The lockdown is a giant social experiment. A huge amount of information on people’s choices and behaviour will be available with private players that can be mined for insights in future. But there’s enough anecdotal evidence to have some pertinent observations or hypotheses during this time. Off we go.
- Hoarding: Nobody is on a consumption binge of toilet papers or of breakfast cereals at this time. Yet, I notice cartons full of things that would last an ordinary household 2-3 months piled up at the gate of our community. Widespread behaviour of this kind has meant stockout for almost every single item on any of the e-grocery sites. The more you see the stockout notice, the stronger your intention to hoard the next time you get an access these items. The cycle continues. The policy response would be to restrict the number of items you can buy. The better model would be to exponentially increase the unit price for every extra unit bought. The first pack of toilet paper at Rs. 300. The second pack at Rs. 1200. So on and so forth. Hoarding also has a second order problem. The well-off can afford to hoard. The poor keep getting crowded out of the market. I’m sure there is literature about the psychology of hoarding during a crisis available. But seeing it happen right in front of you still boggles your mind.
- Hoarding in lending: The RBI has infused about Rs. 3.74 lac crores of liquidity plus it has taken steps on making sure there’s transmission of this in the market. There’s going to be hoarding here as well. Companies know having strong cash reserve is the only route to survival in these times. Even the best run company with sufficient cash will look to hoard. Because who knows how long this will last? Or, what if your competition hoards and beats you when things get normal? Banks and lending institutions will also be happy to lend more to companies that are in better health and who have existing credit lines with them than open new lines to businesses that really need cash now to survive. Without any other intervention, the excess liquidity will go into high quality corporate bonds and in giving further credit to companies who possibly don’t need it. The companies truly in need of the oxygen of cash flow will be crowded out.
- Moral suasion: In the days leading up to lockdown, communities decided to restrict the entry of visitors, domestic staff and other vendors. This was initially left to the discretion of residents. Gradually, there was strong moral suasion applied on residents to stop having anyone visit them despite some critical care requirements few residents had. Next, during the lockdown people started looking out for residents who were stepping out of the community for essential requirements. Further, residents started checking if there were households that have been identified for quarantine (there was an app with this data going around) but who haven’t revealed it to the rest. This led to some unusual invasion of individual privacy. I’m quite certain we aren’t too far away from citizens ratting on their neighbours if the state asks them to in future. Feed anxiety and create a police state. It is that simple.
- Work from home: There are roles where work from home on a permanent basis might be an option. But second week into work from home and people are realising there’s more to work than work itself. Going to work, meeting people in person and discussing together as a team fills a vacuum in our lives. Human beings are by nature gregarious. I have a feeling six weeks of this will kill all the allure of working from home. People want flexibility but very few would want a permanent work from home option.
- Doing nothing: After you have clicked on every link and read through all the articles on the pandemic, you realise you still have time on hand. Doing nothing isn’t easy but it is possibly the most effective use of your time. Learn to do nothing. Of course, you can read that famous essay of Priestley ‘On Doing Nothing’ and those lines – “All the evil in this world brought by persons who are always up and doing, but do not know when they ought to be up nor what they ought to be doing. The devil, I take it, is still the busiest creature in the universe, and I can quite imagine him denouncing laziness and becoming angry at the smallest waste of time. In his kingdom, I will wager, nobody is allowed to do nothing, not even for a single afternoon. The world, we all freely admit, is in a muddle, but I for one do not think that it is laziness that brought it to such a pass. It is not the active virtue that it lacks but passive ones; it is capable of anything but kindness and a little steady thought.”
The 90s are back as the government is telecasting popular Doordarshan serials from the early part of that decade. Being named after two characters played by Aamir Khan in films of early 90s, I can only welcome such a move.
They only need to broadcast Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin and Jo Jeet Wohi Sikandar this Sunday to turn me into a bhakt.