C.D.Howe Institute suggests we not try to change the world after COVID

…by Terrance Hunsley

Bill Robson, long-serving President of the C. D. Howe Institute, cautions us that thinking “we can’t go back” after COVID, or use the crisis as inspiration to change the world, is not the right attitude. In his view, this is not the time to make a jump to environmental sustainability, nor to do things to reduce inequality of incomes. He doesn’t really provide much evidence to back up his viewpoint, except that governments have undertaken huge debts, and that we need to get those old jobs back. 

He does allow that things such as long term care should be improved. And maybe some new ways of working. But big change is in his view, just silly. Let’s get back to where we once were.

Hmm. Why not change? 

If we can work from home say, for three days a week, won’t employers want to reduce their use of office space? Shouldn’t we be thinking about repurposing some buildings?  Maybe some affordable housing without increasing the carbon footprint? More people to support downtown small business? 

Shouldn’t we be thinking about adapting public transportation to a world with less commuter traffic? Maybe pedestrianize some streets, introduce more bike lanes? Maybe divert some road maintenance to making sidewalks less icy and prevent falls among the elderly? (20-30% of old people fall every year; many requiring expensive hospital care and ongoing health care after). Some of the millions of saved health care dollars could be diverted to better home care and mental health services. 

Shouldn’t we tell surging business giants like Amazon and Walmart that they have to pay living wages if they intend to take over our retail industry?  Or Uber? Or the other new business platforms?

Shouldn’t we focus on expanding the range and quality of training for health service occupations, to respond to a tripling of the age category that requires care, and the surge in mental illness? 

With new technology aiding in remote learning, shouldn’t we look for new combinations of onsite and remote education programs, and equip our universities and colleges to expand their markets across the globe? Health and education are pretty good industries – pretty good jobs, environmentally sustainable.  

Maybe we could take a step forward with a higher tax on fossil fuels, and return those revenues to people who purchase cleaner technologies or use public transport?

With the baby boom retiring, workers are in higher demand. Wouldn’t this be a good time to bring our low wage workers (we have many more than most OECD countries) to a higher standard? if that means some jobs get replaced by automation, isn’t that maybe a good thing, since productivity is increased?  

The current generation of elderly will transfer $1trillion dollars in inheritances over the next twenty years. Left alone, this will reenforce inequalities of income and wealth. Isn’t this maybe a good time for a tax on estates and high-wealth people? And to put in place mechanisms to prevent hiding wealth in tax havens? (The US taxes its citizens’ income anywhere in the world, so it can be done.)  

Just some thoughts. I hope Bill Robson will take off his Scrooge hat.  

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