|When, in October, 2017, then immigration minister Ahmed Hussen announced a substantial increase, to at least 300,000 and rising, in Canada’s annual intake of immigrants, he referred to this number as “the new normal.”
As justification, he trotted out all the usual economic rationales that have all been thoroughly debunked, as we pointed out in our news release of November 2017.
Now a “new normal” of a different kind is being imposed not only on Canadians, but on the whole world, by SARS CoV-2—the official name of the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.
WHAT KIND OF NEW NORMAL WILL THE PANDEMIC ENGENDER?
Robert Armstrong, US finance editor at the Financial Times, is convinced the “Coronavirus is a global crisis, not a crisis of globalization.” The current crisis, he says, “is not the result of a flaw in the organisation of the world economy, in the way people, goods and money flow across the globe.” He seems to think that post-pandemic, everything should go back to business as usual. And so, apparently, does our government, which announced on March 12th, while Canada was increasingly being subjected to lockdown conditions, that it would further ramp up immigration levels to 361,000 by 2022.
THE DRAWBACKS TO GLOBALIZATION
But as Christopher Caldwell points out there is a downside to globalization, which the pandemic has brought to light:
- As the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths shot up around the world, the demand for masks to protect from infection and contain the spread of the virus rose dramatically—but masks were in short supply in most Western countries and at times completely unavailable in others. Why? Because they were being produced almost exclusively in China, and China in its own time of need was refusing to export them. Italian doctors in Bergamo, Brescia and Codogno had to share masks that were meant to be discarded after treating every patient.
- Although activities deemed as essential services are allowed to operate, the food supply could still be threatened; Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky warned recently that “Our supply line is brittle” and has said the United States could be weeks away from food shortages.
THE NEED FOR BORDERS
As Caldwell points out, the virus has also shown the upside to borders:
- While many opposed US President Trump’s January 31st decision to stop all flights from China, it turns out to have been the right one, and should even have been taken earlier: Viruses may not recognize borders (as Trump’s opponents argued) but they also can’t go anywhere without hitching a ride on a host. It follows that if borders stop the host from entering a country, they also stop the virus.
- The hard-hit Lombardy region of Italy, which for decades had thousands of Chinese workers, never closed its borders and paid a high price in terms of cases and fatalities.
- By attempting to cover up the outbreak and allowing Chinese New Year celebrations and international travel to continue for many weeks after they became aware of it, Chinese leaders enabled the virus to spread globally. A University of Southampton (UK) study concluded that an intervention by China three weeks earlier would have reduced the number of infections in that country by 95%.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?As yet, there is no agreement on the source of the virus in humans, but based on the genetic and protein structure of SARS CoV-2, its progenitor is almost certainly a bat coronavirus. Wet markets such as the Huanan seafood market of Wuhan, which was originally proposed as the source of the outbreak, provide excellent conditions for cross-species transmission: the crowding of domestic and wildlife species in cramped cages exposes animals and people to novel viruses through excretions and droppings, as well as through blood since animals are often slaughtered on site. As a numerically burgeoning human population increasingly encroaches on wildlife habitat and consumes wild animals, it exposes itself to new and potentially dangerous viruses.
However, the Huanan market isn’t known to sell bats and many of the earliest cases had no connection to the market. While many scientists still consider an animal origin the most likely explanation, others think it probably escaped from a virus research lab, of which there are two in Wuhan, and there are even allegations that these labs could have been conducting bioweapons research.
WHAT DOES THE NEW NORMAL MEAN FOR THE ECONOMIC GROWTH PARADIGM?
Regardless of which theory ultimately proves correct, our leaders would do well to consider the possibility that the grow-forever paradigm will become increasingly inoperable under the new normal. The novel coronavirus has shown the countries of the world that being dependent on cheap goods from China might not be in their own best interests. After all, a world based entirely on efficiency and the expectation of the free flow of cheap goods across borders will not be resilient in the face of disaster. An ever-growing population that leads to the paving over of farmland and wildlife habitat will also make Canada less self-sufficient and less resilient.
Fortunately, it’s possible to envisage a world whose economy does not depend on growth: the Degrowth movement has done exactly that.
We don’t know when the COVID-19 disaster will end or significantly attenuate, nor do we know when the next disaster will strike, but we should be quite confident that it will. Even if our political and economic leaders are slow to change their thinking this time around, our new normal will increasingly be based on reality.
Sooner or later humanity will learn that “nature bats last.”