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  1. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by CHAPPERS View Post
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    Which in a way throws even more doubt into the numbers from China.

    Practically impossible for someone young even to have not have poor lung function in the majority of major cities.

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      There is an article written by the 'Bright Blue' commentator, Matthew D'Ancona, on the new online/slow journalism site, The Tortoise, which I don't want to pay to get access to. If anyone can post it on here, I'd be eternally grateful. I think the article is called '28 Days Later', or something similar.
    • #23
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      Interesting bit here on the Rutherford research.

      Hello, it's Karol Sikora here, talking now about antibody testing. We at the Rutherford Cancer Centres, the network of four centres scattered around the UK, decided to test our staff for antibodies IgG [immunoglobulin G] and IgM [immunoglobulin M] against coronavirus.

      Test, Test, Test

      The logic really comes from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director General's concept of "test, test, test" being the most important thing we can do at the moment.

      There are two types of test as you know. One is a PCR test for the presence of the virus. That's often called the antigen test, but it is done in a distant laboratory from the sample collection, which is usually a nose swab, or a throat swab. Lots of sample variation, lots of sample error there.

      The second type of test is to look at a small sample of blood, either venous blood from venesection, or more likely a pinprick. Just 10 microlitres is all you need of blood or serum to do the assay and measure antibodies.
      The virus [antigen test] and the antibody test tell you different things. The virus test tells you if the patient's been infected and is still infected.

      The antibody test tells you that the patient at some point has been infected and has mounted an antibody response.

      Test Kits

      Now, we tested our staff. They're predominantly young and average age around 35. And we've tested now 120 of our staff and we're still doing it this week, using kits that come from Sugentech in South Korea.

      Now there's been a lot of noise about these kits not working. We validated our kits against the gold standard of antibody, a chemiluminescent assay, a much more cumbersome, laboratory-based test in North London.

      All the staff at the centre here in Reading were tested. And there was complete concordance between the laboratory-based complex test and the kit test, which just takes a drop of blood and the answer's ready at the patient's side within 15 minutes.

      Results

      So, using this we went out and did the rest of the staff. The positive rate of either IgM, IgG or both is around 10%. Now at first I thought this is disappointing. Only 10% are seroconverted. What's the other 90%? Have they not had coronavirus?

      And then I started looking around at the literature. The biggest study was in the town of Gangelt in Germany on the Dutch border. And there it was clear that having tested the whole population as much as possible, they found the conversion rate was only 14%. And yet, this was the epicentre of a pandemic of coronavirus a month ago. And yet, only 14% were producing measurable antibodies.

      Sure, there's a lot of kits out there; there's a lot of variation. The price of the kits varies from $10, which are our ones, to $39. And no one really knows what the answer is.

      Problems

      What we're looking for are two things. The first is information; information on how prevalent viral infection is and how good the immune response is to it.

      The second thing we're looking for is some sort of passport, some sort of signal that a patient is safe, either to go back to work, or to travel on international airlines.

      Unfortunately, my view, having looked at the data here, is that the antibody test will never do that. It will never confirm that someone has had the disease and is safe to go back. It's likely they've had the disease. But we don't know that it means that can't get the disease again.

      The second problem we've got moving forward is that we need a simpler test. We need something that is done extremely simply, a saliva-based test would be ideal. A piece of litmus paper almost that you put in the mouth, and it comes out and after a minute it changes colour. And that's what a few imaginative biotech companies are now beginning to work on. That would be the future.
      It probably won't be ready in 6 months. Public Health England who were responsible for testing in this country have been very slow, both to get off the mark with the virus testing by PCR, and, not only that, with antibody testing.
      They seem to say no testing should be done without them. That's fine, well come and help us.

      They couldn't even provide our validity lab with any control serum samples, we wanted 10 from positives, 10 from negatives: easy to get negatives, just go back in the fridge in the lab and identify 10 sera which have been stored since Christmas. At Christmas time there was no virus in the community, so they're definitely going to be negative. We needed 10 positives; we had to go out and get them ourselves from patients that our colleagues in London general practices and specialists had identified as having COVID-19 clinically. And that's been just tremendously helpful. London's COVID-19 surveillance group of doctors has been responsible for this remarkable collection.

