I don’t think I truly understood what the future had in store when I published my optimistic blogpost at the beginning of the lockdown (March 17, 2020) in all San Francisco Bay Area counties in Northern California. Almost two months later, the health problems caused by the pandemic are perhaps overshadowed by the economic costs. This impact is overwhelming, across both the developing world and here at home, affecting many families whose jobs have evaporated or been furloughed.
I have enjoyed a particularly productive time, in part because I have been continually intellectually stimulated by business partners, students, and many close friends with whom I have not communicated in a while. I did practice most of what I preached in my original blogpost, and personally the net balance has been positive. However, I have to confess that I long for the social contact of my old routine, the livelihood of the office, the lecture hall at the university campus, the coffee shop visits, etc.––and of course the close physical proximity with my family and friends, characteristics of our Latin customs.
As our businesses close and the rules require all contact to became virtual. Inertia drove the first couple of weeks as the unfinished businesses, started in our offices, were completed or abandoned as the realization that they were useless. After a couple of weeks, the new reality started to sink in. The end of March, became end of April and now most of May. By now time has given the opportunity to rationalize this rushed behavior and evaluate what happened, with our lives, finances, work, and relationships.
I am particularly disenchanted of our political leadership, at all levels, domestically or internationally. I perceive a general inability on their part to communicate clearly the conditions that led us to enter a lockdown in the first place. Moreover, what has been equally absent are clearly established lockdown exit criteria. Unfortunately, none of the conditions that could have justified to enter and potentially exit a lockdown were not met: a) the availability of a vaccine, which will not available for a good while, b) a cure for COVID–19, c) the assurance that no a single person in a given geography is sick with the COVID-19 virus, and d) the availability of plentiful testing kits at very low cost, where anyone could be tested, as often as it may be required, on demand, with highly reliable results and those results available within seconds or few minutes. Now, the wheels of the world appear slowly to start moving again, motivated by economic imperatives, without meeting any the conditions identified above. This begs to answer: why did we go into lockdown in the first place?
Furthermore, while models predicting the casualties due to the coronavirus changed often (and still are) as assumptions changed, our leadership did not alert us of the economic consequences, although economic models are plentiful and more accurate. We learned the consequences from the headlines of the business journals as they reported unemployment claims, business closures and bankruptcies, etc. I resent this type of reactive leadership, which would be unacceptable in the private sector, with a total absence of transparent communication acknowledging what is known and what is unknown. Equally absent was an honest acknowledgement of the impact of the trillions of dollars in government rescue packages will have, on the ever–growing fiscal deficits and the cost to the generations to come. The economic damage is just one of many. McKinsey recently reported that across 191 countries schools are shut down, affecting the education of future generation of 1.6B children. Some have continued their educations virtually with uneven results, as learning outcomes depend not only on access to technology but teachers’ ability to repurpose their educational material for the virtual classroom to an audience with an ever–decreasing attention span.
The reactive leadership of the political class will probably pass without great personal consequences. For many, the worst–case scenario is that they may not be re–elected, and they will be forced to cash out writing juicy memoirs, join the lecture circuit, and become talking heads in one of the news networks. For the rest of us, the private sector will have to deal with the economic fallout and households will have to deal with the financial and health devastation of COVID–19.
Yes, we have not overloaded most of our hospitals, as the lockdown slowed down the propagation rate of the virus. But this wasn’t impact–free, as many health care facilities were heavily underutilized, while others patients in–need were denied access as their very much needed services were postponed to privilege potential coronavirus patients. In the meantime, the economic damage of the lockdown we imposed upon ourselves is comparable to that of the Great Depression of 1929 or worse, and its net health benefits remain highly questionable. Moreover, some are predicting a second or a third peak of COVID–19 to be expected for late this year or early next year.
History will revisit for years to come what exactly happened to the planet earth during Q1 and Q2 of 2020 again and again. I think that some historians will agree with my perspective that this was a period dominated by the arrogance of mankind (in particular, those in leadership position) fed by the feeling of invincibility, who chose not to prepare for an announced pandemic. World leaders forgot their fundamental purpose to serve their citizens as they were too preoccupied with their own personal interests and short–term gains, succumbing to intellectual laziness to look beyond the horizon and behave as serving leaders. They all succumbed to the hyper influence of the continuous news cycle, and a media driven business that communicates what sells, producing a herd behavior racing to the bottom as no one wanted to be left behind and remain with an open economy. The end result was that fear of the unknown dominated our spirits, and we became perfect victims of ourselves.
It is high time that we regain ownership of our protagonist role in writing our own history and driving our own destiny. Probably this will require us to rethink the value of human centric enlightened leadership, with a sense of transcendental living for others and the future generations.
One thing I am certain of: as difficult as it is for humans to change their behaviors, we had produced a decade of changes in less than 10 weeks. I’m unsure if we are prepared to pay the cost for this global experiment. The invoices will be computed over the months and years to come, and as they come due, many will go unpaid!
Until our paths cross again amigo – Carlos B.