OPINION – Beyond comfort

A couple of positive developments notwithstanding, the data shows an economy wobbling at the edge of a quasi-comatose state. The prospects for a return to normality are changing every week. Luckily, some tolerance comes with the habit, or the air around us might still be gloomier.  

By José I. Duarte | Economist, Macau Business Senior Analyst

All too often, we see the opposition between life – meaning, surviving the pandemic – and livelihood – that is, protecting our welfare from the pain inflicted on our social and economic structures. For its powerful, antithetic formulation, most often, that dilemma is, essentially, a fallacy. 

In a better or ideal world, we would we would soon find a cure or develop a vaccine to quell the pandemic. One can surely hope fervently for such a happy ending. All alternatives being likely worse, let us stick with hope. Medical sciences were never so well equipped to attain a successful and speedy development of a new vaccine, and miracles do happen. If that turns out to be the case, so much better. 

Yet, it would be foolish to go all in on that outcome alone. By definition, miracles are rare, and experience gathered from other illnesses, if we can use it as a guide, should give sobering tone to our individual and collective expectations. We need to consider ways to live with the disease while going about with our daily lives.  

 Longing for a more diversified and, implicitly, more resilient economy has resurfaced with renewed vigor. That is a long-term issue. We might have dealt with it differently had this happened a couple of decades ago.  Then, other paths could have been chosen, and we would be reaping different fruits now. For better or worse, we will never really know. It did not happen – and there is not a viable, ready-made alternative.  

Moreover, our lack of diversity is not restricted to the services that our economy supplies.  The sources of visitors that keep it buzzing are also heavily concentrated. The vulnerabilities this condition entails in the event of major regional or world crises, regardless of their trigger, were diagnosed long ago.  

The buildup of a substantial financial reserve was part of the contingency plans. But that buffer is inevitably limited in both scope and duration. It targets short-term problems associated with declining income and demand; it cannot provide the cornerstone for a prolonged and sustained recovery.  

We are mostly cut off from the rest of the world. Indeed, we are all aware that many solutions do not depend on us alone. Still, opening doors crucially hinges on our commitment and ability to come up with approaches that assert our interests while recognizing others’ concerns. Also, on using our assets more creatively to open windows to the world (our exceedingly under-used airport springs to mind.)  

Maybe the current predicament will create a momentum to do things differently in the future. We may pluck its dividends in many years from now, when a new crisis strikes – as it will. But we are not there yet, and we know it cannot be done by fiat or soon.  

Now, we have to focus on what can actually be done to revert the existing trends as soon as possible and to avoid additional insecurity. 

The situation is wrecking the economy and many segments of society, here and elsewhere. Overcoming its adverse effects, or at least mitigating them, asks for an in-depth, hard look at facts and conditions. It may require decisions that entail risks and will demand skillful steering from both businesses and public bodies. But the alternative cannot be allowing us to become comfortably numb (a nod to Pink Floyd). There is no glory in dying just waiting for deliverance.