AS the instant experts on social media rant and rave and the digital sans-culottes demand heads on spikes, there is one thing we do seem to agree about: that the collateral damage to the economy could be almost as bad as the impact of coronavirus. In short: poverty kills people too.

So we have to put the economy into a kind of war footing, with deep state involvement. Countries with a more dirigiste approach, like France, and outright authoritarians, like China, are taking the lead with hyper-lockdown backed by fines and riot police and sweetened by bold promises that firms and workers will not lose out.

Whether that is possible or just vain-glorious hot air from the Elysée Palace remains to be seen. The Scandinavians are taking a typically communitarian approach and promising people that the state will provide calibrated compensation to bolster incomes. But their social safety net was anyway far more generous than in neoliberal Britain.

We have the lowest pensions, the lowest sick pay, the most miserly unemployment benefit and income support. And still millions are unable to access it in the gig economy or because they earn too little. Britain after a decade of austerity is a low-wage, low-security economy, and that isn’t going to change overnight. Or could it?

The country will have to be mobilised as in a war. The Second World War was actually very good for the economy – or at least good for GDP. The United States turned industry into a weapons-making machine of unprecedented productive power. The Arsenal of Democracy turned out hundreds of warships, thousands of tanks and bombers, millions of guns, billions of pieces of ammunition.

Wages and profits soared during the war economy in America and in those parts of the world not actually devastated by the fighting. It was war production that finally brought the Great Depression to an end. Indeed, it arguably laid the groundwork for the next 30 years of global economic growth.

Full employment became the default policy for western governments. John Maynard Keynes was vindicated. We had the NHS, welfare, mass consumerism. Then came inflation, globalisation, neoliberalism and the financial crisis.

After 2008, the Government and the Bank of England mobilised some £1.2 trillion to stave off a collapse of the financial system. That was a very crude way of dealing with the crisis and created moral hazard by rewarding bankers for their reckless greed.

But that isn’t going to work this time, even if we wanted it to. The banking system is not the epicentre of this crisis. And the inconvenient truth is that the Covid-19 crisis is not going to be like the Second World War.

Battleships and Sherman tanks are useless against an enemy like a virus. We can produce respirators and intensive care units in large numbers and probably quite quickly – quicker than many people seem to believe. But that is not going to make the economy boom.

The coronavirus economy is more like the Great Depression, when millions were out of work, demand dried up in the shops, the economy went into a deflationary spiral and even loose credit and money-printing become pointless. Put simply: if no one has any money to buy stuff, stuff doesn’t get made. Money needs to get into people’s pockets, and fast. What we did for the banks in 2008 we must now do for people.

However, if you simply throw printed money at a situation like this, the danger is that we will end up with what they have in Zimbabwe: hyperinflation. So we are going to have to create a simulacrum of a war economy. People will have to be remunerated for the socially responsible task of staying at home for the duration.

This is a bit like Universal Basic Income, only more so. The trouble with UBI, advocated by right-wing economists like Milton Friedman, in Capitalism and Freedom, and sponsored by tech billionaires today, is that it is essentially universal basic poverty. The sums talked about in the UK, or deployed in the experiments such as in Finland, are nugatory – around £500 a month. That is too little either to keep body and soul together or provide effective demand in the economy.

What we need is more like Universal Average Income. People will need to have something approaching their remuneration pre-Covid to stop them going into spontaneous spending lockdown. If that happens, the demand shock across the economy – and it’s already happening to airlines, restaurants and hotels – could destroy the economy within a couple of months.

The good news is that – unlike the Second World War – we do know who is going to win in the war against Covid 19, and we know it will not last for many years. Around 80 per cent of us will get it; the vast majority will be fine; and the epidemic should be over in 18 months at the most. We didn’t know that about Hitler.

In the aftermath, the Government might also have to consider job creation on an industrial scale. One way would be to go with the flow and recruit redundant service workers into the caring professions. The Government could create a kind of National Social Care Service to parallel the NHS. People could retrain as psychologists to treat the growing problem of mental illness.

In the 1930s, Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal measures to combat depression, economic and psychological, included investment in the arts. Unemployed writers, artists and performers were put to work by the Federal Arts Project to improve the quality of life. That gave us Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Orson Welles, John Housman. The arts may seem low on the priority list, set against food supplies and the health service, but it would be a tragedy if theatres closed and talent went to waste.

We need something to elevate the spirit. There is a serious risk that with the malign effect of social media, people are going to be subject to waves of paranoia, fear and depression. I feel it myself. We live in a spiritually-deprived culture where we are not accustomed to living with death. The churches were where people turned in moments of crisis in the past. Twitter is a very poor substitute for faith.

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