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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 18 New Delhi, April 18, 2020

Coming: Corona’s Economic Shocks

Saturday 18 April 2020, by T J S George



These are days when I feel insignificant as a citizen. I am reduced to looking at politicians as the maa-baap of the country and obeying them. We citizens should be happy to do so except that the maa-baap speak in many tongues. Yogi Adityanath wants me to do yoga and thus cure all the ills of the nation. I spent a college year doing yoga, but did not see the world getting any better. Mamta Banerji wants me to know this whole corona panic is a BJP plot to divert attention from the Delhi riots. Karnataka politicians say: Drink for three hours a day, stay dry for the rest of the time and all will be well. I tried that and all was well with me. But I did not see Karnataka politicians getting any better.

In a situation like this, our Prime Minister says "it is important to tackle the spread of pessimism, negativity and rumour." He videoconferenced twenty-plus editors and owners of the print media and asked them to act as a link between the Government and the people. He spelt out no policy plan as the UK prime minister did before he himself fell ill, nor did he speak in the reassuring tones of the Canadian prime minister. But the media chiefs he contacted were enamoured of the gesture and agreed to publish only "inspiring and positive stories." One owner said, "we were privileged" to interact with the PM. Another said: "He has strategic clarity. We are certainly in good hands." In which other country can the media be more cooperative? Consider some other aspects of — and approaches to — the problem.

Howard Marks, investment specialist revered in the West, cautioned that markets would fall as a consequence of the severity of economic and financial shocks triggered by the corona crisis. He drew attention to "the rising numbers of infections and deaths, the unbearable strain on the healthcare system, job losses in millions, widespread business losses and mounting defaults." Some predicted that the US will suffer its worst recession in history. When the US economy goes into recession, it impacts all.

Europe’s economic cooperation platform, the OECD, predicted global
growth shrinking to 1.5 percent in 2020. Life and economy will not be normalised any time soon, said OECD chief. Even after the corona pandemic is gone, its economic effect will prove to be a prolonged affair. This calls for social re-adjustments as well. How many societies are ready?

Religion has been a factor in the corona crisis. Hindu, Muslim and Christian crowds defied commonsense and gathered in large numbers. Devotees celebrating Holi in Amedabad showed no restraint. Interestingly, visits to Mecca and Medina were severely restricted with many mosques cancelling Friday prayers. Hopefully God will bless the careless and the careful equally.

The entertainment industry has come to a halt and its consequences will be serious. There is no question of cinema halls functioning. Camera crews and location units and similar assistance groups cannot function either. Even television stations are forced to run old features like Ramayana. Sports is doomed. Wimbledon and Premier League have been cancelled.

Retail shopping, a sustenance activity of all classes of people, has been disrupted. Essentials for the kitchen are in the market, but in given spots at given times. What about other items considered essential in normal times? Clothes and cosmetics, books and boutiques are suddenly in a category that seems alien compared to tomatoes and eggs. What we saw as the basics of life are out. New definitions of "basic" have taken over.

Experts warn of an unforeseen consequence — mental health problems.
The main reason they cite is the strain caused by lack of jobs. The long-term effect of being jobless could produce mental pressures of a disastrous kind. For the poor the future is grim.

Add to this medley of problems the concern expressed by the Editors Guild of India over a government statement before the Supreme Court blaming the media for causing panic among migrant workers. This made the apex court observe that the media should publish the official version of developments. Calling this observation gratuitous and unnecessary, the Editors Guild said that blaming the media can obstruct the process of disseminating news.

That, alas, is true. But, as we have seen, media leaders think that it is
a "privilege" just to be in touch with the Prime Minister. That attitude, too, can obstruct the dissemination of news. Whichever way you turn, we run into new definitions of professionalism and patriotism. Alas, indeed.

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