Picking up the pieces

by July 6, 2020 0 comments

The writing on the wall is clear. The paradigms of not only growth and welfare but of survival and safety have to be rewritten  

The last 13 weeks or so have been exceptional and unprecedented in experience, reflection and all that goes with it. The dominant theme has been of worry, anxiety and the strange feeling of helplessness, should one be unfortunate enough to be infected with the Coronavirus. The fear of the unknown, coupled with the pressure of several confusing containment operations, cushioned marginally by some precautions, can be a very difficult process to go through. That may be another story for a different day.

The coping experience is yet to be clearly comprehended to be articulated here. A reflection on the time frame mentioned above triggers some thoughts which are a potpourri of notions and emotions, sometimes verging on exasperation. There have been a spate of webinars and obviously this has lubricated the business of communication platforms. They have seldom had it so good. The disinfectant and the medical palliatives industry is booming, the latter particularly on the promises of increasing immunity and giving reserves to combat the dreaded disease. Both the narratives are inductive and in the absence of anything better, rule the roost.

The pharmaceutical industry is much in demand and reportedly the top bosses of the Ministry concerned were working 24×7 to keep the supply chain moving, specially for the export of some formulations. News channels and various media reports have it that the US had mopped up the entire batch of the current global production of Remdesivir. There was a concurrent protest on such matters, because the fear was that other formulations, when perfected for use, may have a similar fate. During this pandemic, one is truly trying to find a response for the unknown and the unpredictable lay of the land. One can only hope for luck.

It is no secret that the global economy has taken one of its worst beatings on all the conventional parameters of economic worth: Output, income and employment. However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its sister institutions are not yet out of a job. The World Bank still has its pretensions. This is one area where the Chinese are still to catch up. The parallel institutions they tried to set up as alternatives don’t seem to be firing even on two cylinders. Perhaps the Chinese obsession with creating its 21st century version of the Silk Route, with the Chinese economy being the hub of world economic operations, seems to be the undermining of their efforts.

The Indian economy still seems to be faithful to the traditional platform of sticking to bailouts, doles and largesse. For the economic strategic thinkers, who control this country’s State-oriented growth processes, 2020 could just as well be 2008. The comfort of such thoughts is almost incredibly unreal and yet it can create the happy feeling of “something is being done.”

For those who can see, the writing on the wall is clear. The paradigms of not only growth and welfare but of survival and safety have to be rewritten. Doing a cadence count with rising tariffs and surcharges alternately (and sometimes together) on petrol and diesel does seem to have exhausted its potential.

Yet the conventional economist knows that to be in business he must always tell a story of growth. The present one is that the recovery for 2021 will be 5.8 per cent. The repetitive accuracy of decimal precision these calculations always achieve is amazing. The unhappy sequence that some economists talk of, namely the cycle of contraction, recession and depression, is taken up only by the fringe elements. It’s not even fashionable to debate it anymore. Confidence is rarely sighted. And not enough thought is being given to structural shifts the firms need to be considering.

For that matter, even household behaviour does not seem to have change enough with the times. Many in the household set-up are practicing decontamination and hope to protect themselves from the virus. It is not quite registering that this may need to become the new algorithm. There is a good case for doing so.

The kind of vegetable shopping which takes place, even in normal times, in the filthy cradles near drains in parts of some cities like Mumbai, needs to be stopped once and for all. Hygiene cannot be only a contagion-specific behaviour. A more hygienic and enduring supply chain of daily goods needs to be put in

place for households and this cannot be a Covid-19-based effort alone.

With the disruption of aggregate demands and weaknesses in conventional sources of supply, there was never a better time to recast the survival safety net of human efforts in many parts of India. Deliberately, no claims are being made to an all-India model. That’s because the Indian economy is far too variegated for a one-size-fits-all model. If the current health emergency leavened by economic disruption can impact the structure of demand, reform of capital flow would follow. Commodity prices could be redesigned and an overall more stable platform of everyday operations — both corporate and domestic — could follow.

(Writer: Vinayshil Gautam; Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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