxiv] Harvey, F. 2020. “Britons want quality of life indicators to take priority over the economy.” The Guardian, 10 May 2020. Available from: Downloaded: Wednesday, 13 May 2020

[xxxv] Hepburn, C., O’Callaghan, B., Stern, N., Stiglitz, J., and Zenghelis, D. 2020. “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” Smith School Working Paper 20-02.

[xxxvi] Cochrane, E. 2020. “Infrastructure week returns as Trump and Democrats eye post-virus jobs plan. “ New York Times, April 1, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: April 3, 2020.

[xxxvii] Emrath, P. “National impact of home building and remodeling: Update estimates.” NAHB, April 1, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: June 16, 2020.

[xxxviii] The Economist, 2020. “Boris’s infrastructure plans.” The Economist, July 1, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: July 2, 2020

[xxxix] Musulin, K. 2020. “NLC: Financial impact data paints ‘dire picture’ of cities futures.” Smart Cities Dive, June 24, 2020. Available from: Downloaded: June 29, 2020.

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A recipe for effective, quick, and affordable job creation in Africa

Willem Gous – The Human Entrepreneur

According to a world bank blog post, it costs around $30,000 to create one job in sectors like trade, wood, or construction. In my opinion, this is not sustainable because we might never recover that investment.

I dreamt of bringing the cost of job creation down to between $1,000 and $3,000 per job. 

I believe that I succeeded and want to share what I did to achieve this. 

“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.”

– Nelson Mandela

The challenge of rising unemployment

As a result of the worldwide 2020 pandemic, the world is facing unprecedented levels of unemployment. Some say 2021 will be worse as the economic effects of the 2020 lockdowns come into full effect. Millions lost their jobs, and many more will still as lockdowns persist. 

We must find a way to replace these lost jobs, quickly and affordably and The Human Entrepreneur Program might just be the most cost-effective and quickest way to achieve this.

The first part of the program helps to identify potential entrepreneurs and business owners while the second part, the incubator, assists them to create working businesses in record time. 

“Progress is a choice. Job creation is a choice. Whether we give our children a future or more or a future of less – this too, is a choice”

– Martin O’ Malley

Getting people to want to start businesses

Between August to November 2020, close to 1,700 candidates completed The Human Entrepreneur EDP (entrepreneurial development program) online. It helps you make an informed decision between finding a job and following a career or becoming an entrepreneur by starting a business. It also provides the basic information needed to start a business right there and then.

At the end of the online program, candidates had to make the actual decision between finding a job and following a career or becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business. The results were surprising. 

29% said they want to become entrepreneurs, 36% said they want to follow a career, and 35% indicated they want to do both, to have a job and build a business on the side. 

I spoke to many candidates who chose to do both (get a job and build a business on the side) and found the chief reason for this choice was driven by the belief that you need a lot of money to start a business, which is a myth. 

Thus, after doing The Human Entrepreneur EDP, 64% showed an active or delayed intention towards entrepreneurship and starting a business.

The program serves as a tool to identify people with a desire and drive to start a business and The Human Entrepreneur EDP is affordable and makes it possible to serve large numbers of people cost-effectively. 

Employers benefit from having people working for them that can think like entrepreneurs.

In a nutshell, the program assists in awakening potential business owners and serves as an excellent work readiness tool. 

Don’t stop until you are proud.

Starting businesses in record time

As mentioned before, the first part of the program helps to identify potential entrepreneurs and business owners while the second part, the incubator, assists them to create working businesses in record time. 

Due to extreme time constraints, I could only interview close to one hundred candidates who chose entrepreneurship and want to start businesses to go into The Human Entrepreneur Incubator Program. 

53 candidates were chosen to attend the 21-day incubator program. 21 Days were chosen due to time constraints. In future, I suggest 28 days instead.

Desired outcomes of the Incubator Program

Candidates have to build a business, with actual paying customers in 21 days. The aim is to generate enough profits to replace the salary they receive as part of a work experience program.

The candidates come from previously disadvantaged communities. The salary is not large, however, it covers their living expenses and a bit more, giving these new entrepreneurs the ability to live while building a business. They have independence, self-reliance and self-determination from the start. 

