Where will we be by the time you read this? Emotionally speaking: will the collective mood be up or down? It’s all about expectation management: giving bad news about deaths in time for people to see the benefit of an extended lockdown.
Managing our feelings is part of the purpose of the daily Downing Street Q&A sessions which the newscasters still trumpet as “Breaking News”.
They are reassuringly factual. Not for Matt Hancock the swerving off-piste style of Jim Hackett, boss of Ford, when announcing the latest results. “There is no future,” Hackett reflected, “if we don’t have an economic system that is always on. We didn’t realise there was an off switch.”
One dramatic measurement of global emotional health is the stock market. At the time of writing it is again charging upwards in “bull” mode, so President Trump has been hailing “one of the best weeks in the stock market … that we’ve had in, since the 1950s or 1940s”.
This is after six weeks of falling off a cliff, as panicking investors offloaded their shares prompting a global share-price collapse. Everything must go!
There’s no rationality. These are men sitting at trading screens with clammy palms, and for a while they’ve decided that the world is going to end – as if customers would never again buy the products of the vast global corporations. Never again will they buy Marmite (Unilever), or drink Guinness (Diageo), or run their cars on oil from Shell or BP. It’s irrational.
They lose faith. Or they’ve twigged: homo sapiens is not his own God, all-powerful. In the face of this new disease, man is no more all-powerful than a medieval peasant, at least for now.
There are non-human forces at work too, rocking the markets: computer-triggered transactions that sell in a nanosecond, but the result is like a fist crashing onto one half of the scales. Plenty, though, is still the work of frail humans.
Government action has reassured the traders, the institutions, small investors. Banks advertise: “Lloyds Bank: now more than ever we’re by your side.”
Mind you, many of us still think the stock market has nothing to with us, or that it’s just paper losses so it doesn’t matter.
But these are real companies that employ real people, keep real families going. And since the government introduced automatic pension contributions at work, nearly all of us own big British companies, whether we like it or not. In some cases, though many people may not realise it, the large pooled savings funds into which their monthly contributions drop will include businesses that so-called “ethical” investors avoid – tobacco companies, for instance, which are unusual in being incredibly resilient, despite the fact that their star product actively kills its users.
It’s complicated. Stock markets are, oddly, not very reliable as a guide to a country’s economic health. Trump likes to keep them steaming ahead because they’re easy to grasp and very visual – that graph of soaring growth. But some say the US economy is imploding, shrinking in like a crushed snail. So what really awaits us when this is all over?
Knowledge about the coronavirus is developing so rapidly that by the time you read this many of the facts we thought we knew will have been overturned. What to call it? The “germ”, as Donald Trump did?
“Corona” has so many associations. Catholics may think of it as the crown of Mary, the Rosary. It is also a well-known brand of Mexican lager, swigged straight from the bottle with a wedge of lime. But a survey found that 40 per cent of Ameri- cans would not now order a Corona.
Exercise is good for the spirits. Our children watch the YouTube fitness fanatic Joe Wicks. We have gained a different sort of strength from online streamed Mass from the London Oratory. I know it’s not the same, but the video is technically superb and it is a way of participating in a radically stripped down Mass, enriched recently by Fr George Bowen’s brilliantly focused homilies on St Stephen, among other things.
The Oratory, like some other churches, has been “open” through technology, despite the prescribed locked doors which so sadden people. Perhaps by the time you read this the bishops, who normally enthuse about “community”, will have reopened the churches – particularly now that everyone gets the point of social distancing.
In these circumstances it was moving to hear the other day the words of Jesus: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger.” Fr George quoted St Catherine of Siena addressing God directly: “The more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you.”
Andrew M Brown is Obituaries editor of the Daily Telegraph
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