      Looking Ahead

      So how are we going to go forward with all this? We'll get more data, some very interesting data. I mentioned Gangelt in Germany. There's also cruise ship data coming in, and now a French aircraft carrier in which 2000 sailors, a pandemic proportion, was out off the coast of Brest; the ship came to the harbour and the sailors were tested, not with antibody tests but for the virus. Nearly 1200 of them were positive for the virus; encouragingly, only 600 actually had symptoms. We're waiting to see at what point they seroconvert, and does it go down the true roots of IgM and IgG?

      So what's this all mean in terms of measuring? I think it's likely there are other mechanisms in play immunologically, other than the IgG and IgM. We know secreting IgA is one of the primitive ways of destroying outside pathogens in the mucosa before they actually get into the body. And it could be that the IgA is keeping the virus away from the conversion to IgM and IgG. All very complicated and it will take some years for the immunologists to sort this out.

      I did a PhD a long time ago, 45 years ago on tumour immunology, and I remember this but I still have to go back to the books to sort it out. It's a very complex area. There are also cellular mechanisms that play NK [natural killer] cells, T-cells, cytokine-releasing cells, helper cells and so on, that identify the viruses as foreign and may mop it up, just gobble it up, long before there's any antibody response.

      We're going to hear a lot about this. Public Health England have really not covered themselves in glory about the strategy they've used. My son is a manager in the Royal Mail and one of their big PCR testing services is coming from Belfast. It's a headache for the Royal Mail: it costs double to send a packet across the water, and not only that, the chances of delay and forgetting where the package has got to is much higher if you have to send it across the water.

      I think what we're going to see now is a much better realisation that we've got to rationalise everything. We've got to be smarter about both the virus test and the antibody test.

      Let's see how this all unfolds. Don't rush out and buy one for yourself and your family, it won't tell you anything you don't know. If you've had corona, great, especially if you've been asymptomatic. I hope I'm in that category. Let me know what you think. Thank you very much.
      ""Football. F***ing football. Imagine not being into it. Those poor, poor half-alive ********."
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      Adam Tooze is one of the world's leading scholars in International Political Economy. This is well worth reading for what comes once we're inching out the other side:

      https://www.theguardian.com/commenti...debt-austerity


      Should we be scared of the coronavirus debt mountain?
      Adam Tooze

      The pandemic has necessitated huge borrowing – but post-crisis austerity would be the very worst way to deal with it


      We do not know how this pandemic will end. We do know that we will be poorer when it’s over: GDP is plunging around the world.

      We also know that there will be a towering pile of IOUs left from the bills run up during the crisis. When it is over we will have to figure out how to repay them – or whether to repay them at all. That question will decide the complexion of our politics, and the quality of our public infrastructure and services for years to come. Unless we tackle this issue, coronavirus debts will be the battering ram for a new campaign of austerity.

      The scale of the challenge is huge. Hard cases like Italy grab the headlines. Its debt currently stands at 135% of GDP. As a result of the crisis it will likely rise to 155%. But it is no longer an extreme outlier. According to the IMF, the debt ratio of the average advanced economy will exceed 120% next year. In the US, the debt to GDP ratio may soon surpass that at the end of the second world war.

      These numbers are impressive, daunting even. They offer an open door to conservative scaremongering. The first move in that tradition of debt politics is to invoke the tenuous analogy to a household. In this picture, debts are a burden on the profligate; a moral obligation that must be honoured on pain of national bankruptcy and ruin.

      There are some circumstances in which this analogy is apt, specifically when you are an impoverished and desperate country dependent on foreign creditors who will lend to you only in the currency of another country, most commonly that of the US. Many poorer countries are in this position. Few rich countries are. Indeed, one of the definitions of being an advanced economy is that you are not.

      Advanced economies borrow in their own currency and overwhelmingly from their own citizens. For them, the household analogy is profoundly misleading. In fact, those seeking to rebut the misconceptions of the household analogy sometimes say we merely owe government debts to ourselves.

      That is a liberating thought. It makes clear that we are not in the position of a subordinate debtor nation. But it has a dizzying circularity to it. If we are our own creditors, are we not also our own debtors – master and slave at the same time? Ultimately, it is a bon mot that relies on treating the economic nation as a unit. That may look like liberation, but it is an illusion achieved by removing the real politics of debt – which are about class, not nationality.