This is significant since it has a huge impact on focus, drive and motivation for an entrepreneur. Trust me, when the school says they will not allow your child entry tomorrow due to non-payment of school fees and you are behind on rent, then I am not giving my best to my business and customers possibly resulting in eventual business failure.

“Anyone has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”

– James Baldwin

A solution for effective job creation in Africa and the world

60% of candidates replaced their salary while the remainder is well on their way. Some achieved it in 7 days. 

The incubation program created 35 new businesses in 21 days, all with customers, generating turnover, and many being profitable past the desired outcomes. 35 Businesses means 35 new jobs created in 21 days, giving people the power of creating their own economy and self-determination. 

This was achieved starting with just over 50 people. What will happen if we consistently take people through this program? At its current price point, this is absolutely possible.

“The only limits in life are those we impose on ourselves.”

– Bob Proctor

Types of businesses created

Most of these businesses are low tech or no tech, ranging from hairdressers, food businesses, car mechanics, clothing brands, simple trading businesses. These are the types of jobs that Africa needs right now.

All of these businesses ended up serving the communities they were founded in and is an excellent way to stimulate the local economy. Thus this program can be used as a targeted economic stimulus tool for struggling communities.

“… The best way to help the poor is to promote economic growth and job creation.”

– Myron Magnet

What are the possibilities?

Imagine a struggling or disadvantaged community. You take 100 people per week through the EDP then absorb 25 people who want to start a business into the incubator program, with the aim of creating between 15 and 20 new businesses within that community every week. Where would that community be 12 months from now? 

Even if you only run this program monthly, it would mean between 180 and 240 jobs annually in businesses that serve the community while you have trained 1,200 people on The Human Entrepreneur Entrepreneurial Development Program. 

You would have improved the general view, understanding and practice of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking as well as help to create future workers for the businesses created.

“The saddest thing in life is to see people suffer from hunger and poverty in a world of plenty”

– Mouloud Benzadi

Interesting mindset shifts

Here are some interesting mindset shifts the candidates experienced on The Human Entrepreneur Incubator Program.

#1. No External Money Required to Start

In South Africa, we suffer from a major problem; most people believe that they require a lot of money to start a business. This belief is hampering the development of new businesses.

However, 100% of the businesses created on this program were started with the limited money the candidates had. Some business owners needed money to buy stock and dealt with that hurdle by asking customers for 50% deposits, and it worked. It is about finding creative solutions to problems and working with your customers. 

“Let new adventures begin.

#2. Start Today, Make Money Today

Some candidates got their first customers in 1 day, another added 13 new customers to his business in 24 hours after being stuck on 10 customers since the inception of the business. 

One candidate had an idea at the start of the program, and 7 days later, they made 1,5 times their monthly salary in profit.

People are hungry, they have direct financial needs now, and I feel this is where 6 or 12-month programs fail because why would anyone be motivated to build a business over 6 or 12 months when they need money to care for themselves and their families now. 

The Human Entrepreneur Incubation Program is a cost-effective feeder for longer-term incubation programs because we provide real businesses, with customers, making money making sure you sit with the right people with the right mindsets before investing a lot of time and resources into them on a 6 to 12-month program.

“You can make a life out of what you have, not what you are missing.”

– Kate Morton

#3. Many Started, Closed and Started Another New Businesses during the 21 Days

Many new businesses were started in week 1; some were closed down in the same week, and different businesses started instead. 

I have worked on other incubation programs, and even though people were working on businesses that were going nowhere, they simply could not let go of it. Their sunk cost was too high.

With The Human Entrepreneur Incubator Program, the timeframe is so short; there is little or no sunk cost. They created and destroyed businesses based on actual performance and the businesses’ ability to generate an income NOW.

“Every new beginning comes from the other beginning’s end.”

– Seneca

#4. Real Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a Nguni term meaning: “I am because we are” and it very powerful. However, in my experience, it is something people like to throw around to create a feeling of unity.

What inspired me was that candidates in the incubator program helped each other freely. They gave each other new business ideas (without asking for a cut or a profit share) and even encouraged each other to copy each other’s business ideas that already worked. 

Because of this, the group as a whole moved forward faster and performed better. Think of how this would play out in a community and the long term benefits of such thinking and working. This is ubuntu in action.

