Breakingviews – Once in a lifetime is our hopeful prediction

ZURICH (Reuters Breakingviews) – Forty years ago, two things happened. Talking Heads released “Remain in Light,” an album including the breakout single “Once in a Lifetime”. And in the Wooster School production of an episode of “The Twilight Zone”, I played the role of Charlie Farnsworth. Both provide perspective on the impact the Covid-19 crisis and ensuing Great Lockdown will have on the world.

Humanity is arguably at an inflection point. As the worst of the ongoing pandemic passes, we will either learn important lessons, correct course and become a more resilient species. Or we will tear ourselves further apart and expand the divisions between rich and poor, north and south, haves and have-nots. If we fix our flawed healthcare systems, make companies more resilient, improve safety nets and prepare better for future outbreaks, the coronavirus and its dramatic economic impact will be, as David Byrne sang, a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The alternative is more like that Twilight Zone episode, entitled “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”. The neighbours of Maple Street turn against each other violently after aliens come to town and make their presence known by turning off the power grid. “Their world is full of Maple Streets – and we’ll go from one to the other and let them destroy themselves,” one interstellar invader says to another at the conclusion of the show. Financial, political and geographical divides, obvious before the coronavirus hit, could just get deeper.

At Breakingviews, we have chosen Talking Heads over Rod Serling as the inspiration for our new book of columns on what will change after the disease has wrought its physical, emotional and financial damage on society. We hope this moment galvanises all of us – including policymakers, executives, investors, innovators and scientists – to recognise the interconnectedness of people, societies, economies and finance.

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