Amongst the advice that I’ve heard and read on how to use (or at least not abuse) the time at home created by restrictions due to COVID-19, I’ve found quite a few pieces of advice related to topics that have appeared on this blog. I’ve read several articles recommending that we use to the time to educate ourselves, now supported by the Australian government; The Conversation is running a whole series on taking up hobbies for which we might not previously have had time; some economists have suggested that emergency welfare payments should live on in the form of a universal basic income or negative income tax; I’ve read at least one article and heard several comments noting that introverts have strengths not acknowledged by extraverted chauvinists; and I even came across one article suggesting that travel restrictions will teach us greater appreciation of our local suburb centres.
Of course there’s also plenty of advice that this blog doesn’t cover—like how to home school children and keep them sane—and a few articles recounting advice that almost everyone would be familiar with—such as it not being a good idea to spend the next few months watching television and/or drinking alcohol.
What is interesting from the point of view of this blog, however, is that all of those advisors think all of these things are good to have (except the months of drunken inactivity). There may be commentators out there lamenting their inability to go to an office for eight hours a day, disdaining the idea of learning a new skill or hobby, or recommending that we drink beer in front of the television for a few months; but, if so, they’re presumably either writing in publications that I don’t read or not writing anything at all.
So why aren’t we pursuing these sorts of things all of the time? Calls for re-training and the government’s recent action in this direction is perhaps the most stark example: commentators of all sorts have been banging on about lifelong learning and the need for re-training for years, so why should it take a major economic shock to actually do it?
The obvious answer is cost. Obviously the emergency arrangements for tax and welfare under COVID-19 can’t continue indefinitely, and the money for re-training has to come from somewhere even in a normal economy. But, as Richard Denniss says many times in his book Econobabble (2016), Australia is a wealthy country that can afford anything it wants, just not everything it wants. If Australia collectively or citizens individually wanted to fund regular re-training, they probably could; it’s just that we’ve prioritised spending time at our current jobs, and spending the resulting money on other things again, over preparing ourselves for the future ones.
Ditto spending time with hobbies, children, the local area or even just by oneself. It’s not that taking up a hobby or visiting the local shops was previously a bad idea or an unattainable dream; we just chose to spend most of our time doing other things.