The Unsung Casualties Of Covid-19


Even though we are not out of the dark hole of Covid-19 yet, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel — and it’s not the paramedics.  People are beginning to speculate on the economic impact of shutting down the world economy for several months.  A lot of industries have taken some serious body blows and are trying desperately to endure.  For example, I have no idea how cruise ships are going to come back from this.  (Quite frankly, they couldn’t pay me enough to get on one of those floating petri dishes!)  Meanwhile, other industries have adapted.  Liquor stores are delivering, restaurants are takeout only and housecleaners are working from home, telephoning detailed instructions to rich people on how to make the bed and plug in the vacuum cleaner.  Unfortunately, other industries simply cannot survive.  These are real people whose lives have been torn apart — but the world has forgotten them.  They are the unsung casualties of Covid-19.

Pickpockets – This has got to be the most devastated industry in the world.  By definition, the pickpocket business is a people business — up-close-and-personal.  Social distancing has all but destroyed this once thriving traditional occupation.  In fact, in most tourist traps, there is actually 100% unemployment.  These numbers are catastrophic.  Although, given human nature, I’m certain there are still a few dedicated craftspeople out there, plying their trade – struggling to survive.

Prostitutes – Suddenly, what was once called “the world’s oldest profession” isn’t even a profession anymore. Yeah, yeah, yeah!  There’s still phone sex and Live Cam, and I’ve read that some people are turning to ZOOM for illicit group encounters, but … The thing is, and I believe most people will agree, the erotic buzz of paying a stranger for sex just isn’t there when you’re forced to remain 2 metres (six feet) apart.  And, this has become an insurmountable challenge for many hardworking men and women.

Spies – Fast cars, tuxedos and little, itty bitty gadgets have no place in today’s world.  Think about it!  It’s impossible to pull off a mission impossible when all the bad guys are stuck at home watching Netflix.  Hell, everybody has a hideout these days!  And it’s not as if you can sneak up on anybody when you’re the only one on the street.  Although, to be fair, high speed car chases are a lot easier — except there’s nobody out there to chase.  The reality is, Post Covid-19 James Bond may have to go back to bird watching.

Aroma Therapists – It’s hard to work up a bunch of sympathy for these scam artists who’ve spent the last decade charging big bucks to let people smell things.  Of course, some of them are still selling their snake oil online, but that’s not going to last very long.  It won’t be many days before most folks discover that all it takes to feel good about yourself is a loaf of bread in the oven.  And if you really wanna get happy … just bake some cinnamon rolls.

And finally:

Meghan and Harry – They couldn’t have picked a worse time to get into the celebrity business.  Pissed off about being a second-string Duchess, Meghan decided she wanted to be the Reigning Queen of Southern California.  Unfortunately, all of her potential subjects are busy trying to keep their own media brands alive.  They just don’t have time to faux fawn over a couple of ex-royals.  Plus, after Gal Gadot’s “imagine no possessions” fiasco unmasked the industrial-strength hypocrisy most celebs practice so diligently, being idly rich isn’t all that fashionable any more.

So, let’s all remember, in these troubled times, some people are a lot worse off than we are.

Election 2012: A Campaign of Ideas?

I love a good fight, and nothing spells “Smack Down” like pissing off a Scotsman.  The Scotsman in question is Niall Ferguson, and the fight is over nothing less than the most important American election in a generation.  Last week, Ferguson came out swinging in Newsweek, calling the Obama administration everything but nice.  There was immediate retaliation and the war of the words was on.  I’m not going to go into the wherefores and the why right now, but you can read about it here, and follow the links all over the place.  The interesting thing is that maybe, just maybe, the 2012 presidential race is going to be a real election with issues and ideas and all kinds of other good stuff.  It could happen!

Regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on, up until a couple of weeks ago, it was pretty well agreed that the American election was going to be an outrageously expensive snoozefest.  Sure, Barack Obama wasn’t high-flying adored anymore, but he still had enough Evita Peron leftover to dazzle the multitudes.  On the other hand, Romney wasn’t exactly tearing it up in the charisma department.  The Man from Bland was living up to the moniker.  Meanwhile, the media, still a little uncomfortable with the laissez-faire treatment they’d given Barack the first time around, had decided to sit this one out.  Their strategy was that the Republicans would probably be Sarah im-palin themselves again, long before the bicoastal opinionators had to take a hand.  So they were spending their days drinking lattes and waiting for the latest Republican gaffe to Twitter by.  Enter Paul Ryan.

Ryan’s selection as the Republican vice-presidential nominee was a game changer.  Suddenly, the Republicans had something more to do with their time than get all defensive about things like gay rights and abortion.  Ryan made his bones babysitting the Budget in Congress.  He is a man with a plan and, like it or not, his economic theses are going to get nailed up on Obama’s cathedral door.  Basically, that’s what Niall Ferguson (a former advisor to John McCain) was doing — in 10,000 words or less — in Newsweek.

