Resilience- Business

I think it's really difficult to write about the Covid 19 crisis from a business perspective. Collective experiences like this one smash through the story we tell each other, that we're a species of hard nosed decision making. This is an emotional issue, an issue for the human parts of our humanity not the spreadsheet parts. There's going to be so much sadness and anger. Not to mention the levels of fear and anxiety that people are struggling with now, because it feels like a ticking time-bomb, information is hazy and contradictory, and the real motives of the people giving it seem obscure. 

        To talk about it from the perspective of commerce risks trivialising the human response, but for many of us (most of us ideally), our work or trade is formed around human exchanges of our skills and talents, that make up more than just our income. They are also embedded in our emotional lives, so our passion for our work doesn't in fact conflict with our love for our families and friends, the two are intermingled. Part of a full life in the community, and this position is where this blog post comes from.

       For such a long time I just ignored Covid 19. I stopped engaging with the news after the December election, and even now, it hasn't really hit yet. Schools are still open, cafes are still open. Sometimes taking precautions feels almost like an overreaction- most people will only experience mild flu symptoms etc etc the brits are still going about smiling and saying 'fine, thanks' so...

From what I've heard and read- Novara Media did an informative Tysky Sour yesterday. The problem isn't the strength of the virus, majority of people will fight it off naturally- unlike Ebola for-instance which was a very aggressive disease with a 70percent and up death rate. The tipping point of a bad case of flu to crisis, is the number of people who will need intensive care all at the same time.To put a callous business spin on it -there's a supply and demand issue (so fuck you Hayek). At some point, quite soon if the Italian situation is anything to go by, the demand for intensive care beds, and specifically ventilators for people whose respiratory system has become severely inflamed, will outstrip the supply. This is what will make this crisis different to the normal flu crisis every year, (that still kills a shockingly high number of vulnerable people, and could also apparently benefit from more ventilators).

                 'calm down dear'

One government response, because they are perfect little neo-liberals, has been to offer to buy ventilators from anyone who can make them. And frankly, the entire government response just seems like PR. A bland mixture of 'calm down dear' and 'its common sense' that will 'resonate' with its voter base, rather than offer real informative leadership. Which is great way to control power, but a terrible way to control a viral outbreak. Our leaders are absolutely adept at avoiding difficult truths like, for instance, climate change, in favour of a purely individualistic propaganda of lifestyle protection. Zero imagination, zero access to important information, just pitting us against each other.

Because of the sector I work in, and the area I live in, I'm in touch with a large number of people whose livelihoods will come under serious strain from any kind of lockdown. No-one wants to make a choice between infecting someone's Grandma or losing their home. But, a few generations of ideology based on humans as self-interested individual actors, is both forcing that decision onto us and making everyone assume the worst of everyone else's motives, dividing and conquering. 

Researchers trying to model the future after 2 degrees of warming, warn that these kind of pandemics will become even more common. So we really need to use any future lockdowns as breathing space to re-evaluate and adjust our thinking. This is an opportunity to rebuild our systems, inline with our genuine priorities. The priorities of majority of the population to not unnecessarily cause our elders to die, which has been shown to be in direct conflict with the priority of the powerful- to keep the profit taps turned on.

Covid 19 shows us that the priority of 'Care' held by the majority of the population cannot go on being second fiddle to the priority of wealth accumulation held by a very small but powerful amount of the population.

The way that our society only allows us to access our most basic needs through money, is an obvious example of this. And Covid 19 is about to throw a lot of shit at this particular fan.

A large amount of the 'sustainable fashion' 'DIY fashion' or 'independent fashion' communities have deliberately rejected working in the conventional fashion system, because they see the damage that those business practices cause. In situations like this they are in the same boat as the huge amount of the workforce on zero hours contracts, who are unlikely to have cash in the mattress to get them through times like this. When uncertainty is causing sales to drop, this has an obvious effect on how these people will be able to continue with their businesses, (it's also pretty likely that corporations will do a good deal to hold onto their reserves before they make self-isolation possible for their workforces).

The government can see that the stay-at-home and don't-earn-money equation is going to blow up, so they are offering mortgage holidays. But this short term concession doesn't address the stress of paying rent and buying food, that huge amounts of the population face week in week out. The restriction that a rigged 'waged labour' system imposes on access to resources is forcing people to make climate destroying decisions much more regularly than it forces them to put their colleagues and neighbours health at risk. And Covid 19 can help us to realise, that if we are to build a system that allows the planet to rebalance itself, we might have to find ways to feed and house people outside of the market economy. 

It also shows us that we are totally interconnected. Money flows through increasingly complex global networks, paying the rent and food bills of the individual people as it goes around (except in the global south, where those things often can't be paid with average earnings).

Business resilience requires a new system that can 'cope' with periods of disruption to the normal flows of money, whilst maintaining the existence of our homes, food to eat, and the parts of our communities that are precious to us. 

Transferring huge amounts of the wealth we generate, back to people who own land, undermines that resilience. It's feudal. We basically haven't managed to escape serfdom in 1000 years.

That huge wealth transfer makes food a difficult commodity to produce. Which is a shame, because managed right the earth is happy to feed us in return for us not destroying it. Systems like regenerative agriculture to rebuild soil fertility and increase yields, but they don't fit a financialised model, they fit a semi-subsistence model, and that requires a lot more people to have access to the land.

And finally- production needs to be local and agile. Mechanisation has made it possible to make huge quantities of things without many humans involved. But machines are incredibly specialised. If you suddenly need a load of ventilators instead of new cars, that's a huge logistical issue for mechanised production. Whereas a blacksmith has a skill that relates to a specific material. A machine can generally only perform one process in one material. Laser cutters and 3d printers are more agile in this sense, but that's because they rely on a highly skilled individual to draw the designs and set them up. They behave more like a tool than a machine(and output is also relatively slow).

The other side of centralised mechanised production is that it has bloated management structures that move SLOWLY. 

The war effort was able to utilise a large number of small units to turn production over to planes and bullets incredibly quickly. That number of industrial units just don't exist in the UK anymore, and a lot of the expertise has been lost with them. To suddenly say 'can anyone build any ventilators' is just so frustrating. There would be a lot of people able to build ventilators, but they need premises, equipment, tooling, skills, raw materials. FUNDING. And what do you expect them to do when the crisis is over.

Long term, we really need to develop ways to shorten supply chains, and create agile manufacturing. We should stop believing that the world is going to stay as it is now, and embrace the opportunity that re-imagining for uncertainty presents. 

The urban beigeness of a middle managed market economy, with endless people on spreadsheets and telephones, is maybe(hopefully) over. It can't even deal with a viral infection. We need to embrace the heroic group mission of future provision, fast thinking, problem solving, working together, always learning.Getting to know our earth again, and building our societies, our supply chains, our distribution methods, based on this new, fluid knowledge.