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It has all happened so quickly that it’s difficult to take it all in. The changes to our lives wrought by COVID-19 are dramatic, personal, and wide-ranging. Personally, I am filled with a sense that I have been transplanted into some sort of parallel universe. In just a few short weeks I have gone from a retiree, encouraged to be independent, active, and engaged in the community and marketplace, to being told I am vulnerable, need to isolate socially, and disengage from all communal activities. I do not dispute that this advice is in my own interests, but it is a huge change to absorb.
The latest economic response to the coronavirus is the third economic package announced in less than three weeks. Clearly, more than this should already have been done, but the structure and scale of the Government’s overall economic response now seems commensurate with the size and impact of the economic shock.
The centrepiece of the latest economic package is the wage subsidy, at an estimated total cost of $130 billion. Even on its own, this wage subsidy represents an unheard-of 26 percent increase in budget outlays – a staggering reversal in the Government’s previous policy of fiscal restraint distinguished by its meanness towards the poorest households.
This wage subsidy also dwarfs previous economic responses, accounting for as much as two thirds of the total $194 billion economic assistance provided through the Australian government budget. And this $194 billion for all economic assistance, in turn, represents just under 10 percent of annual GDP.
And that means government spending is overwhelmingly beneficial in these crisis conditions.
Much is uncertain about the Covid-19 crisis, but two things are clear: government debt is about to increase considerably, and there’ll be no shortage of commentators who will say that’s a problem.
G20 governments have collectively announced more than $5 trillion in fiscal stimulus, with more to come. The Australian government’s measures, including yesterday’s $130 billion spending package, are broadly in line with other countries. So should we be worried about the consequent growth in government debt? The answer is a clear and resounding no. Whether this new debt is justified depends on the benefit of the increased spending versus the cost of that spending, and, in the current environment, the benefit is substantial, while the costs are minimal.
Every aspect of our lives has been affected by the coronavirus. The global economy has slowed, people have retreated to their homes, and thousands have died or become seriously ill.
At this frightening stage of the crisis, it’s difficult to focus on anything else. But as the International Agency has said, the effects of coronavirus are likely to be temporary, but the other global emergency – climate change – is not. Stopping the spread of coronavirus is paramount, but climate action must also continue. And we can draw many lessons and opportunities from the current health crisis when tackling planetary warming.
The photo spoke volumes – Pope Francis speaking on 27 March to the completely empty square in front of St Peter’s in Rome. Isolated and alone, like so many others due to the coronavirus outbreak, he epitomised the dilemmas we face as the crisis spreads everywhere. For the first time in living memory, worship services throughout the world are being cancelled to prevent the pandemic spreading. At this holy time for Jews and Christians, churches and synagogues will be almost deserted.
War in Afghanistan: 18 years of lies & obfuscation. The real story behind the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001
In response to the suicide attacks on the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001, the US issued an ultimatum to Afghanistan’s Taliban regime to hand over Osama bin Laden and the other Al Qaeda leaders or else the US would invade the country and hunt them down. The Taliban refused, so the US invaded. Somewhere along the way it lost sight of its original objective and embarked on a larger and much more ambitious strategy of eliminating the Taliban regime altogether and reshaping Afghanistan into a form much more to its taste.
Terrence Malick’s latest film, A Hidden Life, provides an account of the life and death of Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian Catholic family man and farmer who refused to fight in Hitler’s war. The film portrays Franz, his wife Franziska (Fani), and their three daughters as important members of a tight-knit rural community. Jägerstätter is called up to basic training, but is sent home in 1940 when Germany appears to be winning the War. In 1943, as the War goes on, Jägerstätter and the other able-bodied men in the village are called up to fight. Their first requirement is to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler and the Third Reich. Despite pressure from the Mayor, the Bishop of Salzburg, and his farm neighbours who increasingly ostracise him and his family, Jägerstätter refuses, knowing that this decision will mean arrest, and even death.
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As we face a global health crisis “unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations”, António Guterres calls for “coordinated, decisive, and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies … We are in an unprecedented situation, and normal rules no longer apply”. 19 March.