Monday, April 13, 2020

What Will Really Change as a Result of Covid-19?

Let’s Hope it is a Reassessment of China.

There have been a great many pronouncements that the world “will never be the same again” after the end of this period of derangement. “Everything will change” I hear.

I doubt it.

In 2008 I heard the same sage predictions as banking collapsed onto life support and the cashpoints came within an ace of closing. For myself, I would have liked to see some close but that is a debate for another day. 

The end of capitalism was widely predicted - radical change was afoot. 

But apart from the misery of austerity, the drudge and scourge of joblessness and poverty what did really change? Structurally practically nothing. Behaviorally practically nothing. Longer-term some political developments might have traced their routes to the shock of the banking crisis - but that is how politics work. B

But as to the general manner in which we do business very very little change.

At the time I blamed a failure of vision, leadership and imagination from the Left - I still do. The opportunity had finally arrived and they flunked it.

So what behaviourally and structurally will change this time round? 

Very little I expect. There are the eco acolytes who think it will, but it won’t. Quite apart from the fact that their enduring electoral failures demonstrate that they are nowhere near as popular as they might think, except amongst the chattering classes. More importantly, the period of lockdown, constrained travel and soviet-style government intervention in the day to day minutia of your life will, I am certain, convince most folks that the medieval vision of the more radical eco crusties is not something we aspire to. No, we will return to foreign holidays and a bit of excessive drinking and conspicuous consumption to celebrate emerging from the lockdown and before you know it we will be back where we were, behaviourally that is.

But, if there is one change I hope just might come about then it is this one. I hope that more folks question the role of China in the world.

I have never been under any illusion about the malign and corrosive role of China and have told those who were prepared to listen. It is a ghastly repressive regime that habitually steals IP, manipulates it currently and abuses human rights. It should NEVER have been admitted to the WTO. But it has been the crack cocaine of manufacturing CEOs and University Chancellors for far too long. Eternally happy to bend the knee, turn a blind eye and with weasel words, half-truths deny their addiction to the lure of easy supply and assert it is a victimless crime.

It reminds me of the miners’ strike in the UK when arguments were made that we could “buy coal cheaper from South America” Well sure if you are content it is mined by 14-year-olds with poor or no safety equipment. Cheaper in monetary terms much more costly in every other way.

So my view hasn't changed. It is why I despise companies like Apple who have happily offshored manufacture to China. Charge top dollar, rake in huge margins and do it off the back of lying down with dogs. Steve Jobs always had fleas in my book. Their response in 2008 when they had $Billions sitting in the bank was risible and I can’t help but smirk at how Apple loving “progressives” reaped their own whirlwind in 2016.

But now we cannot deny the danger of chasing cheap manufacture to ever more remote countries with dubious regimes.

For me, I hope this means that we can rejuvenate our manufacturing, return it home but to do so through the widespread adoption of automation and AI. Of course, it will take investment but now we know the cost of not doing it now. 

It was always going to be the future but we have tended to take the easier route, the cheaper route. Now perhaps, finally we might be encouraged to make the change. Maybe this will be the important intervention from Government to reshape things for the betterment of mankind that should have come before.

Ultimately competition will not be determined largely by price, as the opportunity to find significant incremental advantage through mass manufacture will be so widely available that the market will differentiate itself in other ways

Idealism? Maybe. Perhaps, as I say, nothing structural or behaviourally will change, just more drudgery, austerity and recession. 

But, if there is one change, let it be that one.

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