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”

– Aristotle

#5. Some Started in Week 3, and Still Succeeded

One person started the program in the third and last week. On the first day, they came up with 6 ideas to make money and had their first paying customer by the end of that day.

The results are truly inspirational in a year filled with despair and disappointment. 

“Keep looking up. That is the secret to life.”

– Charlie Brown

Let’s create 1,000 jobs in 2021. Can You Help?

I am looking for assistance. I want to use this program and create 1,000 new jobs in Africa or anywhere else in the world during 2021. That would require me to run this program many times through the course of 2021, and I require funding to do so. 

If you are in this field, please reach out to me.

If you do not actively work in this field but might know someone who does, please arrange an introduction.

Please contact me 

Stay positive, better days are on their way.

Video testimonials

Other testimonials

“I started my business last year in June. When I started this business I thought I would get 10 customers at the same time but I only got a few customers. I started to lose hope in my business. Since I started the human entrepreneur incubator program I realised that I have to work hard and I don’t need funding for my business. All I have to do is work hard look for customers because customers can’t look for me if I don’t work hard.

Now I’m happy because my business is running smoothly and I have more than 100 paying customers. I would like to thank the human entrepreneur incubator program for pushing me, I really appreciate that.” – MPHAHLELE MGIBA

“I am grateful for the human entrepreneur incubator program. I always wanted to start a business but I always wanted to ask for funding. This program taught me that I don’t need funding to start the business.

I’ve learned that to get customers I need to speak to customers. I don’t need to rely on social media only. During this incubator program, I learned from my colleagues and classmates that it doesn’t matter the business idea but that you can make it.

I started my cleaning business two weeks ago and I’ve made money and I have 10 paying customers. I am very grateful to the human entrepreneur incubator program because I now have registered and working business.” – JERMINA THAGISHA

“I started my intrapreneurial training two weeks ago and learned how to make money and be able to start a business. It was an easy thing to do, but I never thought I could open a business and operated in one day. The human entrepreneur incubator program made this possible.

In just two weeks I have 16 paying customers which I charge R90 per customer once a month. I am happy that I am making money.

What is interesting is that I was able to register my business and I got the knowledge of that there is no need for a business plan and funding. If you want to start your business start now.

I’m very grateful for the great opportunity that I got.” – LINDIWE MOSEA

“It was a great opportunity to learn to become an entrepreneur through the human Entrepreneur incubator program.

I learned many things like you don’t need funding to start a business.

My business is transporting school children and in two weeks of this program, I have six customers.

I was planning to start my business only next year January but luckily from those six customers two customers will start on 1 December.

My colleague who is one of my classmates suggested that I can keep my business going getting the festive season by transporting people who work in restaurants or shops in the mall near my community. So luckily next week I will have more customers.

The incubator program gave me the opportunity to start my own business and it’s really going well. My target is eight customers and I already have six customers. Thank you to the incubator program.” – NANETHI KOKETSO MNCUBE

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Why preparedness matters

THOUGHT LEADERSHIP | Llewellyn van Wyk, B.Arch; MSc. (Applied), Urban Analyst

“Son, we live in a world that has walls and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns.”

A Few Good Men, 1992.
Surge, Lian Chan 2020

In a court scene in the 1992 movie, A Few Good Men Colonel Nathan Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) is being cross-examined by Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise) about the death of a marine at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Goaded on by Lieutenant Kaffee, Colonel Jessup finally loses his temper and retorts with the line quoted above.

While I am not a big supporter of war analogies, it is perhaps apt under the current circumstances as multiple political leaders have referred to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic as a “war”. Covid-19 will not be stopped by wars, and hopefully, we will not resort to guns as a defense, but standing watch stresses the need for vigilance i.e. keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties. Two capabilities are required – anticipation, and response.


David Quammen, writing for the New Yorker, questioned Ali Kahn, formerly of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on what went so disastrously wrong. Where was the public-health preparedness that he had overseen at the CDC? Why were most countries – and especially the US – so unready? Was it a lack of scientific information, or a lack of money? Kahn’s response was, “This is about lack of imagination.” [i]

The best time to panic, i.e. overreact to a potential pandemic, says Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, is shortly after a novel pathogen has been detected.[ii] Unfortunately, at that point, few people have the virus and therefore it does not seem like a threat to the whole community. In hindsight, he concedes, it is perfectly obvious that the extraordinary efforts now being made by individuals and communities across the world to prevent the spread of Covid-19 should have been made in those areas where the virus was first discovered when it appeared.