      Historically, government debts were assets owned by the middle and upper classes, the famous rentiers. And taxes were overwhelmingly indirect and thus fell disproportionately on lower incomes.

      Today, the richest still own a disproportionate share of government debt. But the liabilities of the government are now widely distributed. They are staple investments for pension funds and insurers. Government debt is not simply a burden; it is a highly useful financial asset, offering modest interest rates in exchange for safety. It is all the more useful for the fact that the government lives for ever and will generate revenue for ever through taxation. So it enables very long-term planning.

      The tax base today is much broader than it was a century ago. But who pays taxes – and who does not – remains one of the most urgent questions of the moment. A world in which coronavirus debts are repaid by a wealth tax or a global crackdown on corporate tax havens would look very different from one in which benefits are slashed and VAT is raised. And it is very possible that debt service will be taken out of other spending, whether that be schools, pensions or national defence.

      As the great Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter remarked in the aftermath of the first world war, “the budget is the skeleton of the state stripped of all misleading ideologies”, the truest reflection of the distribution of power and influence.

      It is a distributional issue. But not only that. Debts may also affect the size of the cake itself. As we know only too well, a regime of austerity that keeps taxes high and government spending low is not conducive to rapid economic growth. And yet for debt to be sustainable, what we need is growth in GDP – to be precise, growth in nominal GDP, which includes real economic growth and inflation. Inflation matters because it acts as a tax on debts that are owed in money that is progressively losing its value. Price stability, the objective of monetary policy since the 1970s, no doubt has benefits for everyone, but most of all the creditor class.

      This is the awesome dilemma we will face in the aftermath of Covid-19. This is the battle for which we must brace. Not right now, but once the immediate crisis has passed. After the financial crisis of 2007-08, it was in 2010 that the push for belt-tightening began. Like revenge, austerity is a dish best served cold.

      Progressive politics cannot, of course, shrink from a battle about budgetary priorities. But it should resist fighting on the terms set by austerian debt-fear. In the circumstances of the UK or the US, alarmism about debt is false. And how false is being demonstrated by the crisis itself.

      There is one mechanism through which we can ensure we truly owe the debts to ourselves. That mechanism is the central bank. Its principal job is to manage public debt – and at a moment of crisis central banks do what they must. They buy government debts or, in what amounts to the same thing, they open overdraft accounts for the government.

      That has two effects that, acting together, have the potential to negate debt as a political issue. Central bank intervention lowers the interest rate. If interest rates are held down, debt service need not be an onerous burden. At the same time, the central bank purchases remove government IOUs from private portfolios and put them on the balance sheet of the central bank. There, they are literally claims by the public upon itself.


      When the central bank buys the debt it does so by creating money. Under ordinary circumstances one might worry about that causing inflation. But given the recession we face that is a risk worth running. Indeed modest inflation would help us by taking a bite out of the real value of the debt.

      Of course, ensuring that the central banks continue their crisis-fighting methods into the recovery period will itself require a political battle. Fearmongering about inflation is the close cousin of fearmongering about debt. We should resist both blackmails. We have the institutions and techniques to neutralise the coronavirus debt problem. We owe it to ourselves to use them.

      • Adam Tooze directs the European Institute at Columbia University and is the author of Crashed
    • #26
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      Quote Originally Posted by Machiavelli View Post
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      Adam Tooze is one of the world's leading scholars in International Political Economy. This is well worth reading for what comes once we're inching out the other side:

      https://www.theguardian.com/commenti...debt-austerity


      Should we be scared of the coronavirus debt mountain?
      Adam Tooze

      The pandemic has necessitated huge borrowing – but post-crisis austerity would be the very worst way to deal with it


      We do not know how this pandemic will end. We do know that we will be poorer when it’s over: GDP is plunging around the world.

      We also know that there will be a towering pile of IOUs left from the bills run up during the crisis. When it is over we will have to figure out how to repay them – or whether to repay them at all. That question will decide the complexion of our politics, and the quality of our public infrastructure and services for years to come. Unless we tackle this issue, coronavirus debts will be the battering ram for a new campaign of austerity.

