…is the mother of invention
In the UK, coronavirus is the new Brexit. It is getting saturated media coverage, and it is all anyone talks about.
Across most of Europe, countries are in lockdown. Paris is a ghost town. Last weekend, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops were ordered to close their doors at midnight on Saturday. On Monday, president Macron, said the country was at war.
Anyone flouting the restrictions, risks a fine. “I know what I am asking of you is unprecedented, but the circumstances demand it,” Macron said. “The enemy is there: it is invisible, it is elusive, but it is making progress.”
100,000 police officers will be used to enforce the lockdown, with checkpoints set up nationwide and anyone stopped outside their home asked to justify the reason why, on a form downloaded from the interior ministry website.
The form requires any French resident who goes outside to declare, on their honour, that they have done so for one of a handful of permissible reasons; which include walking the dog and “brief individual exercise, excluding team sports”.
In Paris, interviewed by a reporter, a 67 year-old woman said: “I reckon I’ll be alright, I’ve got my shopping trolley, my dog and a prescription from the doctor. That’s at least three good reasons to be out. If they try and send me home, they’ll be getting an earful.”
In France the virus has killed 148 people. The gilets jaunes are nowhere to be seen, seemingly crushed by an invisible pandemic.
Normally, around 350,000 people travel to New York’s Times Square each day; now it is deserted. The city that never sleeps has closed all its bars and restaurants, schools have shut and companies are operating with a skeleton staff.
In the US, around 115 people have died from the virus. In 2017-2018, it is estimated around 61,000 people died of the flu (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
It is fair to say that governments seem to be taking the coronavirus situation seriously, and all of them are effectively controlling and corralling their citizens.
Coronavirus is the only topic in town, and the consensus is, that it is not a good thing, with aggressive media reports ranging from the apocalyptic to the merely devastating. International travel has come to a halt, the stock markets have plummeted and the global economic structure has been revealed as unfit for purpose, along with the national health services of most countries.
Macron, and many other leaders, called it a war and when wars (and other disasters) are observed historically, we can see that many inventions that came about, often by chance, have become some of the the most important developments of all time.
When everything is unprecedented, the cliches are wheeled out and people become inventive.
World War 1 led to the invention of blood banks, Kleenex and sanitary towels, stainless steel, zippers and wristwatches.
During World War 2, it was at Bletchley Park, that Colossus was invented, to speed up the cracking of the Enigma codes. Colossus was, in effect, the world’s first computer. And look what happened to that.
In 1939, serial inventor, Luther Simjian, started work on the ATM. His first one was not installed until the 60s (by Citicorp, in NYC) and was removed six months later, because; “the only people using the machines were a small number of prostitutes and gamblers who didn’t want to deal with tellers face to face”, Simjian said.
WW2 also saw the invention of superglue, medical penicillin and the V2 rocket, whose German technology was used to launch the first satellites and put man on the moon.
Because of the Great Depression (1929-1933), there was a huge surplus of coffee beans sitting unused in Brazil. Suppliers asked Nestle to come up with a way of preserving it, and so, just after the war, the world was presented with freeze dried coffee, which used the same vacuum technology used to produce penicillin.
Radar and the biro, jet engines and photocopying, all came about because of WW2, so will anything important come from this ‘global crisis’?
Almost certainly, but probably not in a form as recognisable as a satellite or a pen; these developments are far more likely to be less tangible and more incremental, yet manifold and important. The developments will be interlinked.
In times of national crisis, the UK turns to its two great institutions; the BBC and the NHS.
Like all media outlets, the BBC seems slightly hysterical at the moment, but experience and professionalism will prevail and we will realise, once again, that it is the only media outlet we can really trust.
The BBC will learn to operate with a newly streamlined structure and a commensurate budget.
The virus has made it abundantly clear that the NHS is staffed by the best of us, who will do all they can to care for us in our hour of need, and also that it is massively underfunded by a government who is now relying on it to ‘save’ the country.
The government has pledged unlimited funds and ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure the NHS can operate now and into the future, as a shining example to the rest of the world. Arguments about privatisation and the NHS’s future are currently moot.
In the US, the future of healthcare will also be front and centre of immediate developments; a two-tier system of healthcare, medical apartheid if you will, is not fit for purpose in a civilised society and could become the major battleground in the upcoming US elections.
Homeworking is here to stay. We already knew that, but this virus is a catalyst for the total normalisation of working from home. Companies can save money; office space in the centre of cities will become redundant, alongside the rapidly emptying shops and then people will move in. They will live in the centre of towns, they will rejuvenate them and in doing so, help solve our housing crisis.
Underpinning everything is our concern for the environment. Following lockdown in China, satellite images showed how much less polluted the atmosphere over China had become. The grinding halt of international travel will show the same globally and people will start to join the dots.
This is the last time airline companies will have the barefaced cheek to ask governments for bailouts; they are going to replace the banks as the new pariahs. There will be no third runway at Heathrow, there will be no new airports. Unless it invests its profits in developing carbon neutral travel, the airline industry is dead.
The media are trying to engender an atmosphere of total fear and utter compliance and I don’t know why. There are, inevitably, some conspiracy theories.
Back to banking:
In the US, 70% of the population use cash on a weekly basis, in Sweden, that figure is down to 30%.
Money has always been seen as dirty, now literally so, although it is worth saying that the new polymer bank notes are seven times more resistant to bacteria than the paper ones.
Most people are used to paying for things ‘contactless’. Cash is on its way out; perhaps it will only be used by those ‘prostitutes and gamblers’ Simjian was talking about. This will not come without its problems, but it is coming.
Italy was the first country to announce holiday periods for mortgage repayments; the same has happened in the UK and other countries; council tax will be cancelled for a while, governments may even start handing out money.
Or more likely, they will ask the banks to start handing out money; after all, they owe us one.
Anything could happen. There is enormous room for speculation.
Perhaps the virus is a smokescreen for a complete overhaul of the entire failing banking system.
Bank websites will start to go down as they change their systems; the banks can blame this on something to do with the virus, the unprecedented times etc.
In fact, these are just glitches, as they replace the entire system with blockchain technology to facilitate the global transfer of cryptocurrency from place to place, person to person.
After this crisis, everything will be in place for money, as we know it, to be gradually phased out and replaced by something that will not fluctuate like currencies and will retain its value, unlike money. There will be no more stock market crashes, no more speculation, no more virus and no more uncertainty. The exact details are unclear.
Whatever, we can expect everything to change massively, in a confusing, yet subtly integrated way. The virus will go and we will emerge into a new world where we are even more dependent on our institutions than ever; nothing will have changed, yet everything will have altered a bit, everything will be left out of sync, and soon we will forget that this was just an annual bout of flu, that got slightly out of hand.
My recommendation? Invest in cryptocurrency. Maybe.