However, it is natural that authorities do not wish to be criticised for “crying wolf” and, if they are elected officials, beaten at the next election for unnecessarily interfering with the life of the community. But it is precisely what would be called an “overreaction” that might have stopped Covid-19 in its tracks at the beginning. Taleb has previously written about those whose jobs are to make sure that small problems never become large and that some problems never even appear. 

Almost without fail commentators are emphasising how unprepared governments were for an event of this kind.

With a few exceptions, most notably South Korea, governments’ failure to act quickly and decisively contributed to the rapid spreading of the disease. In the US the disastrously tardy, inadequate, confused, and (for many citizens) confusing response of the federal government to Covid-19, both before and after the first case, derives from too many factors to list, but David Quammen mentions two: failure to appreciate the SARS and MERS warnings, both delivered by other coronaviruses; and loss of capacity at high government levels, within recent years, to understand the gravity and immediacy of pandemic threats.

The result of that loss is what Ali Khan means by lack of imagination. Almost paraphrasing Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, Beth Cameron, a former head of the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense on the National Security Council staff, calls it the absence of “the smoke alarm.” Those in power, she says, who are charged with “keeping watch to get ahead of emergencies” need to smell the smoke and smother the fire while it’s small, As Cameron warns, “You’re not going to stop outbreaks from happening. But you can stop outbreaks from becoming epidemics or pandemics.”[iii]

Of greater concern is that several scientists expressed their alarm at an increasing emergence of the transmission of zoonotic diseases well before Covid-19 emerged. This was highlighted in, among other, a paper published in the Journal of Emerging Infections in 2010 where the authors noted that “current global disease control focuses almost exclusively on responding to pandemics after they have already spread globally.”[iv] Citing the response to the HIV pandemic as an example (it took over 25 years to develop a viable vaccine), the authors argue that this wait-and-see response is inadequate and what is urgently required is the development of systems to prevent pandemics especially given their rapid pace of spread and mutation.

As Jeffrey Sachs puts it, “There are many aspects of any major crisis that are similar in character, in that they require governments to assess the situation with sophistication, to identify options, to come up with strategies, and to implement them. Although crisis management has a lot of common points, the core issues are the capacity of political leaders and their inner team, and the capacity of the institutions of governance – agencies, departments, and ministries – to be able to process information in a timely way and to be able to harness expert advice and evidence in a timely way.”[v]

A similar situation applies to medical research funding: intermittent, stop-and-start funding that is provided only when there is a public health emergency undermines the ability to create capacity for rapid response as new pathogens emerge. Research must be ongoing before, during and after a disease outbreak. Several promising vaccines were in development during the SARS and MERS coronavirus outbreaks – but once infections waned, so did the research funding. Proto-vaccines that could have been useful in developing a rapid response to this novel virus were literally put on ice at the University of Texas and elsewhere – thus handicapping the current development process by many months.[vi]

Dennis Carroll, a former research virologist who led a pandemic-threats unit at the US Agency for International Development for almost fifteen years, believes the global community has a difficult time investing in what many think of as risky.

Spending big money is itself a form of risk, especially if it is public money, even if you are spending it to insure against a greater risk.

What if you spend a billion dollars, or ten billion – small change compared with what Covid-19 is now costing—and the pandemic does not occur during your term in office? “There’s very little appetite for that when the threat isn’t clear and present,”

Carroll said. When SARS happens, when a swine-flu pandemic happens, when an Ebola epidemic happens, political leaders and private donors react with fretful largesse, but when the crisis ends, he said, “we see a total collapse of those kinds of investments.” Homeowners buy fire insurance, governments buy vast armouries of weaponry hoping they will not be used, but there’s reluctance to invest seriously in preparedness against pandemics. “It’s attention-deficit disorder on a global scale,” Carroll said.

Sustained funding is necessary to support the full range of discovery – from elucidating the biology of the virus to developing drug candidates to creating improved systems of care delivery.

