One of the phrases that enjoyed 15 seconds of currency after the last global crisis was that “those swimming naked were exposed when the tide went out”.
Though we have yet to reach peak coronavirus, today’s crisis has already exposed far more than gamblers posing as financiers but unable to cover their bets.
It has, as well as exposing great selflessness and determination, exposed some of our less admirable traits and, all too often, ovine stupidity. I
t has shown how our social structures institutionalise vulnerability and perpetuate poverty.
It has shown how very thin the safety net under too many working, renting lives really is.
It has graphically shown too that our world has become inured to the never-ending tragedy of famine.
Around 25,000 people die from hunger every day but because they are so remote and because most of us enjoy comparative material security to those in, say, Yemen who will die of hunger today we are blasé about that far — so far — greater catastrophe.
The pandemic has shown that significant number of people, and not just Australians cavorting on Bondi Beach or those foolish Irish publicans indulging devil-may-care drinkers, don’t understand that the only way to defeat this plague is to isolate it.
They have yet to grasp that the only way to defeat coronavirus is through social and personal discipline rather than medical or technological innovation.
It may soon be time to underline that simple truth by imposing more convincing sanctions.
One county council — Wicklow — has closed public car parks because of the large numbers using walks and parks despite isolation warnings.
Others, amazingly, may have to follow suit.
But most of all it has underlined for those who could not, or would not, see that life for too many citizens, the low-paid, those caught in the gig economy, those struggling with rents that celebrate the market rather than social equity and, most of all, those trying to keep body and soul, and maybe a family too, together on basic social welfare rates, is untenable.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has acknowledged that by admitting that the €203 a week pandemic unemployment payment will fall short for far too many people and that it will have to be reviewed immediately especially as around 300,000 people are expected to lose their jobs in the coming weeks.
It is likely too that debt deferrals and tax breaks will have to be revised should the pandemic persist beyond the medium term, a growing prospect as more than 300,000 people have been infected, almost 1,000 of them in Ireland.
Issues long ignored because sufficient numbers of voters are indifferent to them are suddenly urgent.
The pandemic has exacerbated the insecurity of work and the grind of life on welfare. Though we are, as we were the last time and the time before that too, told “we’re all in it together” the evidence suggests that phrase is a passing, convenient salve rather than a reliable principle.
Yet, as the pandemic advances it puts social inequities in an altogether sharper perspective, one that we cannot safely ignore.
It, for those who wish to live in a society rather than an economy, is, to disinter another phrase from 2008, too good a crisis to waste.