      The scale of the challenge is huge. Hard cases like Italy grab the headlines. Its debt currently stands at 135% of GDP. As a result of the crisis it will likely rise to 155%. But it is no longer an extreme outlier. According to the IMF, the debt ratio of the average advanced economy will exceed 120% next year. In the US, the debt to GDP ratio may soon surpass that at the end of the second world war.

      These numbers are impressive, daunting even. They offer an open door to conservative scaremongering. The first move in that tradition of debt politics is to invoke the tenuous analogy to a household. In this picture, debts are a burden on the profligate; a moral obligation that must be honoured on pain of national bankruptcy and ruin.

      There are some circumstances in which this analogy is apt, specifically when you are an impoverished and desperate country dependent on foreign creditors who will lend to you only in the currency of another country, most commonly that of the US. Many poorer countries are in this position. Few rich countries are. Indeed, one of the definitions of being an advanced economy is that you are not.

      Advanced economies borrow in their own currency and overwhelmingly from their own citizens. For them, the household analogy is profoundly misleading. In fact, those seeking to rebut the misconceptions of the household analogy sometimes say we merely owe government debts to ourselves.

      That is a liberating thought. It makes clear that we are not in the position of a subordinate debtor nation. But it has a dizzying circularity to it. If we are our own creditors, are we not also our own debtors – master and slave at the same time? Ultimately, it is a bon mot that relies on treating the economic nation as a unit. That may look like liberation, but it is an illusion achieved by removing the real politics of debt – which are about class, not nationality.

      Historically, government debts were assets owned by the middle and upper classes, the famous rentiers. And taxes were overwhelmingly indirect and thus fell disproportionately on lower incomes.

      Today, the richest still own a disproportionate share of government debt. But the liabilities of the government are now widely distributed. They are staple investments for pension funds and insurers. Government debt is not simply a burden; it is a highly useful financial asset, offering modest interest rates in exchange for safety. It is all the more useful for the fact that the government lives for ever and will generate revenue for ever through taxation. So it enables very long-term planning.

      The tax base today is much broader than it was a century ago. But who pays taxes – and who does not – remains one of the most urgent questions of the moment. A world in which coronavirus debts are repaid by a wealth tax or a global crackdown on corporate tax havens would look very different from one in which benefits are slashed and VAT is raised. And it is very possible that debt service will be taken out of other spending, whether that be schools, pensions or national defence.

      As the great Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter remarked in the aftermath of the first world war, “the budget is the skeleton of the state stripped of all misleading ideologies”, the truest reflection of the distribution of power and influence.

      It is a distributional issue. But not only that. Debts may also affect the size of the cake itself. As we know only too well, a regime of austerity that keeps taxes high and government spending low is not conducive to rapid economic growth. And yet for debt to be sustainable, what we need is growth in GDP – to be precise, growth in nominal GDP, which includes real economic growth and inflation. Inflation matters because it acts as a tax on debts that are owed in money that is progressively losing its value. Price stability, the objective of monetary policy since the 1970s, no doubt has benefits for everyone, but most of all the creditor class.

      This is the awesome dilemma we will face in the aftermath of Covid-19. This is the battle for which we must brace. Not right now, but once the immediate crisis has passed. After the financial crisis of 2007-08, it was in 2010 that the push for belt-tightening began. Like revenge, austerity is a dish best served cold.

      Progressive politics cannot, of course, shrink from a battle about budgetary priorities. But it should resist fighting on the terms set by austerian debt-fear. In the circumstances of the UK or the US, alarmism about debt is false. And how false is being demonstrated by the crisis itself.

      There is one mechanism through which we can ensure we truly owe the debts to ourselves. That mechanism is the central bank. Its principal job is to manage public debt – and at a moment of crisis central banks do what they must. They buy government debts or, in what amounts to the same thing, they open overdraft accounts for the government.

      That has two effects that, acting together, have the potential to negate debt as a political issue. Central bank intervention lowers the interest rate. If interest rates are held down, debt service need not be an onerous burden. At the same time, the central bank purchases remove government IOUs from private portfolios and put them on the balance sheet of the central bank. There, they are literally claims by the public upon itself.