Still, some countries fared worse than other countries not because they lacked information or funding, but because they failed to learn the lessons of last outbreaks.


Some governments have been keen to lay all the blame for the virus at Beijing’s door, but while initial coverups and lack of transparency undoubtedly delayed the international response, by February 2020 much of what is known about the virus – including its severity and ability to spread quickly – was common knowledge, and yet countries, at best, still failed, or, at worst, refused, to act.

Authorities and experts were certainly taken unawares by how quickly and widely the virus spread itself, however, multiple experts agree there was also a general sense of complacency among governments in the West that the outbreak was a China – or an Asian – problem, and would not necessarily behave the same way inside their borders. Some of this response is often a “feeling in countries that they might be affected in a different way because their community has a different structure … or that hot weather is going to keep it away, or their community is more spread out.”[vii]

Despite signs, the threat was making its way across the globe, there was a clear pattern of response in many parts of the world – denial, fumbling and, eventually, lockdown. It is especially puzzling that in our globalised world, so few lessons were learned in the early weeks of each country’s outbreak when the chances of containing and stopping the virus were highest. After all, this is one of the key arguments of globalisation protagonists.

There’s a lot to be said for the argument that any government would have been hard-pressed by a crisis of this nature and scale, but there were already clear indicators of what resilience looks like in the face of a global crisis such as this.

Although Asia has been able to start easing lockdown measures quite quickly, (Asia, after all, has been dealing with the coronavirus since late 2019, so governments have had longer to respond), the situation has grown increasingly dire in the West. While considerable attention has been paid to China’s initial response to the virus, anger is growing within countries over their government’s failure to respond when the alarms went off.

Rick Bright, who filed a whistle-blower complaint after being removed from his position as head of the agency in charge of the pandemic response, testified for just under four hours before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee. In his testimony he warned there is still no “master, coordinated plan” and noted that a “comprehensive strategy” was needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic that included widespread testing, tracing and ongoing efforts to “develop a cure,’’ as well as what to do with a vaccine once one is developed.[viii]

In the United States, a national shortage of diagnostic kits for the emerging coronavirus meant that only people who had recently visited China were eligible for testing. Even as beds began filling in Seattle with cases of flulike symptoms, doctors were unable to test them for the new disease, because none of the sufferers had been to China or been in contact with anyone who had. For nearly a month, as patients complained of aches, fevers, and breathing problems – and exhibited symptoms associated with Covid-19, such as “glassy” patches in X-rays of their lungs – none of them were evaluated for the disease. Calls to implement life-saving social distancing measures in the United States faced “a lot of pushback.”[ix]

Consequently, nationwide social distancing guidelines were not put in place until 16 March despite the country’s first case being recorded on 15 January, and the first signs of “community spread” detected in late February.

As noted by David Quammen, author of unsettling 2012 book, Spillover, which warned how (as we continue to disrupt the natural world) viruses are increasingly spreading from wild animal populations to humans, has not been surprised. He notes how the lack of preparedness is the only thing about this whole situation that has surprised him. “I didn’t have any illusions that the people who control the wheels of power and government were listening carefully to the scientists, but I thought they were listening at least enough to have some preparedness. And in this country, of course, I knew that [President] Trump was trying to defund the Centers for Disease Control as much as he could and had gotten rid of the key people on the National Security Council who were in charge of pandemic preparedness” he notes.[x] “Still, I am surprised at how unprepared we’ve been and how badly we, meaning this administration but also state governments, have managed this thing. It’s appalling” he concludes. Ultimately the lack of a timeous response cost the lives of at least 36 000 people.[xi]

The UK too dragged its feet on taking concerted action, only instituting lockdowns and a stay-at-home order in late March, two months after its first case was recorded. In the UK there is a growing scandal over, for example, the lack of protective gear for frontline medical workers. In the United States, some nurses had to resort to cutting makeshift protective clothing out of black rubbish bags. Both countries have also struggled to test enough people, with the US suffering delays due to the release of a flawed test that had to be corrected, while the UK lagged behind many of its European neighbours forcing people to order testing kits through the mails. The European Union’s chief scientist resigned over the bloc’s response to the virus.

