03 Jun 2020 18:55 IST

‘Once in a lifetime’ is the hopeful prediction

‘Breakingviews’ columnists spell out how Covid and shuttered economies will impact a slew of sectors

Forty years ago, two things happened. Talking Heads released “Remain in Light,” an album including the breakout single “Once in a Lifetime”. And in the Wooster School production of an episode of “The Twilight Zone”, I played the role of Charlie Farnsworth. Both provide perspective on the impact the Covid-19 crisis and ensuing Great Lockdown will have on the world.

Humanity is arguably at an inflection point. As the worst of the ongoing pandemic passes, we will either learn important lessons, correct course and become a more resilient species. Or we will tear ourselves further apart and expand the divisions between rich and poor, north and south, haves and have-nots. If we fix our flawed healthcare systems, make companies more resilient, improve safety nets and prepare better for future outbreaks, the coronavirus and its dramatic economic impact will be, as David Byrne sang, a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The alternative is more like that Twilight Zone episode, entitled “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”. The neighbours of Maple Street turn against each other violently after aliens come to town and make their presence known by turning off the power grid. “Their world is full of Maple Streets – and we’ll go from one to the other and let them destroy themselves,” one interstellar invader says to another at the conclusion of the show. Financial, political and geographical divides, obvious before the coronavirus hit, could just get deeper.

Interconnectedness of societies

At Breakingviews, we have chosen Talking Heads over Rod Serling as the inspiration for our new book of columns on what will change after the disease has wrought its physical, emotional and financial damage on society. We hope this moment galvanises all of us — including policymakers, executives, investors, innovators and scientists — to recognise the interconnectedness of people, societies, economies and finance.

Download the PDF: https://tmsnrt.rs/2U1M4Zi

In the spirit of our annual “Predictions” book, which (full disclosure) did not foresee a coming pandemic in 2020, Breakingviews columnists around the world have laid out how the decision by governments to temporarily shutter their economies might change global supply chains, taxes, labour, technology, the balance sheets of corporations and governments, mergers and acquisitions, and shareholder activism.

The 44 commentaries in “Once in a Lifetime” explore how trends like reduced travel, less socialising and working from home will affect companies, workers, asset prices and investors even after economies reopen. The views identify some winners and losers in the healthcare, entertainment, energy and automotive spaces. And they look at the longer-term effects of the pandemic on globalisation, emerging markets and the drive for greater sustainability to fight climate change.

Accelerating trends

Our columnists are more than just, well, talking heads. Their overarching conclusion is that the virus will, more than anything, accelerate megatrends that investors have been anticipating, and which our journalists have been writing about for years. The drive to create more sustainable businesses, where the interests of employees, communities and the environment will assume greater weight. Stay-at-home orders have hastened the move towards online work, shopping and more, benefiting companies like Amazon.com and Zoom Video Communications.

Lockdown restrictions are furthering the automation of manufacturing and even service businesses like hotels, where electronic check-ins limit potentially infectious human contact. They have also exposed the grotesque inequalities of wealth and income, access to decent healthcare and economic opportunities for many citizens in some of the world’s richest nations.

Looking back years from now, for some, the pandemic and Great Lockdown will be a heartbreaking time in which loved ones were struck down and laid to rest without dignified formalities. For others lucky enough to avoid tragedy, it will be a formative experience in ways of living or understanding better how society works. Some may find fortune, whether through family, creating art, a clean break from bad habits or — in the literal financial sense — establishing new businesses.

Old human habits, like hanging out together, will surely return, if not the same as it ever was. But the sharp and tragic consequences of the coronavirus have the power to reshape industries, redefine the role of governments, and alter the way people interact. It is our hope that the world emerges smarter and more equitable: The alternative is too dismal to contemplate. To that end, this is Breakingviews’ contribution of ideas. We wish you happy reading and continued good health.