The Republicans know that they haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Obama in a popularity contest – the guy’s just too ubercool.  For example, he won a Nobel Peace Prize a couple days after he signed orders to seriously escalate the war in Afghanistan.  When you think about that objectively, the only thing you can say is “Wow!”  Actually, I’m surprised the Nobel people didn’t just throw in the Literature Prize as well.  After all, somebody wrote The Audacity of Hope.  My point is there isn’t a Republican alive with that kind of star power.  Mano a mano, the GOP’s best shot would be to resurrect Lincoln.  Even then, there wouldn’t be any guarantees.  So what to do to get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

It not very complicated, really.  For any number of reasons, Obama has not delivered on his promises of change.   It’s obvious he’s made some terrible decisions, but, I think he didn’t have a hope, given the expectations put on the poor guy.  However, regardless of how he got here, even the apologists admit that the last four years have not been kind to him or America.  Now, with unemployment reaching double digits in some places, entitlement programs eating the budget faster than the Treasury can print money, a national debt that’s soaring into the stratosphere and an economy that’s hit rock bottom and started to dig, Obama’s vision of America is on trial.  Mitt has to offer a clear alternative.  He needs to stay away from the culture wars the Democrats love so much and match Obama — ideology for ideology.  Turning this campaign into a contest of ideas isn’t going to be easy, but, if he does, the White House could be well within his grasp.

Ever since John Kennedy took centre stage at the Kennedy/Nixon debates in 1960, American politics have leaned heavily on personality.  It would be totally refreshing if a candidate as unlikely as Mitt Romney could change all that.

The Commonwealth: Use Your Imagination

Deep in the afterglow of an incredible Olympic Games and a rekindled British spirit, there’s talk around the campfire that maybe the Commonwealth isn’t just a quaint affectation of a used-up Super Power.  In fact, no less an illustrian than ex-Canadian and convicted felon Conrad Black has run the idea of a resurrected Commonwealth up the international flagpole to see if anybody bothers to salute.  It’s a curious notion that isn’t going to get a lot of attention, but maybe it should.

In theory, The Commonwealth is the natural devolution of the British Empire – a collection of states bound together by (if nothing else) a common colonial experience.  These states share a tradition of British law, parliamentary democracy, education and language.  They are, in reality, and according to Commonwealth doctrine “not [entirely] foreign to each other.”  So much for theories.  In truth, the Commonwealth is an organization (and I know I’m going to get some emails about this) badly in need of a purpose.  What good it does do around the world goes largely unnoticed, and most people assume it’s just a holding tank for stodgy old colonials, with a few dusty monarchists congealing on the side.  Realistically, the Commonwealth simply does not swim where the big boys feed.  It has neither the infrastructure, the management nor the common direction to heft any weight internationally.  It’s only raison d’etre seems to be to voice a few high-minded principles and host the Commonwealth Games.

The weird thing is, however, an invigorated Commonwealth actually makes a lot of sense.  Look around.  Who takes the United Nations seriously anymore – aside from guys like Chavez and Mugabe?  Even Obama works around them when he feels the need.  OPEC is permanently attached to their petro-dollars, and the Arab League isn’t interested in anything beyond the Middle East and whatever anti-Israeli rhetoric is flavour-of-the-week.  Meanwhile, the European experiment is rapidly turning brown, and the Euro itself is on the verge of folding up like a cheap lawn chair.  If Merkel and Hollande can’t find some common ground soon, this time next year, this planet’s largest economic unit might be slowly sliding into the Mediterranean.

On the other economic hand, four of the sixteen largest GDPs in the world belong to Commonwealth nations.  In total, the Commonwealth has a combined Gross Domestic Product of over ten trillion dollars.  That’s second only to the EU and the USA.  It has a population of 2.1 billion — which makes it the largest single organization in history.  Folks, that’s enough purchasing power to get a discount outta WalMart!  Merely turning the Commonwealth into a Free Trade Zone without any other added economic attractions — would be like hitting the world economy with a double dose of adrenalin and a Red Bull™ chaser.  Whatever recession the IMF had in mind – forget about it.  It would be over instantaneously.  Individually, the Commonwealth states have enough natural and human resources to feed, clothe and power the world.  As a single economic unit with proper development and a little imagination, there is simply no limit to what it can accomplish.

Actually, the idea of a super-economy, built out of the British Empire, is an old one.  It’s a 19th century philosophy that found its voice in Joseph Chamberlain, a Victorian Era politician.  His idea was to form the Empire into a closed shop, eliminating trade barriers within the British Empire but erecting tariff walls around it.  Forged as a single economic unit, the Empire would generate immense internal wealth and secure Britain’s position as the world’s only superpower for another century.

Unfortunately, Chamberlain never convinced the British government to step away from its policy of free trade.  As early as 1910, the balance of British trade was beginning to tilt away from the Empire in favour of America (with a corresponding outflow of cash.)  Four decades of that — and a couple of expensive world wars — and Britain simply couldn’t afford its empire anymore.  A simplistic view I’ll grant you, but true all the same.

Very soon, empires will no longer be political; they’ll be economic.  The Commonwealth has the potential to be history’s greatest superpower, but don’t hold your breath.  There are too many national egos involved.  But mostly economists don’t make policy; politicians do.  Unfortunately, they have neither the imagination nor the political will to make something as radical as a non territorial political entity work.