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Voices from the Movement: John Helliwell on COVID-19 as a Tragedy and a Renaissance

May 4, 2020

John Helliwell is Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and Co-Director of CIFAR’s program on “Social Interactions, Identity and Well-Being.”

John is also Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of British Columbia, a Member of the National Statistics Council, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and Editor of the World Happiness Report. 

We are honoured to share John’s op-ed for the Vancouver Sun, where he makes the case that while COVID-19 has brought about unmistakable tragedy, it also has the potential to spark a renaissance for humanity. We would do well as a global society to ensure that the legacy of this pandemic is not the loss, but the generosity, renewed respect for nature, and global solidarity that has arisen.

We’re not in a conventional economic recession but on a medically prescribed timeout for large parts of the economy. The pandemic is much more than just a deadly timeout, it’s also a growing tragedy causing more deaths than any similar plague in more than a century.

It hangs as a dark shadow over people’s lives, jeopardizing current and future key supports for well-being: health, employment, income, basic food and housing, peace-of-mind, physical closeness to family and friends, and freedom to move about.

Some individuals, communities and countries will suffer much more than others in the inevitably uneven distribution of deaths and disruption. For some facing death or poverty there will be no silver lining. The wartime analogy is apt, but with a vital difference — this isn’t a war to take lives or steal property but one to save lives and protect livelihoods.

Read more at the Vancouver Sun.