Hannes Androsch: The world after Corona [ESSAY]

One year after the outbreak of the corona pandemic, one thing is clear: the consequences will keep us busy for a long time. Long overdue tasks have been neglected. It is all the more important now to take the right steps in the areas of research, education, digitization and climate protection.

The consequences of the pandemic will keep us busy for a long time. Long overdue tasks have been neglected. It is all the more important now to take the right steps in the areas of research, education, digitization and climate protection.

The Covid-19 plague has shown us our dependencies and vulnerabilities. After a new virus was discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, reports soon spread that it was a dangerous pathogen that could trigger a global pandemic. But the warnings were not taken seriously, and so Sars-CoV-2 quickly spread across the globe.

The international community was not prepared for this, although there had been calls for a long time about an impending pandemic. It was carelessness to ignore, play down, or cover up this danger. The signs on the wall have been ignored for too long – with dramatic consequences: overstrained crisis management, overburdened health systems, massive excess mortality, radical shutdowns, rigorous school closings and dramatic economic slumps.

We are currently struggling with the second wave, which has meanwhile been aggravated by mutations, without knowing when it will be overcome. In addition, a third wave in autumn cannot be ruled out, even with a faster vaccination. Above all, however, an “era of pandemics” can be expected in the future. We must prepare for this in order to avert the danger that this could be “our last century” (Martin Rees).

There will be no return to the ‘old normal’. What is needed are ideas for a ‘new normal’.

In view of this, the economic recovery will not come as quickly as necessary in order to overcome underemployment through short-time work and to reduce high unemployment. This requires quick and effective relief measures and a vigorous resuscitation program in connection with a well-considered future strategy in order to create orders for the economy and to increase demand by overcoming the reluctance to buy and the impossibility to buy.

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To do this, however, existing existential fears and worries about the future must be overcome. “Bidenomics” can help, but we have to do our homework ourselves in order to prevent economic stagnation or even stagflation, ie unemployment combined with inflation.

It seems certain that the crisis will not simply go away. The elimination of the collateral damage will take a long time, whereby the consequences in the education sector will have longer-term consequences than those in the economy, which, however, can also be expected to have serious effects due to land consolidations with business closings and bankruptcies. And the consequences of the “hidden pandemic”, such as mental health damage due to isolation, lack of social contact and loneliness, will continue to concern us.

The overdue measures

A devastating consequence of the pandemic is that long overdue tasks, especially measures for climate protection, the energy transition, modernization of education or digitization, have been neglected. The development of answers to the pressing questions of demographic change – keyword: “age quake” – was neglected. The aging of the population is already a challenge when it comes to recruiting employees, financing old-age pensions and healthcare, but above all when it comes to long-term care.

These problems will increase, as will the challenge of climate change. The past year was one of the warmest since the beginning of measurement history. The necessary decarbonization of our societies therefore requires greater efforts, especially for an energy turnaround. In the tax area, too, it is necessary to take effective measures to protect the climate, such as the elimination of flat rates for the suburban belt, diesel privileges and low taxation of fuels to promote tank tourism. A steering greenhouse gas tax is required, whereby the income generated would have to be used in a revenue-neutral manner in order to reduce the high anti-competitive wage costs and to achieve more net of the gross.

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Overdue openness to technology

However, these measures must not trigger de-industrialization. A single, emission-intensive industrial company needs 80 wind turbines to generate green hydrogen. As a result, we will need more and above all green electricity to ensure industrial production and e-mobility. In addition, 1.5 million Austrian single-family households must be converted to climate-friendly heating, which in addition to thermal insulation also requires more green electricity. And finally, the necessary digitalization also increases power consumption, which increases the risk of power shortages, supply gaps and power outages.

In addition, there is a need for a digitalization boost for Industry 4.0 or 5.0, with which the creative collaboration between man and machine is targeted. It is important to promote e-government so that one does not need registration papers or company register extracts in paper form or that architecture plans that have already been created digitally have to be presented on paper for submission so that they can be scanned again by the authorities. All of this will involve large amounts of data. Like blockchain, algorithms and artificial intelligence, these require corresponding (super) computers and area-wide networks (power lines, fiber optics, 5G, soon to be 6G). In this regard, there is a lot of catching up to do in this country. Likewise, biotechnology, neuro and computer sciences and super intelligence require massive funding, the danger of cyber and bio-terror as well as that of black-outs need greater attention.

The world of work and job requirement profiles will change significantly due to digitization. Education and training must therefore be more closely linked to lifelong learning, e. B. Further training for teachers to be able to teach digitally. This includes – like the free school books at the time – free, digital and pedagogically oriented teaching and learning programs, not least in order to avoid the division of society into a platform economy with secure, well-paid jobs and a gig economy with poorly paid, insecure jobs.

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And finally the implementation of the state and administrative reform is needed. The aim is to abolish the regulatory mania and to search through the jungle of regulations. This requires political readiness or the will to do what is necessary, for which the existing refusal to reform and the resistance to change must be overcome. It will not work with the attitude “everything should change, but everything must stay the same”. Only change is constant; this applies in particular to science and research, the political stepchildren in Austria.

Particularly during the crisis, efforts to develop vaccines that were quickly successful have shown how important research funding and the strengthening of innovative strength are for everyone. After many years of neglect in this country, politics should finally understand this and act accordingly in order to create a golden twenties in this regard. In this way, the billions in savings in interest expenditure could be put to good use.

Despite the hope-giving vaccinations, there will be much work to be done to build a new world and enable a safer and better life. It is also certain that we will not return to the same conditions as before the Corona crisis. A return to the “old normal” will only be possible in part. Ideas for a “new normal” in many cases are therefore in demand. And if it is to be successful in shaping this for the benefit of mankind, increased efforts in education, science, research, technology and innovation are required.

In all efforts, fundamental rights and civil liberties must also be observed. The threat posed by the enemies of democracy must be averted from the start. Every crisis is as much a danger as it is an opportunity. We must seize the latter in a European context and with international cooperation and do our neglected homework. “Austria over everything, whenever it wants.”

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