It’s common knowledge that the post COVID 19 Pandemic era will require a new social contract. The social contract in society determines the balance between what is to be provided collectively in society and by whom. The governmental and regulatory structure of society along with the rules and norms that dictate how our society functions will undergo a major overhaul.
For example, the Canadian public of all political persuasions is demanding that the architecture and operational framework for Long Term Care be dramatically restructured with an orientation that places the primary focus on the quality of care of residents as an essential component of the social contract and not a burden on society.
COVID 19 has made us acknowledge what we all were intrinsically aware of but chose to conveniently ignore; the extent to which the “COVID 19 Heroes”, PSWs, RPNs, retail food clerks and front-line workers in factories have been grossly underpaid and overworked. In short, they’ve been exploited. One of the guiding principles of this new social contract that is gaining traction is that the “minimum wage” approach that is based on the premise that the unbridled competitive forces in the employment market should be the fundamental determinant of a wage is losing traction. The exploitation of minimum wage workers absent benefits who were forced to work in unsafe conditions, even if they tested COVID positive in order to make enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table, needs to be restructured in the context of a “basic fair wage” with government regulated health and workplace safety standards.
We need to rethink the nature and extent of the social safety net. Food banks and tent cities are two high profile illustrations of flaws in the status quo. This does not necessarily mean just pouring more money into welfare. It requires a resolve to undertake a fundamental rethinking of the myriad of welfare programs that COVID has demonstrated are part of the problem rather than the solution.
COVID has provided us with a stark insight into the health care dilemma we were already facing as an aging society that has ballooned into a crisis. Health is wealth in contemporary western society. But it’s an expensive proposition. The new generation of medical technology, drugs, devices and the expansion of health providers into 28 self-regulated health professions are going to require a fundamental rethinking of the nature and extent of health as a critical component of the social contract. This is a rethinking of the social contract that will cost money. Cost effectiveness and not cost containment will be the new healthcare mantra.
The combination of aging and advances in health care are already increasing longevity in Canadian society with reasonable expectations that Boomers will live into their 80’s. The boomer generation has benefited from being born into a society with a social contract that nurtured them as youths until 21, followed by a work life of stable employment for 40+ years with a guaranteed public pension at age 65 that they may well keep on collecting for 20 years until 85 years of age. That translates into an equal balance of 40 years of work and 40 years of non-work
This all worked well when the country had a growing population of healthy young workers to contribute to public pension plan in which a majority of workers were supporting a minority of retirees. An aging population means that within the short- term foreseeable future there will be a growing financial burden on a minority of workers to support a majority of retirees. A number of comparable western countries have already begun to raise the public retirement eligibility age from 65 to 67 with projections that it may be set at a peak of 70. Canada’s initial attempt was rolled back in response to a public outcry. Don’t be surprised to see its inevitable re-introduction into the public policy debate.
Then there’s the shift from an industrial to an information high-tech economy, with “gig” employment that will require the emergent “x”, y”, ”z” generations, yes our grandchildren, to re-educate and re-employ themselves several times over the course of their adulthood. They will also be required to pay down that massive multi-billion dollar public debt that was needed to fund the fundamental social contract obligation to combat COVID 19 while confronting a climate crisis.
Social contracts enable us to solve the problems that confront societies. Crises create opportunities for society to develop architectures and operational frameworks for innovative social contracts. Post COVID 19 can and must open the door for creation of a new social contract
John G. Kelly
Mentoring & Counselling