Godfrey Baldacchino is a professor at UM's Department of Sociology. A vocal, and at times controversial critic of current affairs, he caused quite a stir when he advocated a series of suggestions on his Facebook page - to help assure Malta's competitiveness during the current uncertain times.
We engaged Prof. Baldacchino in a Q & A altercation:
Q. You said the measures you proposed were also thought of with the mindset that the economy has to be ready to pick up after COVID-19 has run its course. How important is it to protect our competitive edge, economy-wise and beyond and to think about post-COVID world from now?
A. Absolutely crucial. Human resources are absolutely critical components of our economy. They were already hard to find before the COVID-19 crisis, and they will be again once the crisis is over.
To pick up after such a long period of suppressed consumer demand, some (I know it’s not all) employers may have no choice but to dismiss employees, but these same employers will be seeking the same employees in a couple of months’ time.
My suggestions, provided as broad brushstrokes, were meant as a basis for discussion amongst social partners. They were intended to invite policy makers to consider measures that would make it attractive for employers NOT to dismiss employees.
I am just bringing to the fore the need to plan wisely for the post-COVID-19 future. It will come.
Q. How has the concept of saving for a rainy day, something which banks have drilled into their consumers' minds, changed with this pandemic?
A. The parsimony and frugality associated with ‘saving for a rainy day’ has been part and parcel of Maltese culture over many generations. I doubt whether recent generations behave in the same manner. Many youths are working, some full-time (even while they are supposed to study full-time) because they have their sights set on buying a car, for instance. They like exuding a bonhomie based on comfortable living, not necessarily with much concern for what the future may bring.
Q. Are the solutions you proposed a bit one-size-fits-all, as in are they applicable to all industries with different rates of success? And what about different class struggles? As in, they might be more suitable for upper middle class, but not lower middle-class citizens ...
A. You are right. Some of those who may disagree passionately with my suggestions come from sectors where demand remains buoyant, and it has become even perkier than before the pandemic struck. Supermarkets, pharmacies, retail outlets that run delivery services, the non-sports-based segments of online gaming, they are not planning redundancies.
Q. We've seen that measures such as the advocating of teleworking have already led to a reduction in pollution, for example. Would these be reversed once COVID-19 has run its course?
A. Events such as COVID-19 bring about profound changes; in social structures, in people’s values and priorities, and therefore in how we live.
I, for one, have realised how many unnecessary meetings I may have attended, and how advantageous teleworking is (while admitting that not all work lends itself to this).
Others may have also noted that spending 1 hour or more stuck in traffic every day is not a price worth paying for economic growth. I am sure we are all drawing our lessons from this situation.
Many of us would want to see some of the changes we are living through extended and mainstreamed in the post-COVID-9 epoch.