In most countries, humanity has thrived under democratic systems of government because people vote based on social contracts, whereby they opt for what they think will be better for everyone in the country, rather than just themselves as individuals. However over the last decade (arguably for much longer) we appear to have drifted away from the idea of social contracts. Instead we have embraced populist leaders and governments, “standing up for the majority” rather than looking after those on the edges, “fighting for common sense” rather than for political correctness, and generally entrenching the wealth of those who already have it. Not to mention, continually voting against greener political parties in favour of continuing to trash the environment.
Covid-19 is harking back to more cooperative times, reminding us that we all live in the same society, and that when some of us are in danger, then we’re all responsible for helping – indeed, we can all harm and benefit one another. And it’s doing so in the most alarming way, telling us that if we don’t sacrifice our work and our social lives momentarily, we will kill people. But we shouldn’t forget that voting for populist governments who cut healthcare funding, economic aid or environmental regulations also kill people. A social contract doesn’t just exist to protect the elderly during pandemics, it should protect everyone. In recent times it simply hasn’t.
As if some form of cosmic justice, those most at-risk from covid-19 are largely those who have most benefited from recent populist governments. It risks those with chronic conditions, but also the old, the baby boomers, those who might have amassed wealth previously and then wanted to protect it (by raising house prices, etc) and inadvertently stop younger generations amassing their own wealth. Their own vigilance and self-prioritisation in elections has done little to protect them from pandemics. Instead, those who have suffered from our erosion of social contracted politics – those on zero hour contracts, those with little or no sick pay, and those without their own homes – are now being counted on and asked to sacrifice what little employment and capital they do have in order to protect those older members of society who have continuously voted against modernising capitalism in ways which might benefit them.
In short, demographically speaking, the young and insecure are now being asked to lay everything on the line for those who have continually voted to remove their ability to become secure. They are being asked to fulfil their part of the social contract, despite the other side having neglected theirs for many years.
Short-term, this now vulnerable generation is asking the help of those younger ones upon whom they enforced Brexit, Trump, Boris and with them the inability to become home owners, fully employed and secure members of society.
At some point, Boris and Trump will even likely do what the older generations want and fund the young people to be able to protect the old, by giving them proper sick pay and allowing self-isolation. It is being debated daily in US and UK media. Almost as if to offer the young a small morsel of social contract for themselves, on this one occasion, hoping they do not notice the hypocrisy baked within it.
But let this be a lesson to all of us on social contracts: like it or not, we all share society, and if we continue to refuse our side of the social contract – outvoting the young to ruin their interests, as we have done over the last decade – then eventually they will stop signing their side of the social contract. We might not be cavemen and women who need the young to hunt for us anymore, but during pandemics and moments of national insecurity they are the difference between the elderly surviving or perishing. Covid-19 is a reminder of this, and hopefully it has not arrived too late.
What is the key to appreciating society for the social contract it is? Make an effort to think more rationally and consistently. Ask questions like “why is it only important for zero hours workers to have sick pay when it’s someone else that could be negatively affected?” or “why do we care so much about the number of deaths from covid-19, but not from our lack of mental health funding or benefit cuts?”. A functioning society thrives on critical thinking because it allows us to pick governments who are capable of creating one.