The only welcome victim of Coronavirus will be the myth of the “entitled millennial”. Let us hear no more accusations of individualism, selfishness and over-avocado-eating from older generations. Many baby boomers now owe their lives to the selflessness of the young.
The civic restrictions introduced across Europe in recent days are intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, and keep hospital beds and respirators available for critical cases. But this lock-down will also rob a generation of education and income. Even if the restrictions last only a month as planned, the effects will linger in the economy for years. Jobs have already been lost, businesses shut and careers curtailed.
This coronavirus lock-down is a massive demonstration of inter-generational sacrifice. While the virus affects people of all ages, it is most dangerous and deadly for the weak, the ill and the old. We are consciously overreacting to save the lives of the most vulnerable. And so we should. But let us be clear – many young people are giving up their livelihoods so that the old may live.
Granted, not everyone is happy about the lockdown. Many people of all ages are still ignoring requests and regulations about staying at home. But a significant proportion of the population is complying. And young people are missing out on school, university and employment whether they like it or not.
For those who have lost income, the German government is promising aid and compensation and let us hope it materialises — especially for creative workers, freelancers and small businesses. But lost confidence and ingrained uncertainty are things that can infect a society for decades: even German culture today is haunted by memories of a currency meltdown almost a century ago.
Yet in the midst of these bewildering times, there are signs of hope for the post-corona future. Humans have once again become humane. Fights in supermarkets aside, the majority of people have accepted the call to restrict our actions for the benefit of the vulnerable. The notion that people are unwilling to cede anything for the greater good has been disproved. People have shown they are ready for a radical reimagination of reality.
And new economic models suddenly seem possible. The concepts of state regulation, suspension of markets, public money for businesses and individuals, nationalism of key industries, debt and rent holidays and even basic income are now spoken of as common sense. Only a week ago this would have been unthinkable.
Now that we have breached the economic imagination barrier, we can push further and conceive of new sustainable modes of consumption, production, distribution and energy generation. Those arguing for a green new deal should seize the moment and demand a recovery plan that results in a sustainable society operating within its environmental means. After all, the human-supporting ecosystem is suffering from an economic illness that is undermining our existence. The climate crisis is even more deadly than COVID-19, its victims undiagnosed, yet just as real.
Younger generations have led the calls for a drastic response to the climate emergency, only to be thwarted by obstinate elders. And now the youth are trading liberty, prosperity and opportunity for the benefit of those same seniors, weakened both in body and argument. As compensation for the Coronavirus lock-down, the youth should be given what they have already demanded: a fossil fuel-free future.