In Asia, there is a growing sense of astonishment that the long lead time many countries elsewhere had was not better used. Unfortunately, responses to crises are equally shaped by experience, regardless of how much we try to look beyond them. From the outset, many saw the current pandemic as a rerun of SARS, from its emergence in China to that government’s apparent attempt at a coverup, to how it spread through Asia. The two viruses are related and have similar symptoms, but the novel coronavirus has long overtaken SARS in terms of death toll and spread. Nevertheless, an inability to look beyond SARS may have negatively shaped responses. Complacency, combined with calls to preserve the economy at all costs, appears to have caused governments to refuse to see what was staring them in the face, or being shouted in their ears, by increasingly desperate scientific advisers.

Still, while learning from mistakes is useful, learning from success stories is equally valuable.

Despite the pandemic hitting Europe hard, in Germany, with more than 100 000 people infected, the percentage of fatal cases has been remarkably low compared to those in many neighbouring countries. Much of this can be attributed to their response, which included the testing of far more people than most nations. That means it catches more people with few or no symptoms, increasing the number of known cases, but not the number of fatalities. The testing has included medical personnel: medical staff, at particular risk of contracting and spreading the virus, are regularly tested. To streamline the procedure, some hospitals have started doing block tests, using the swabs of 10 employees, and following up with individual tests only if there is a positive result. Health authorities also plan to roll out a large-scale antibody study, testing random samples of 100 000 people across Germany every week to gauge where immunity is building up.

An important key to the success of broad-based testing was that it did not cost the patients anything, a notable difference with the United States where individuals had to pay for the tests in the first several weeks of the outbreak. Regarding testing and tracking, Germany learnt quickly from the strategy that was successful in South Korea. Germany also learned from getting it wrong early on: it is now recognised that the strategy of contact tracing should have been used even more aggressively.

Germany benefitted from a robust public health care system: for example, hospitals have expanded their intensive care capacities across Germany for some time. And they started off a high base. Germany projected a need of about 12 000 beds at the peak of the outbreak according to projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Crucially, it has over 147 000 beds, more than 10 times it needed.

Beyond mass testing and the preparedness of the health care system, many also see Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership as one reason the fatality rate has been kept low. As an academic stated in Germany, “Maybe our biggest strength in Germany is the rational decision-making at the highest level of government combined with the trust the government enjoys in the population.”[xii]All told there are significant factors that have kept the number of deaths relatively low, epidemiologists and virologists say, chief among them early and widespread testing and treatment, plenty of intensive care beds and a trusted government whose social distancing guidelines are widely observed.

Taiwan, with a population of around 24-million people, had, by 15 April, recorded just over 390 cases and six deaths, and on the same day reported no new cases at all. It managed to achieve that without implementing severe restrictions, like lockdowns, or school and nursery closures. In terms of its death toll, at least, Taiwan does not have much of a curve to flatten, more like a stepped line. Compare this to the United States which had reported over 60 000 deaths at the same time. Adjusted for population size, a level of Taiwan-like success could have meant just 83 deaths in the US. Among the early decisive measures taken was the decision to ban travel from many parts of China, stop cruise ships docking at the island’s ports, and introduce strict punishments for anyone found breaching home quarantine orders.

In addition, Taiwanese officials also moved to ramp up domestic face-mask production to ensure the local supply, rolled out island-wide testing for coronavirus – including retesting people who had previously unexplained pneumonia – and announced new punishments for spreading disinformation about the virus. Taiwan also went big on the use of big data and technology. It successfully merged national health insurance data with customs and immigration databases to create real-time alerts to help identify vulnerable populations. Having a good health data system helps with monitoring the spread of the disease and allows for its early detection. Critically again, although Taiwan has high-quality universal health care, its success lies in its preparedness, speed, central command, and rigorous contact tracing.

