Author: Manu Steens
In this article I am writing my own opinion, not that of any organization.
The former Belgian minister Philippe De Backer wrote a book “En nu is het oorlog” (And now it is war).
Let me take this statement literally, and view the future post-covid19 period as a post-war period.
The economic recovery after the wars and crises of 1870, 1918, 1945 happened very quickly: a matter of a few years. Usually five years or less. After that, production growth stagnated. (reference: Alfred Suavy, “Het probleem van overbevolking” (Malthus et les deux Marx)) The limitation of the growth of production after recovery did not exist because there was a shortage of injection of money, nor of machines, but because the population was limited in knowledge and skills. And the factor that one cannot include in accounting is that of people. As one can with money, property, equipment, buildings and debts.
Let’s create two lines of thought. The first: there is a huge war that is destroying all machines and buildings. But the people survive. What happens is that external parties provide them with food, people start making machines, and after a few years there is no longer a backlog. After a rapid return on the actions they take, they evolve towards a plateau of growth which then slows down. Because for more growth, even more knowledge and skills would be needed.
The second line of thought is one in which all medical staff and other highly skilled, such as managers, specialized employees,… would disappear.
Then it will not help in the same way to just bring more money or food to the area: the knowledge and skills needed lack to catch up with the region’s enormous skills shortage, it will take decades to even make any recovery. Let alone keep up with the normal extrapolation of the past.
Fortunately, we are not quite in this situation, although as far as healthcare is concerned, there is serious pressure.
From this short argument, which should actually be supported by figures, one can estimate that knowledge and skills are possibly the most important factors for a recovery after a huge crisis.
Governments have made huge financial sacrifices to allow some sectors to survive. “Golden rules” were also issued in Belgium. Some were very difficult, such as that of wearing a mask in several places, linked to social distancing. But there were also other rules that made us work differently where possible: working from home was sometimes recommended, sometimes (partially) mandatory.
Now I don’t know what other people experienced, some of us certainly miss the social chat with colleagues, which is certainly a loss to be mentioned, but there was also an advantage to mention. I speak for myself when I mention this, however, the days when I was working from home I was much more productive. I want to assume that this may have been the same for many people on such days. I sometimes went to my place of work, to relieve the social need, and those days my productivity was like an ordinary day before. However, I myself am only one ‘case’ and one cannot make a statistic on that, but it still inspired me to the following.
If, thanks to working from home, a number of people can do the “former” work of a week in 3.5 to 4 days, it would be interesting for both the employer and the employee to provide systematic training for these people. In a direct sense, this could include specialist training or employability-broadening training. But it is also possible to think indirectly: even matters that are not directly related to the ‘job’, such as training for many people in languages or ICT applications, can indirectly inspire employees within or outside the job. And that will pay off for society, because during the aftercare phase of a crisis, every skill is super necessary.
Whatever it takes will be to perpetuate such work-and-learn behavior. Future generations will have to grow up with an implementation of lifelong learning, not just as a battle cry.
This is important to “not to let a good crisis go to waste”. Why ? I already wrote it: I read the book by Philippe De Backer, a former Belgian minister, “en nu is het oorlog” (And now it’s war). I took that statement literally. This means that if we can massively invest the time savings that we generate during this crisis in training, the knowledge and skills of the population will increase. The growth of production in the aftercare phase due to the grown creative capacity of more skilled personnel will find an engine in it to support it. As a result, economic growth will continue stronger for longer, and will help absorb some of the government’s financial injections. The flattening of economic growth will therefore slow down when we reach a higher level. And that could help curb potential future inflation.