7 June 2020 02:03 PM

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RASHMI OBEROI | 29 MARCH, 2020

Misplaced Priorities

Health and economic recess


With all the money they made…they built statues…they built religious structures…they built monuments…they demolished and rebuilt buildings that were in perfect condition. Some of it meandered its way to personal coffers naturally.

And as the money finished…the pandemic arose and travelled across the globe annihilating many and overpowering one and all. And once again they reached out to their ‘reserves’ and into the coffers they looked, and the bare bottom gleamed back at them as the reserves had been dug into and splurged a long time back.

Healthcare, good governance, emergency support systems withered away without a blink. When an emergency strikes, it certainly comes without a warning and stays around to cause enough hardships and destruction. This is when a country needs a good fall-back plan of action…a support system in place and funds.

Where are India’s resources? We have never paid heed to a good healthcare plan - to medical aid/treatments and we have never bothered about our daily-wage workers…our farmers…our people. The rich and mighty will manage,will tide over the bad times…will survive… But what about the millions in India who are below poverty level?

There is no way to quite describe how debilitating it feels carrying a crushing load of stress and uncertainty in today’s times. When we are all panicking it is nearly impossible to find workable or well considered solutions to our problems. Feelings of stress are amongst the most frightening and powerful we experience along our path in these trying days. We have all been thrown into a cauldron of confliction: unfair situations, poor communication, deals gone bad, lies told, people panicking, entitlement, loss of finances and other let downs.

The coronavirus pandemic has already started to hit our pocketbooks, with nearly 1 in 5 households experiencing a layoff or a reduction in work hours. As people stay home, avoid crowds and cancel plans to avoid spreading the disease, it is rapidly causing a contraction in economic activity that is hurting a wide range of businesses. Restaurants, bars, hotels and airlines are among the hardest-hit industries, but the ripple effects of the drop in demand are expected to spread across virtually the entire economy.

As of today, layoffs and reduced hours have already hit us. Lower-income workers are the most affected and even those who haven't lost work because of the coronavirus are often working differently because of the pandemic. Many businesses have allowed or instructed people to work from home to reduce their exposure to the virus. But many jobs, particularly blue-collar and service or retail jobs cannot be done remotely.

Misplaced priorities are numbing us. As panic over coronavirus amplifies, it is essential to keep our focus on human beings, not just on the economy. Growing fear in the financial markets can distract us from remembering that the most important participants in this story are the victims of the virus itself. With intensifying public health warnings over the past two weeks, it has become more and more tempting to view covid-19 through the lens of its financial effects.

Other aspects also do come to the surface; we want to know how to stay safe in public and how to protect our children or grandparents. Still, a disproportionate amount of our focus has been on the financial consequences of the virus — because we as a society have given pride of place to economic reasoning.

To some extent, this makes sense. A strong economy allows us to make a living. We plan for the future in good times and use our financial resources to help each other when things are bad. At its most moral, finance — like money itself — is conceived of as a means, not an end. If money is meant to serve, it is meant precisely for moments such as this. But today, we are not at our most moral. Our priorities are spelled out differently.

Our misplaced priorities have translated into a troubling numbness to the reality of the current situation. This is not a trivial matter. We live in a time of vast resources, but those resources are responsive to what we notice and what we value. This is not the only time that such madness has presented itself.

Many of the greatest headlines of the age — from gaping inequality to the breakdown of local communities, from racism to the climate crisis — are all, in their own ways, stories of fixation on what the market demands over and above the people it is meant to serve. In all of these cases, we tend to obscure significant moral decisions under the logic of economic necessity. So, where exactly have we gone wrong? It all points to greed…

This crisis will change things for all of us forever…it is an awakening on how we have all gone wrong following the path that cared not for the planet but for personal gains…not for healthcare but for religion…not for our environment but for a concrete jungle…not for our people but for political greed.

We chased the wrong heroes and idolised them, little realising that the real heroes wear invisible capes and work silently in the background. Let us thank those individuals working tirelessly to save lives determinedly.

We are in the stage that showcases us an unprecedented existential threat to humanity. We have been warned!

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