New Zealand, another government that has been praised for its handling of the pandemic, was also faster to introduce restrictions and widespread testing than the United States or Great Britain although not without several significant challenges. Not only was there an apparent shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), the greater threat lay in a capacity shortage to test and contact trace.[xiii] While New Zealand had a stockpile of 24 886 kits, at the rate of testing that would have lasted only a fortnight. The shortage was due to a lack of specialised swabs used to collect mucus samples from the back of the nasal passages. However, the main global supplier of these swabs was a factory in Italy that was already struggling to meet local demand, creating a weak link in the supply chain that appeared at the time to potentially be the difference between New Zealand having a chance of containing Covid-19 or not. A further weakness in the supply chain became evident: disruptions to air freight undermined the ability to get aircraft to transport the swabs. Fortunately, the aircraft, and subsequent orders, were able to get through and make the crucial deliveries. However, reforms had to also be brought into a system that was found to be already overextended to enable the scale of testing and contact tracing required.[xiv]

In Cuba, its public health infrastructure supported community workers to identify vulnerable citizens and support their isolation early on, averting the overwhelming pressure on hospitals, staff and equipment that has characterised situations in either northern Italy or New York.

Iceland’s prolific approach to testing has enabled its government to keep the economy moving and keep the rate of infection down at the same time.

In all of these cases, the ability to respond has been supported by a long-standing commitment to investment in reliable broad public infrastructure — healthcare and the universal provision for basic human needs like housing, energy, sanitation, water and food. These are the structures that make a lockdown event viable in the first place. Where such structures have either been compromised by underinvestment or do not exist at all, a collective vulnerability has been glaringly exposed.

The lessons that become abundantly clear from the above are be prepared; be quick; test, trace and quarantine; use data and technology; be aggressive; get the private sector involved; act preventatively, respect privacy; learn from the past; increase testing as restrictions ease; build capacity in the health system; and funding for medical research must be sustained and predictable.

The clear message is: the precautionary principle applies whenever we are faced with problems that have the potential to cause systemic ruin. In future we will have to “overreact” and panic early to contain such potential pandemics. You may never know if you are overreacting, but you certainly will know if you have under-reacted. That could force us to do that right thing – even when the right thing seemsextraordinarily out of proportion to the risk – in order to prevent a massive problem that is many orders of magnitude worse that the inconvenience and economic loss associated with the early preventative steps taken.

With over a third of the world’s population at one time or another been shut away at home, the big question is what next. An opinion piece in the Economist makes a compelling case for dealing with this next phase. It argues that it is hard to think of any policy ever having been imposed so widely with such little preparation or debate. It argues that closing society was not a thought-out response, so much as a desperate measure for a desperate time. While it has slowed the pandemic, it has done so at a terrible price. Now as governments seek to put lockdowns behind them, governments are not thinking hard enough about the costs and benefits of what comes next the article argues.[xv]

Lifting lockdowns risked a second wave – and that is evident now. To limit the risk, it is suggested requires an epidemiological approach that focuses on the places and people most likely to spread the disease. An example is care homes, which in Canada have seen 80% of all the country’s deaths even though they house only 1% of the population. In Sweden refugees turn out to be high-risk, perhaps because several generations may be packed into a household. So are security guards, who are often elderly and are exposed to many people in their work.

For this approach to succeed at scale, you need data from tests to provide a fine-grained picture of how the disease spreads. Testing let Germany rapidly spot that it had a problem in its slaughterhouses, where the virus persists longer than expected on cold surfaces. Likewise, South Korea identified a super-spreader in Seoul’s gay bars. Without testing, a country is blind. Armed with data, governments can continuously refine their policies.

Some are universal. Masks were once thought ineffective, but in fact help stop the spread of the disease. Like handwashing, they are cheap and do not impose hidden costs. However, closing schools’ harms children and stops parents from working. In contrast with flu, it turns out, the benefits to health are not especially great. Schools should reopen, under conditions that lower the risk to teachers and vulnerable pupils.

Too many governments failed to spot what was coming, but then did what they could. In the much longer second phase they will have no such excuse. They must identify groups at risk; devise and enact policies for them; explain these so that vulnerable people change their behaviour without becoming scapegoats; provide vital infrastructure; and be ready to adapt as new data come in. This will sort countries where the government works from those where it does not. The stakes could not be higher the Economist concludes.

So, what happens after the virus has been contained (it will not be eradicated)? Complacency and apathy is what worries Brenda Ang from Tan Tock Seng most. Her concern,  mundane but crucial infection control measures, like the assiduous hand washing and wiping of doorknobs with alcohol – can lapse after a crisis as people become complacent and begin to believe that no new bugs exist. As for the larger lessons, beyond the outbreak locale, understand that there is no point in protecting your own turf. Infectious diseases are globalized, or, as Ali Kahn puts it, “a disease anywhere is a disease everywhere.”[xvi]

One of the implicit assumptions about western capitalism has always been that wealth was what would allow a democratic government to provide for the public during good times, and to protect it from harm during the crisis.

