Freedom above Safety – Closed economy
Research into the pandemic has made it painfully clear that governments, large companies and international institutions have made serious mistakes. The EU was too divided between north and south to come up with an effective response to the pandemic and the following economic crisis. Every country invented the wheel on its own, kept the door closed to others as much as possible, sometimes in complete regional and local lockdowns. Markets lost their trust in the EU, resulting in a serious devaluation of the Euro. There was also a lot of criticism of the Dutch government and its approach, sometimes for good reason, although not always. In the end, banks did not turn out to be the saviours they claimed to be at the start of the pandemic. Citizens lost trust in ‘the powers that be’ and in large institutions. Solutions were found above all at a local level. It was society itself that maintained social distancing, helped each other and supported local entrepreneurs.
Our daily existence is predominantly local. We feel safe within our own community, and ‘out there’ is the unknown. We exchange trips abroad for local entertainment, international investments for local ones, we buy mostly from local entrepreneurs instead of from large multinational companies. Large companies regionalise their supply chains and create new employment in the Netherlands. This horizontal society is characterised by sustainability. We live ‘smaller’, and ‘small’ once more is ‘beautiful’. We enjoy the little things in life and invest in our health and fitness. Although this sounds like a utopian kind of self-determination, that is far from the case, because we didn’t have much of choice in the matter. Due to the deteriorated international trade climate, our economy shrunk considerably. The prices and availability of certain natural resources, energy and products fluctuated and were uncertain. We tried to be self-sufficient wherever we could. We are sustainable and circular out of necessity as well as of conviction. Our pursuit to economic self-sufficiency is a kind of risk management that is powered by business and consumers alike. The pandemic has taught us not to be too dependent on other countries. Complete local self-sufficiency appeared impossible, so we establish the necessary trade contracts with, predominantly, other countries in North-West Europe. We don’t mind having excess stock, we see it as a necessary buffer. And there is a lot to be said for owning stuff, rather than having to borrow it. People once more want to own their own car, solar panels, kitchen garden, protective masks ….
The pandemic has shown us that the government doesn’t always make the best decisions for us. Local social differences turned out to be too great for an effective unified national approach, so we are not prepared to surrender our freedom and privacy for maximum safety in our everyday lives. The virus is still among us. We have become used to social distancing and we have adapted and found our freedom in this new reality. At an appropriate distance, we once again value human relationships, and we appreciate each other. However, there is tension between those who were infected and those who weren’t, those who are and aren’t immune. And those who live unhealthy lives are often stigmatised. Although the pandemic has in some way brought out the best in us, there’s also a dark side, not only concerning the tensions that sometimes flare up, but also the increased willingness to accept risks. To open up our society and economy we accept that more people die as a result of possible new virus waves. Vulnerable groups don’t always feel accepted, especially now more and more people wanti to isolate them to give the majority more freedom.
Deborah (61), Chairperson local retailers association
Every first Monday of the month, several members of the retailers association sit down early at Deborah’s simple pinewood breakfast table. She chairs the association. Through the kitchen window, they look out over a green clover meadow. They don’t sit too closely together, although you can hardly call it proper social distancing. In the small shops that have become available in recent years, people sell flowers, wooden toys and clothes. You can see, smell, hear, feel and taste things. These shops also offer short-term baby-sitting, the repairs of mechanical and electrical stuff and a variety of tutorials. Now, Deborah chairs a meeting about the demolition of several buildings at the edge of the neighbourhood. She talks enthusiastically about creating a collective kitchen garden there. At the end of this talk, she sounds out the associates about her idea of creating a local digital currency, the ‘four-leaf clover’.
The lockdown has led to a reappraisal of informal learning. Although we knew that people learn more outside of school than they do in the classroom, we still achieved new insights in the area of education. Thanks to skills like cooking and baking, making music, taking care of each other and, on an overarching level, self-sufficiency and creativity, there is now more attention for multiple intelligences and for the development of interdisciplinary knowledge and skills. For instance, the new subject ‘cooking with knowledge’, is extremely popular. It is both a theoretical and a practical integration of vertical agriculture at school, of experience economics in local bars and restaurants, of health food in the kitchen, of the ecological footprint and transport in the world, of food and beverage technology in local businesses and of food safety with a digital application.
Because society is very much focused on the local level, there is a great need for physical and direct contact. There’s little interest in remote communication. People meet remotely if they have to, for instance to obtain knowledge that is not locally available. High-tech digitisation is used especially in sectors that have been involved with digital technology for a long while anyway. Agriculture turns out to be a shining example, for instance by developing methods for growing crops with special light (pink farming), aeroponics and vertical agriculture.
We manage to live with climate change by making the right choices: in our country, we only allow products that are climate-neutral, either by making them ourselves or by importing them to the highest environmental standards. We don’t mind that this makes life more expensive and we have to forego, for example, that long weekend in Barcelona. The Netherlands once more becomes a guide to the rest of the world when it comes to sustainability, based on the driving force of wellbeing and quality of life in an uncertain world that is ruled by deadly pandemics.
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