      When the central bank buys the debt it does so by creating money. Under ordinary circumstances one might worry about that causing inflation. But given the recession we face that is a risk worth running. Indeed modest inflation would help us by taking a bite out of the real value of the debt.

      Of course, ensuring that the central banks continue their crisis-fighting methods into the recovery period will itself require a political battle. Fearmongering about inflation is the close cousin of fearmongering about debt. We should resist both blackmails. We have the institutions and techniques to neutralise the coronavirus debt problem. We owe it to ourselves to use them.

      • Adam Tooze directs the European Institute at Columbia University and is the author of Crashed
      I read that last night and immediately bought his book, Crashed.
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      I read that last night and immediately bought his book, Crashed.
      He features regularly on the Talking Politics podcast, and his command of the issues is quite something. Well worth listening to.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Machiavelli View Post
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      He features regularly on the Talking Politics podcast, and his command of the issues is quite something. Well worth listening to.
      Not someone I was familiar with but from that one article he seemed someone worth listening to. I'll check out the podcast.
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      This is an excellent demolition of behavioural economics -- or 'nudge' theory. It also exposes that, when the government insists that it is "being guided by the science", some of it is beyond suspect. I hope that we'll get a rapid and full public inquiry into CV19 and that the role of the nudge unit is interrogated closely.

      https://www.theguardian.com/commenti...th-coronavirus


      Nudge theory is a poor substitute for hard science in matters of life or death

      Sonia Sodha

      Behavioural economics is being abused by politicians as a justification for flawed policies over the coronavirus outbreak

      Sun 26 Apr 2020 09.30 BST

      I first came across “nudge” – the concept many consider to be the pinnacle of behavioural economics – at a thinktank seminar a little over 10 years ago. We were all handed a mock wine menu and asked what we’d order.

      This was supposed to illustrate that most price-aware diners order the second-cheapest bottle to avoid looking tight and that restaurateurs use this to nudge us towards the bottle with the highest markup. I remember thinking it an interesting insight, but that these sorts of nudges were nowhere near as likely to transform the world as their enthusiastic proponent claimed.

      Lots of far more eminent people disagreed with me. Behavioural economics looks at how people make decisions in the real world – warts, irrational biases and all – and applies this to public policy. Its signature policy is set out in the 2008 book Nudge, by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler. The central insight is that changing the way choices are presented to people can have a huge impact. Make saving for retirement or donating your organs an opt-out rather than opt-in and watch as people suddenly adopt more socially responsible behaviour. Coming just as the financial crisis hit, Nudge was perfectly timed to achieve maximum traction by offering politicians the chance to reap savings through low-cost policy. Sunstein was quickly appointed to a senior job in the Obama administration, while David Cameron set up the behavioural insights team, dubbed the “nudge unit”, led by psychologist turned policy wonk David Halpern.

      The nudge unit has since had a mixed track record: there have been some real successes on pensions and tax payments but in other areas it’s been a bit of a damp squib. So I was surprised when Halpern popped up to talk about the government’s pandemic strategy in the press in early March. It was he who first publicly mentioned the idea of “herd immunity” as part of an effective response to Covid-19 (the government has since denied this was ever the strategy). And it’s clear from the briefing he gave journalists that he favoured delaying a lockdown because of the risk of “behavioural fatigue”, the idea that people will stick with restrictions for only so long, making it better to save social distancing for when more people are infected. “If you go too early and tell people to take a week off work when they are very unlikely to have coronavirus, and then a couple of weeks later they have another cough, it’s likely they’ll say ‘come on already’,” he told one reporter.

      Halpern is reportedly on Sage, the government’s scientific advisory committee for emergencies, and he is also the government’s What Works national adviser, responsible for helping it apply evidence to public policy. So one might expect there to be something substantial behind the idea of behavioural fatigue.

      But evidence presented to government by the Sage behavioural subcommittee on 4 March, representing the views of a wider group of experts, was non-committal on the behavioural impact of a lockdown, noting that the empirical evidence on behavioural interventions in a pandemic is limited. Shortly after Halpern’s interviews, more than 600 behavioural economists wrote a letter questioning the evidence base for behavioural fatigue.