Sung notes that the pandemic has altered this view and points to the example of the U.S. and that of the Indian state of Kerala to show that wealth is not a sufficient condition for a good government response. He argues that it is not even a necessary one. Kerala, he argues, showed that three things matter: one, does the state actually have the ability to do something when a crisis like COVID-19 happens; two, even if the state can do something, does it actually do it when it needs to; and three, has the state been exposed to a crisis of this sort before?[xvii]

Lastly, ponder this: Taiwan, Germany and New Zealand have received accolades for their impressive handling of the coronavirus pandemic. They are scattered across the globe: one is in the heart of Europe; one is in Asia and the other is in the South Pacific. But they have one thing in common: they are all led by women. [xviii]

Read more in Green Economy Journal: Is Covid a salvo from Mother Nature?


Quammen, D. 2020. “Why weren’t we ready for the Coronavirus?” Available from: Downloaded: Tuesday, 05 May 2020

[ii] Cobb, K. 2020. “Overreacting to Coronavirus? The perverse logic of panic during a potential pandemic.” Available from: Downloaded: Wednesday, 15 April 2020

[iii] Quammen, D. 2020. “Why weren’t we ready for the Coronavirus?” Available from: Downloaded: Tuesday, 05 May 2020

[iv] Pike, B., Saylors, K., Fair, J., Le Breton, M., Tamoufe, U., Djoko, C., Rimoin, A. and Wolfe, N. 2010. “The Origin and Prevention of Pandemics.” In Journal of Emerging Infections, CID 2010:50 (15 June), p1636-1640.

[v] Chotiner, I. 2020. “Jeffrey Sachs on the catastrophic American response to the Coronavirus.” Available from: Downloaded: Friday, 24 April 2020

[vi] Pomeroy, C. 2020. “if you think preparedness is expensive, the pandemic puts things in perspective.” Available from: Downloaded: Friday, 01 May 2020

[vii] Griffiths, J. 2020. “As Coronavirus spread through Asia, the West has a head start to prepare. Why wasn’t is used?” Available from: Downloaded: Friday, 17 April 2020.

[viii] Macaya, M. 2020. “5 takeways from Rick Bright’s House hearing.” Available from: Downloaded: Saturday, 16 May 2020

[ix] Griffiths, J. 2020. “As Coronavirus spread through Asia, the West has a head start to prepare. Why wasn’t is used?” Available from: Downloaded: Friday, 17 April 2020.

[x] Cohn, R. 2020. “Spillover warning: How we can prevent the next pandemic.” Available from: Downloaded: Friday, 10 April 2020

[xi] Ebrahimii, A. 2020. “If the US had started social distancing a week earlier, about 36,000 fewer people would have died, study says.” Available from: Downloaded: Friday, 22 May 2020

[xii] Bennhold, K. 2020. “A German exception: Why the country’s Coronavirus death rate is low.” Available from: Downloaded: Tuesday, 07 April 2020

[xiii] Nippert, M. 2020. “How COVID was crushed.” The New Zealand Herald, May 23, 2020, pA6.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Leaders, 2020. “Lifting lockdown: the when, why and how.” Available from: Downloaded: Friday, 22 May 2020

[xvi] Quammen, D. 2020. “Why weren’t we ready for the Coronavirus?” Available from: Downloaded: Tuesday, 05 May 2020

[xvii] Sung, E. 2020. “How a southern Indian state crushed its coronavirus outbreak.” Available from: Downloaded: Saturday, 23 May 2020

[xviii] Fincher, L. 2020. “Women leaders are doing a disproportionately great job at handling the pandemic. So why aren’t there more of them?” Available from: Downloaded: Friday, 17 April 2020

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Global forest sector and workers: providing solutions for pandemic recovery

This week, the global forestry advisory body to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released details on how sustainable forest management and forest products are well-positioned to drive a healthy, green, and inclusive recovery as we continue to face serious challenges related to COVID-19 around the world.

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