On Covid-19, economy, and ecology

I have been very silent these times. Indeed, in times like these, our long-standing certainties are tested, and when many of these certainties do not hold anymore, I tend to put all of them on hold. As a true researcher, I do not have a problem with putting my certainties on hold and seeing “truth” as a mere set of hypotheses. However, when that happens even at the most basic levels of our daily lives, it is a bit more disturbing. The certainties I have to put on hold now include, for instance, whether my kids will be able to see their grandparents again (which is now impossible not only because of the risks of infecting them but also because we live in different continents and the borders are closed).

Thus, I have been very silent these times. As any researcher, I have read and I have listened. And after having read and listened for a while, I think it is time to be more vocal about some aspects of this historical moment we are going through. Since I do not have many certainties left, I offer the following thoughts as suggestions and I will use the word “maybe” a lot.

Maybe Covid-19’s main contribution to humankind is to remind us that we are mortal. That means that “death is the only certainty,” as an old shaman would always remind me. Maybe we should thank the virus for that, and realize how foolish we have been. Dalai-lama used to say, “Men live as they would never die, and die as they had never lived.” Maybe it is time to stop such nonsense, redefine our priorities, realize that we are on this Earth for only a short amount of time… and decide more consciously how we want to spend such time. Maybe if we do that, one day we might look back and even see Covid-19 as a kind of blessing.

Maybe we also need to commit fully to ecology before we fully commit to economy again. Indeed, we should always think and understand ecology and economy together. Both come from oikos, the Greek word for “home.” Logia is the ancient Greek for “study” or “science”, whereas nomos stands for “managing.” Thus, ecology is the study of home whereas economy is the management of home. Managing something requires you to study it. As Satish Kumar puts it, the study of economics has to be tied to the study of ecology because, after all, “how can you manage something that you don’t know?”

The very origin of Covid-19, albeit controversial, may be exemplar in showing how economy and ecology cannot be separated. From what I have read, this is probably a virus usually found in bats, which was transmitted to a pangolin eaten by a human being in a wild animals market in Wuhan, China. Apparently, a virus crossing over three species is something very rare, but that can happen in places where such species are very close and exchange fluids. That is likely to happen if animals are alive and piled up in cages, waiting to be killed and eaten by the next customer, as it happens in such markets. Such markets are themselves very controversial even in China, but they exist for economic reasons. People need to eat, and some enjoy eating exotic, wild animals. Other people also need to make a living, and do not have that many options. Where there is demand, offer tends to appear. When offer and demand meet, government might feel relieved from political turmoil and economic distress.

Of course, as far as I know there is no scientific proof about the origins of Covid-19 and there are lots of fake news around its story. But it might well be a story about the interaction between ecology and economy.

Maybe this virus is simply trying to survive, just as we are. Maybe it is trying to find a new habitat, a new species to live in. Maybe we humans have killed so many wild animals, so many other species that now their parasites are turning to us as potential hosts, since we have grown and spread so much over the planet.

Maybe our economic behavior has not been much different from a virus’ behavior.

I heard from economists that economics is the science of scarcity, but no! Economics should be a science of housekeeping. If you want to manage your home, you need to know how it works. You need to know ecology.

Now, where there is human lockdown, nature seems to be very happy. Stories of wild life becoming more present and occupying more space simply abound: from peacocks dancing on the streets of Mumbai to pumas and other wild animals appearing in European towns and ski resorts, from many Chinese seeing a blue sky for the first time in ages to a diversity of birds coming back to my neighborhood. As we reduce our consumption, pace, and movement, we pollute less and leave more space to other creatures as well.

Maybe this is the most shocking reality that Covid-19 invites us to face: that we are not the center of the universe. Maybe we need to be more vocal about it and the rest will either fall into pieces or fall in the right place. Hence, I will repeat: we are not the center of the universe.

Maybe we are just here to enjoy life as a privilege, not as a right.

Maybe we are just to participate in the dance of life without trying to control everything.

Maybe when we do this, economics will become the art of managing abundance, instead of the “science of scarcity.”

E. F. Schumacher wrote, “Small is beautiful.” May the lockdown be a period to find beauty in the smallest things, to find abundance at home. May we find beauty in a tiny flower, in children learning, in cooking a good meal. May we find beauty again in our loved ones. May we find joy in giving attention to our kids, to our partner, to our breath. May we find joy in giving.

May we human beings get free from our psychological dramas and realize that we are not the center of the universe, but that we have incredible gifts and talents to develop and be happy with.

One of these talents is creativity. We human beings are creators; we have the gift of creating our own realities. This is what real entrepreneurship is about. Creating realities, not only businesses. So, before going back to life as usual and business as usual, let us rethink what kind of life, businesses, and entrepreneurship we really want. Let us rethink it from the humble perspective of one participant in the dance of life, not as the center of the universe. And let’s get real: this is not about sustainability, it is about survival and happiness.

So maybe this is really a time to reinvent ourselves. Let us take this time to ponder on fundamental questions, even if we do not have the answers yet. It is a time to look inward, very deeply into what we call “life,” and reinvent the life we want to be.

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