Will Corona be the tipping point of a new unfolding social system?

These are unreal times. While working from home with three young kids around me, I become aware that I won’t be able to see my parents for at least a month, probably longer. Twenty percent of my annual turnover for 2020 went up into thin air within a week. The coronavirus has gotten a firm hold on me and my entire surroundings in several ways. I’m one of those who is worried about our future. But besides the sorrow, I’m also aware of beautiful and interesting developments. This could be the tipping point of a new social system, in which those that add real value to the society will be credited for it, in which the government will regain a leading role and social securities will be organized collectively again, independent of the form of contract one has. Although written in a Dutch context, I believe these insights will be applicable to most countries facing similar corona preventing measures.

Labor unions, resilience and adaptability

We’re experiencing great solidarity. Initiatives to help one another, where people have each other’s backs, are mushrooming everywhere. I enjoy seeing the resilience surfacing within so many organizations. Everyone shows their ‘we’ll handle this’-mentality and takes their responsibility. In no-time entire organizations start working from home and teams are autonomously providing solutions. This crisis teaches us that managers have underestimated and suppressed the worker’s autonomy over the past years. I assume that organizations could become smaller and more agile, when taking the autonomy of the individual for granted, believing that the majority will use it with best intentions.

Even our own Dutch cabinet and social partners, usually avoiding everything that even closely relates to consensus, have drawn up an impressive package of emergency measures within a few short days. Together. One thing is clear: everything becomes fluid under pressure.

Professional groups that are of real importance

Simultaneously, this crisis also uncovers several anomalies in our society. Structural flaws we had surely been aware of, but we chose to ignore them out of convenience. Until now.

This crisis makes very clear which professions are of main importance to ensure the continuity of our society. Which jobs are essential to the functioning of our countries. It is painful to see that these aren’t the jobs we were crediting with the highest incomes. Now we in need of the underpaid health care professional, teacher, and journalist. In need of aid workers, municipal officials, supermarket personnel and logistic center staff. Exactly those professional groups that have been facing financial cuts over the past years are still ensuring −with an unbelievable dedication− that our country remains up and running. Without asking questions. And in many cases: without the luxury of being able asking questions. Or as Vili Lehdonvirta Tweeted: “The two-class system of the pandemic society: the home-bound zoomers and the street-running gigsters who serve them. Other positions are unstable—anyone holding them soon collapses into one of the two.”

Governmental decisiveness

Furthermore, there is the role of the government. From my point of view, we’ve been facing a libertarian vacuum for quite a number of years. We’ve started to see governmental meddling as obstruction of innovation and growth. The government had to facilitate; we pleaded for the leadership to be in the hands of the market, or even our polder. 

Things changed at the outbreak of the corona crisis; where people began longing for a decisive governmental involvement. Real leadership. This desire remained initially unanswered and businesses took the lead, but last week a long awaited tipping point happened. The Dutch government finally showed its leadership and provided the clarity our nation wished for.

Support for everyone

The emergency package mentioned earlier is a historical step. We now have to keep going strong. These times are uncertain for everyone, but it is undeniably clear that your certainty and resiliency is closely dependent on your form of contract. Employed persons are usually better off than flex workers and freelancers. 

Government and social partners had been discussing minimal security for all workers and had suggested a redesign of our social security system in the recent months. This crisis seems to be the moment to put personal short term interests aside and to start working on this solution to make it applicable to everyone.

New income distribution

Besides all misery and uncertainty, I see chances to finally resolve the problems that have been put off for years. Let’s use this time to rethink our (national) income distribution. Let’s consider which basic social securities should be in place for all working people in our economy. I would like to see a mandatory universal collective and social safety net for all workers offering them access to insurances and pension.

Why not grant the government another chance after times with lack of leadership and vision. Never waste a good crisis, I’d say. That way we’ll be able to watch back in a few years and not only see a crisis bringing our country to a collapse, but also a crisis from which we arose as a stronger, more social society.

This post is also available in: Dutch