      Rightly so: a rapid evidence review of behavioural science as it relates to pandemics only fleetingly refers to evidence that extending a lockdown might increase non-compliance, but this turns out to be a study about extending deployment in the armed forces. “Behavioural fatigue is a nebulous concept,” the review’s authors later concluded in the Irish Times.

      This is a common critique of behavioural economics: some (not all) members of the discipline have a tendency to overclaim and overgeneralise, based on small studies carried out in a very different context, often on university students in academic settings. It’s extraordinary that Halpern was briefing on what essentially looks like his opinion as if it were science. We won’t know how influential it was in the government’s decision to delay lockdown until a post-hoc inquiry, but there’s no reason to suppose Boris Johnson wasn’t listening to his “what works” adviser. “The behavioural psychologists say that if you don’t shake somebody’s hand, that sends an important message… [about] washing your hands,” he said on 9 March.

      It’s less extraordinary, though, when you understand that the Behavioural Insights Team is a multimillion-pound profitable company, which pays Halpern, who owns 7.5% of its shares, a bigger salary than the prime minister. Here lies the potential conflict of interest: someone who contributes to Sage also has a significant financial incentive to sell his wares. It perhaps explains BIT’s bombastic claims – “it’s no longer a matter of supposition… we can now say with a high degree of confidence these models give you best policy,” Halpern claimed in 2018. And: “We make much of the simplicity of our interventions… but if properly implemented, they can have a powerful impact on even our biggest societal challenges.” (It is worth noting that Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, says that one reason the composition of Sage has been kept private is to protect scientists from “lobbying and other forms of unwanted influence which may hinder their ability to give impartial advice”.)

      This hubris has led some behavioural scientists to push their approach way beyond those realms such as consumer policy, where it has the potential to be most effective. My jaw dropped on reading a recent 70-page BIT report on applying behavioural insights to domestic abuse that included not one survivor’s voice and in which the word “trauma” appeared only once. It describes domestic abuse as a “phenomenon made up of multiple behaviours undertaken by different actors at different points in time”. Its recommendations are that strange mix of common sense dressed up as behavioural revelation and jarring suggestions that tend to characterise behavioural science when it overreaches itself.

      Little wonder that a House of Lords committee was highly critical of government tendencies to emphasise nudges at the expense of other effective policy solutions in 2011. Nudges undoubtedly have their place, but they’re not going to eradicate domestic violence or end catastrophic climate change.

      The problem with all forms of expertise in public policy is that it is often the most formidable salespeople who claim greater certainty than the evidence allows who are invited to jet around the world advising governments. But the irony for behavioural scientists is that this is a product of them trading off, and falling prey to, the very biases they have made their names calling out.

      I can only imagine how easy it might have been for Johnson to succumb to confirmation bias in looking for reasons to delay a lockdown: what prime minister wants to shut down the economy? And it is the optimism bias of the behavioural tsars that has led them to place too much stock in their own judgment in a world of limited evidence. But this isn’t some experiment in a university psychology department - it is a pandemic and lives are at stake.
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      Really good article putting CV into perspective by two of the UK's leading social scientists. See:
      https://www.theguardian.com/commenti...conomic-growth


      Why coronavirus might just create a more equal society in Britain

      Since the 1980s, inequality has risen. But the pandemic has forced the government to put wellbeing before growth



      For those who are cooped up in a flat at the moment with a baby and no garden, worrying about getting the government’s 80% income replacement after losing your job, the lockdown must be almost intolerable. Then there is the rise in people needing food banks and in cases of domestic violence – both predictable results of lockdown. For those working at home with a secure income and a garden, it is much easier.

      Governments, careless of the contrasts between rich and poor, always want us to believe “we are all in this together”. In the wake of the 2007-8 financial crisis we didn’t buy it: we remained strongly aware of divided interests and circumstances. However, this time, despite the stark differences in people’s experience, there is a strong feeling that we really are in it together. As with other great challenges, most notably the second world war, the present crisis has given rise to more neighbourliness, sociability and a desire to take care of each other.

      It may not yet be more than skin deep, but our society has begun to change. Street by street, up and down the country, schemes have been set up that are creating more cohesive communities. WhatsApp groups, set up to identify and provide support for the vulnerable, have brought neighbours together to help each other out.

