Calling for Change

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By Lawrence Zammit

The post-coronavirus Maltese economy is not expected to be the same as the one we had in the pre-coronavirus times. The new normal will not be like the old normal. In one of my recent contributions, I had stated that as the external environment changes, we will be forced to think afresh. Today I come back to this point. The way things are likely to develop is calling for change, whether we like it or not.

During the times when restrictions related to the pandemic were in full force, we should have learnt a number of things. Hopefully we should have learnt that there are other more important things in life than the economy, even though jobs have been and still are greatly at risk.

We should have learnt that rules are not made to be broken but to be followed out of respect for everyone else. We should have learnt that human relationships have a value that no amount of money can buy. We should have learnt to care more for each other when we have experienced so many persons who have only cared about themselves for a number of years.

This does not mean that the economy is not important. We just need to put the economic issue into perspective and this is why we need to change. We need policies that are relevant to tomorrow’s challenges and not policies that answer to yesterday’s challenges.

This certainly means a period of adjustment, which is something all economies around the world go through. To do this we may need to unlearn and relearn. We need to redefine certain concepts and embrace others, that were not given enough importance in the past.

Among other things we need to redefine quality of life. So far we have used this term to mean anything and nothing. We have equated it with standard of living and used a monetary measure, the gross domestic product, to make it less abstract.

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, there were already people who had started to question whether the gdp is a good measure for quality of life. The experience of COVID-19 has taught us that it is not. We need other measures to gauge quality of life. One of them could be monetary, but it should not be the only one.

We also need to have a good look at the concept of the common good. When things are going well we tend to ignore this concept because we assume that, once we are benefitting from good economic performance, everyone else is. In reality things do not work that way. There are persons who get richer and persons who get poorer even during the good times. Worse still, there are people who get richer at the expense of the common good, what is good for society as a whole.

This is why we need to determine what type of economy we would like to have after COVID-19 as we cannot go back to the way were. COVID-19 has changed people’s moods, attitudes, perceptions, behaviours.

We need to map out what kind of tourism sector we want to have. We need to establish how to strengthen manufacturing. We need to assess the quality of our infrastructure. We need to kill once and for all the notion that the Maltese economy depends on the construction sector. It does not, but a few people do.

We need to define what one means by a business friendly government to make sure that it does not turn out to be a businessmen friendly government. We need to make sure that the economy is there to serve the people and not the other way round.

The pandemic was a variable that no economic analyst has ever factored in. It came unexpected and its full impact has been unexpected. The worst thing we can do is overlay it on some economic model and assume everything else stays as is.

The pandemic has changed our outlook as well as our personal priorities. This will result in a change in our behaviour as economic players, as consumers, investors, producers, etc. The situation is calling for a change in our country’s economic policies and strategies. Government needs the support of society to achieve this.

Lawrence Zammit

This article appeared first on The Times of Malta Print Edition