Freedom above safety – Open economy
In this situation, technology and science came through for us in the end. After some bickering between governments, international organisations and the EU provided enough energy to find solutions. Following the initial economic crisis, we managed to recover quickly thanks to the creativity of organisations and institutions and the solidarity of citizens. We were confident that we could reopen the economy. The government interventions to support the economy were successful. And we learned to live with the new risks associated with living with corona.
Optimism rules again: we are positive about new routines and structures that emerged during the pandemic. Sustainability is back on the agenda, although everyone realises that we no longer have the deep economic pockets we had before. But we don’t chose for sustainability because it’s good for future generations, but because we agreed to do it in the Paris climate agreement. After all, we Dutchmen will always be smart, optimistic traders. So sustainability is now encouraged because we understand it is in our own economic interest: it is good for efficiency, sustainability now is a good business case.
We only get together physically when there is no alternative and when it adds value. We have fewer meetings, visit fewer conferences and restaurants deliver to people’s homes – although we still like a good party (with proper distancing …). We always try to balance the associated risks and precautions. We have discovered the online society as an added value.
In recent times, digitisation and robotization have really taken off. From AI in healthcare to drones in construction. Social distancing has accelerated the process. Online business models are indispensable in any sector. Shopping streets have fewer stores. The middle segment of long-standing chains has fallen away, creating a polarised retail landscape. Dominant players like Amazon and Alibaba remain and are able to seize opportunities in the global economy. Companies create new and temporary agreements and alliances for the sake of ‘open’ innovation. The number of independent contractors starts to grow again and the ‘makers economy’ has gained traction.
These technological developments also create social tension and a gap between the ‘knows’ and the ‘know-nots’ and between ‘fixed’ and ‘flex’. Not everyone has what it takes to make it in this new society, while the economic ‘revitalisation’ hits traditional sectors and companies hard. Our traditional mainports, like Schiphol and the Port of Rotterdam, manage with government support, to slowly recover – although international competition is considerable. It is easier for the Port of Rotterdam than for Schiphol, because transport of goods has fewer restrictions than that of people. Also gaps arise in the way we live on a spatial level. Those who can move to the suburbs. Because people spend more and more time online, there’s less to do in inner cities. We look for homes with enough space for a home office and class room, a home gym (the corona crisis has raised our awareness of how important health is) and a garden for kids play, rather than a neighbourhood playground. There are hardly any traffic jams and train stations sometimes look eerily empty.
We no longer expect that much from our government. During the darkest times of the pandemic we accepted the strong government role, but it turned out to be a marriage of convenience. Governmental income support helped lighten the economic burden during the pandemic, but we never really discussed a large-scale income redistribution. As consumers, we ultimately supported local enterprises, we feel that we all have an individual responsibility to keep up. As ‘individuals together’ we organise a lot. Attending digitally streamed concerts and plays is accepted and together we have a digital community centre. We want to trust common sense and the mutual solidarity of fellow citizens, with respect for each other’s freedom and privacy.
Arrid (39), independent entrepreneur
On the other side of the Skype call, it is six hours later, almost 8 PM. “Hello Jassica … kind of you to tell us about the technology of the trees in Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.”
The light and sound show is about to begin. Jassica continues: ”The Gardens is led by a multidisciplinary team of professionals who have been involved in the greening of Singapore …”. Artificial trees capture solar energy and the trunks are covered with hundreds of plants and flowers. It is an impressive spectacle.
During the crisis, Arrid went bankrupt. Now, he sees great opportunities. He wants to create something similar in various squares in the Netherlands, in the shape of a gigantic tulip, surrounded by some thirty small circles in which people can dance to the music. Once I get the funding arranged, it is also an interesting export product, he tells himself.
What happened within the last few weeks would normally have taken at least 10 years: online education. Especially in primary and secondary education. Although the education was sort of just thrown across the ‘digital fence’, we learned a lot from the experience and can continue it after corona. Because of the innovative nature of the Netherlands, we managed to improve the digital tools for online education. Progress on the educational and didactic side is more slowly, despite some experiments involved ‘micro-credentials’ (instead of a traditional diploma). An important exception is language education. Various educational institutes, in collaboration with various embassies abroad, have made it possible for kids from all over the world to chat and videocall with each other, even with children in time zones far away.
A digital world with digital skills occupies a relatively central position in society. In recent years, smart start-ups and start-throughs have emerged to improve remote working and learning. The technology has changed above all to accommodate and focus on remote education and remote working. Every home has a multi-media wall, a kind of giant iPad imitating the physical reality. Independent professionals who before the crisis organised their business for personal coaching now focus on international and interdisciplinary meeting skills in a remote world.
The corona virus made us more aware of uncertainties. We all do our utmost, but we realise that, at best, we can mitigate climate change. We still try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, although international climate agreements now contain disclaimers for pandemics and times of economic hardship. This has led to a ‘self-regulating’ mechanism: if economic activities are low, emissions are reduced automatically. Maintaining the status quo in terms of emissions then realised are the core of the climate and energy policy: economic growth without increased emissions. The direction is the right one, although perhaps too slow, because, in our new world of social distancing, we need relatively more trains and planes to transport passengers.
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