      People seem to have become friendlier. Out exercising, they stop to talk as they rarely did before. Even class differences seem less of a barrier as we have become more aware of what really are, and are not, “essential jobs”. People obviously take pleasure in this newfound sociability – and it’s not just sentiment: the appeal for 250,000 voluntary helpers to support the NHS and the vulnerable was oversubscribed several times over.

      Nor has the government remained immune from this spirit. To support people who have lost earnings, it suddenly assumed responsibility for paying the wages of a large part of the labour force. Elsewhere, policy has undergone a complete volte face. The 2025 target for ending homelessness suddenly became an instruction to local authorities to house rough sleepers “by the weekend”. And where previous governments have failed to tackle suicides and violent deaths in prisons, the government is planning to release 4,000 prisoners early to reduce the spread of Covid-19. Similarly, despite having ignored the growth in food bank use, the government now has a scheme to deliver food parcels to the vulnerable.

      The point is not to suggest that the results of the pandemic are somehow balanced between good and bad. It is simply to recognise that, alongside the pain and damage, there has also been an increase in social cohesion, friendliness and mutual support. Although the gaps on supermarket shelves suggest there has been antisocial stockpiling, a study of 30,000 people’s purchases showed stockpiling was rare: only about 6% of people hoarded hand sanitiser and 3% dry pasta. The problem was mainly that most of us bought just a little more.

      To people like ourselves, immersed in research on the effects of reduced income differences between rich and poor, the increase in sociability looks familiar. Numerous studies show that community life is stronger in more equal societies. People become more public spirited, they trust each other more, are less out for themselves and more aware of the common good. They are more likely to help each other out, including elderly people, disabled people and those with mental illness. And instead of just looking socially upwards to the highest paid and down on the lowest, smaller income differences make it easier to see the real value of what people do. It is as if greater equality changes human nature.

      While some of what we have seen during the Covid-19 crisis seems to echo the social benefits enjoyed by more equal countries, greater equality is not the explanation: income differences in the UK are likely to have widened rather than narrowed during the crisis, as the low-paid lose sources of income while higher-earners who work at home continue to draw salaries. But other things can also make us feel we are all in it together.

      Just as income inequalities and social class differences are divisive and give rise to opposed interests and perspectives, being in the same predicament creates unity and shared interests. Hence the pandemic has brought us together in the same way that research shows greater equality does. Both make us feel we have more in common.

      Because greater equality is so enabling, it has been used to get people to pull together in difficult circumstances. In his 1958 essay on War and Social Policy, the pioneering researcher Richard Titmuss said that because “the cooperation of the masses was … essential [to the war effort], inequalities had to be reduced and the pyramid of social stratification … flattened”. Egalitarian policies were therefore implemented to make people feel the burden of war was fairly shared. Income differences were reduced by taxation, essentials were subsidised, luxuries taxed and food and clothing were rationed. Another quite different example comes from the explorer Ernest Shackleton. During his exploration of Antarctica he “loosened some traditional hierarchies to promote camaraderie”, and distributed “the ship’s chores equally among officers, scientists, and seamen”.

      When we eventually emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, governments will still be faced with the climate crisis – putting us on the same planet, if not in the same boat together. But here too, inequality is a problem. International agreements are stymied between high- and low-income countries – one with primary responsibility for carbon emissions and the other in greater need of development. Given that the environmental footprint of the rich is massively larger than that of the poor, inequality also matters within countries – see the gilets jaunes opposition to Emmanuel Macron’s fuel tax.

      In our 2009 book The Spirit Level, we demonstrated that greater equality not only improves social relations and wellbeing while reducing health and social problems, it also helps countries do better environmentally – leading to lower carbon emissions per $1 of GNP, more recycling, and business leaders increasingly engaged with environmental issues.

      Because the huge rise in inequality under Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s has not been reversed, Britain has become a more anti-social society. But for that, we would now be in better shape to face the Covid-19 pandemic and to transition to sustainability.

      Forced by the pandemic, the government has at last put human wellbeing before economic growth, and the Covid-19 crisis has reminded us all that we can be a more sociable and caring society, that we enjoy it and it makes society stronger. If we are to maintain these benefits as we move from here to tackle the climate crisis, it is essential that governments commit to reducing differences in income and wealth.

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