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
Fortunately, we are not quite in this
situation, although as far as healthcare is concerned, there is serious
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.