What do Cato the Elder, Voltaire, and Pierre Mendes France have in common? All three, like many other politicians and intellectuals around the world, understood that for an idea to gain traction, it had to be repeated over and over again. Cato hammered that Cartage had to be destroyed; Voltaire completed all his letters with his hatred of obscurantism; and Pierre Mendes France proclaimed during his entire life that he was obsessed with the truth.
And here today, what needs to be repeated, without limit, is the need to focus all of the recovery efforts on certain sectors, which, for more than a month now, I have been calling “the economy of life.”
It brings together every sector, which in one way or another, from near or afar, has given itself the mission of defending life; and we continue to see, in a very pragmatic sense, the vital importance of these sectors: health, prevention, hygiene, waste management, water distribution, sports, food, agriculture, land protection, distribution, trade, education, research, innovation, clean energy, digital technology, housing, goods transport, public transport, urban infrastructure, information, culture, the functioning of democracy, security, insurance, savings and credit.
These sectors are obviously interdependent: health is dependent on hygiene and also uses digital technology, which is also useful for education; and nothing will be accomplished in any of these areas without research, on which the discovery of a vaccine and medicines needed to control this pandemic depend. Therefore, the economy of life includes every activity that makes it possible both to live during the pandemic and to emerge from the related crises (economic, financial, social and ecological) that it sustains.
These sectors do not include remote activities only; they must therefore be developed accordingly, by providing all the means of protection to the people who work in such sectors.
Today, these sectors represent, depending on the country, between 40% and 70% of GDP and between 40% and 70% of employment. These ratios need to change: we need to move the needle to 80%. Households must spend a larger share of their budget on healthcare, food and learning; employers have to increase the pay and social status of the people who work in these sectors; the State has to support companies, large or small, that work in these sectors.
Companies that are operating in other sectors must redirect their businesses toward the economy of life. In my opinion, these companies are currently waiting in vain for the return of their previous markets: companies in the following sectors—automobile, aeronautics, textile, fashion, chemical, machine-tool, carbon energy, luxury goods, tourism, live entertainment and defence industries—will not see their previous markets return, even if a vaccine and medicines were to be found now, it would take at least two years for everything to return to equilibrium; by then, many of these companies will have failed. Therefore, it is not be acceptable to finance, without a defined timeline, companies with no future.
These companies are not, however, condemned: that is if their executives, and the political and union leaders, mobilise to find ways of providing the same services in other ways, and also provide other services related to the sectors of the economy of life. All of these companies have the skillsets that can be reorganized. The tourism sector is already setting the example.
If it was the case up until recently that the sectors of the economy of life were mainly services that had little if any potential for growth (which only comes with increased productivity resulting from the industrialization of a service), these sectors are increasingly comprised of industries, capable of increasing their productivity, and therefore of constantly improving their capacity to fulfil their mission.
We will prevent the worst recession of all time and rescue the world from the nightmare that it is sinking into if we put all of our resources into the economy of life.
This idea is beginning to take hold in some companies and in some countries. A few countries are starting to take the risk; a few companies are beginning to understand that their survival depends on their reconversion to one these sectors, i.e. the economy of life.
Though nothing massive or systematic has been done; no country has yet declared that it is going to focus on these sectors, giving them priority for loans, public contracts, or innovation funding. And yet, everything depends on it: it is high time to move from the survival mode economy to the economy of life.