Editorial | Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Economic aestivation

Mid-August in Malta was made for children and holidaymakers. Work, most work, is a brutal ordeal in this weather. Air-conditioning makes things possible for office-workers but the country cannot run on them alone: somebody must haul and deliver goods, somebody must provide services that have to be carried out under the blazing sun.
It does slow us down.
Northern countries complain of the cost of winter: heavy snowfalls, iced roads. There, it is all very obvious and sometimes spectacular. With us, the image is of a happy holiday destination. The cost of summer does not easily come to mind. In the North life hibernates in winter. In the Mediterranean, the opposite occurs: aestivation.
In the best years, commerce slows except in summer specific sectors and industries shut down for a few days around Santa Marija. In a year that will not be remembered for its positive features, the slowdown takes on an ominous nuance. Somewhere at the back of our minds, a niggling doubt has formed about our power to return to life in the autumn.
In normal years we reach the end of September, enervated and wishing the heat and the Scirocco to blazes. At the first rain, with the start of the school year and the end of summer working hours for the Civil Service, the tempo changes. That time of year is as important for us as the first swallows for Northerners emerging from the winter chill in spring. They provide us with the hope that the heat will ease up and let us get on with our work.
This year many of us are dreading our “spring” expecting the grim effects of a poor summer to catch up with us and defeating the yearly return to life.
Low expectations can be a self-fulfilling prophesy. They certainly don’t help. With everyone expecting the worst, it is easy to predict that the majority will take cover, minimise outlays and wait. New projects will be put on hold and those in hand suspended. The cautious will contribute to the peril.
We will have an unusual challenge before us and it makes sense to prepare for it. If there is something to be done now, now is the time to do it but if not now may be a good time to rest and catch our breath, to rest and allow ourselves to build up our resources for the fight ahead of us.
In unusual circumstances the usual solutions may not be a good idea. We will have to think hard and out of the box. When we return to business as usual we will find our established practices to be a solid foundation but we will also have made permanent gains in resourcefulness and confidence. We may talk of our passage through this crisis for years to come but it will also change us for ever, hopefully for the better.
An entire generation of young workers and professionals who have no memory of lean times are about to go through the fire for the first time and they too will be transformed. The country will change and those of us who will come out on top once the worst is over will be the ones who make out first how we have changed, what has been jettisoned and what has been taken on board in spending or saving patterns, preferences in investments, luxuries and entertainments.
We may all end up wishing hard never to experience such a time again. That alone can give us better operating practices and a standard of governance to postpone the next crisis for a few decades more.


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12 August 2009


Malta Today


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