Covid: Goodbye globalism

Apparently there are people out there, running airlines and being paid millions, who genuinely believe that international travel will be “back to normal”, or something approaching it, next year. Obviously, their job is much easier than anyone had realised. You just have to be an idiot.

It’s not just airlines though. To an extent that it’s hard to conceive of, if you can remember back to the 1960s, our world is built on the idea of international mobility, especially if you can afford it. It’s not just, Let’s Get Pissed in Prague This Weekend, pleased as the Czechs will be to see that come to an end. Globalism (more than just globalisation) is the basic mechanism by which the international Professional-Managerial Class (PMC) rules. Consider: you recruit your staff from where you want; you send them where you want; you outsource to where you want; you buy from where you want and you sell to where you want. Literally none of that will now be easy: some of it will be impossible.

If you can’t rely on a cheap disposable immigrant workforce, you have to pay higher wages. But how long will it be before such a workforce can be delivered in batches again, for exploitation and ultimate replacement? (How long would slavery have lasted in the Ottoman Empire if the captives from Africa and Europe might have been bearing a deadly disease?) What happens if there’s a sudden suspected infection in your call centre in some pauperised African or Asian country? You can’t find out without sending someone there, and they might bring the virus back with them. But you can’t provide the services any more because all the expertise has gone.

Not that I’m sorry for the PMC: they built a complex fragile system out of greed, and it’s falling apart. But it’s the rest of us I’m worried about. All these things that are (we now realise) made in China … Well, there are ships on the high seas with infected crews that can’t put into port, and ports with infections where ships can’t call. And your electrical goods, your clothes, your toys and even your pots and pans … well, they’re stuck on the high seas somewhere. And nobody knows when, or if, we’ll see them again.

Things are changing. More tomorrow.

Covid: the end of the (air)line

Some of the consequences of the Covid virus are more obvious than others. Let’s start with them.

If you have travelled a bit internationally (and I don’t mean just to the country next door) you’ll be familiar with what airlines call the “hub and spoke” model of travel. Essentially, you fly from where you are to the airline’s central hub (or that of one of their partners) and then on to your destination. This may not be ideal for you, unless you like hanging around duty-free shops and drinking expensive coffee, but it’s good for airlines, who can use smaller planes making shorter flights, and simplify their logistics.

But more than the (in)convenience, what’s interesting here is the model of interaction. Say I am an NGO worker in South Sudan, going home to Copenhagen. I catch a plane from Juba to Addis Ababa, a major hub for the region, then catch a plane to Munich, another major hub, then on home. At Addis, I bump into someone who is coming from Khartoum, and going to Dubai, to take a plane to Islamabad. In Munich, it’s someone from El Salvador, who’s arrived via Mexico City and Washington, and is going on to Warsaw. You get the picture.

But a lot of airlines don’t. And this is the problem with the”back to normal” idea. So long as the virus exists anywhere in the world, there is a measurable chance that air travel will spread it everywhere, without a level of control and testing that isn’t possible now, and may never be.

So long, international air travel. You were (occasionally) fun.

Covid: The One Big One

I’ve always thought it a good principle that, when you have nothing of value to say, it’s better to say nothing. That is, of course, not the spirit of our times, in which much social media consists of stream-of-consciousness real-time hectoring about What I Think and How I Feel. Still less is it a good principle for blogging, where the expectation is that you will say something every day, and thus that you will have interesting and useful ideas to communicate al the time. But few of us have, and many of us have nothing interesting to say at all.

So I haven’t written anything during the Great Virus Emergency, because I’m not a doctor, and epidemiologist, a virologist or even somebody who studied biology after the age of 16. (OK, that didn’t stop millions of other pundits from weighing in, but it did stop me). But I think a couple of things are now clear which were not clear before, as the virus accelerates again, and nether of them require socialist medical knowledge. One is that we know very little about the virus even now, and that even the most basic facts about transmission and how to stop it are in dispute. No government really knows what it’s doing. The other is that the only real counter-measures that might be effective are probably impossible. It may be less a case of “living with” this virus than dying with it.

On which cheerful note, more tomorrow.