Coronavirus: Economic Collapse and the Revitalization of Community

The terror of uncertainty brought about by the Coronavirus epidemic is felt most acutely by low earning hourly waged workers and those in ‘high risk’ categories of susceptibility to a fatal infection. This unprecedented moment in contemporary history is shining a bright and unforgiving light on the failings of our economic system, with huge companies such as Laura Ashley already going into administration, not to mention the thousands of small locally owned businesses that will undoubtedly follow suit in the coming weeks.

However, it is also highlighting the power of community, helpfulness, and sharing. Such frightening times are said to bring out the best and the worst in us, let us examine some cases.

Imagine the single mother of three, Sarah, who works as a cleaner. Due to wide-spread self-isolation, her hours are cut by 70% and she knows she will not be able to pay the next month’s rent. When she goes to the supermarket the shelves are close to empty and she wonders how she will feed her children this week.

When she gets home she finds a note has been put through her door, much like this one shared by the founder of Indigo Volunteers, or this one shared by a police officer. The note is from Sarah’s neighbour. It offers whatever small financial or practical aid the neighbour can spare. Sarah had never even spoken to this neighbour before, but she calls his number.

Or consider the story of the local business owner, Tam, who has pooled their life savings into opening a café on the street two down from yours. They live in the little flat above the café and will not only lose their livelihood but will become homeless if they can’t meet their payments. They are overcome with gratitude and relief when those who can afford it ring up and ask to buy a gift voucher for future use.

Empty streets are alive with song as people find old yet new ways to meet that most basic and vital human need; connection. The hashtags #ApartTogether and #InThisTogether offer a wellspring of solidarity; a way to hold hands across the globe with no fear of contamination. Being encouraged to take modest pleasure in the simple joy of “very dark jokes with unshockable friends” from Alain de Botton reminds us to cherish the mighty salve of humour.

The resilience and strength of communities committed to each other’s well-being is astonishingly powerful. It gives us good reason to take extremely seriously economic models which are more closely mapped onto this deep and abiding undercurrent of human life, such as Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economy, or Juliet Schor’s Plentitude model.

To quote Dr. Raworth: “If you ignore the power of the collaborative commons, you’re ignoring one of the most dynamic and disruptive parts of the modern economy.”

Are there any readers who are familiar with these alternative resource distribution models, or any others? Have you experienced the power of your community under the duress of COVID-19? Get in touch and share your stories.