Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more and more airlines have announced groundings of their respective fleets. The skies are not nearly as busy they should be. On Sunday, 22 March, Emirates announced that it would be greatly downscaling its passenger operations. In the United States, Delta Airlines, arguably the biggest airline in the world, grounded a massive part of its fleet. For more detailed breakdowns of all the groundings, I can highly recommend DJ’s Aviation.
The same applies for airlines all over the world, from KLM (it looks like this is the end of the road for some of their Boeing 747s), to Qantas, to British Airways, Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, and on and on.
While it brings me great sadness to receive the almost daily updates of more groundings, and I worry for the livelihoods of those who work for all these airlines, I am concerned that many people will only focus on things such as airline groundings and not look at what may be going on behind the scenes: This pandemic has caused most governments around the world to follow the lockdown route, severely affecting trade and commerce.
Businesses and entrepreneurs and traders all around the world have been seriously hobbled by many regulations and restrictions on their activities. Despite all this, the adaptability of the private sector in most countries remains truly remarkable. If not for the private sector we would be having a truly awful time under lockdown conditions. Indeed, for most poorer people in countries around the world, government regulations and restrictions in place before the pandemic prevented them from living better lives.
Trade is the most important element of any business. All businesses try to gauge what their customers and clients need, and how best they can provide that to ensure they make a profit. On the one side you have businesses, and on the other you have consumers – for both to come to a trade, they must see the trade as a win-win. When you think of the many ways people try to interfere with one another’s lives, trade stands out as at least one area where people can choose to pursue the transaction or not. That choice is a fundamental part of trade, and deserves to be kept free of interference by others, especially the government.
To provide an idea of the importance of international trade, in 2018 the global trade value of goods exported throughout the world amounted to approximately $19.5 trillion. Freer markets around the world, and the increase in trade that comes with freedom, has helped to lift billions of people out of poverty, most notably in China and India. Where countries are more economically free (and yes, China has liberalised in many ways over recent decades), they are more open to trade, and having robust trade forms part of uplifting the poor in various societies.
Limitations on trade between countries, and ‘price gouging’ laws within countries, must be repealed. The best way for suppliers to cater for the needs of consumers, is for supply and demand to operate with minimal, or preferably zero, state interference. Trade raises people’s quality of life, and must not be lost in the face of the pandemic. To restrict trade in a post-COVID-19 would be to cripple peoples all around the world from getting their economies going again.
Globalisation, and the exponential increase in trade and international connection that has come with it, has benefitted people all over the world. Specialisation means lower costs, which means people can trade their wealth and goods with goods that others have produced. In trying to protect people, governments always destroy wealth, and the capacity to generate wealth, in various ways. Markets are fundamentally about the creation and growing of the wealth of those who participate in the economy. When people can trade more easily with their neighbours and foreigners, they can improve their lives in ways that are most important to them.
Let us learn the correct lessons from this pandemic. The best way for people to live is with maximum freedom possible. The best way for people to take on the challenges facing them is, also, with maximum freedom. The wrong lesson to learn from this pandemic would be to restrict trade and movement between peoples and countries more. Information needs to flow between people as much as possible. If governments such as China and the United States were honest with themselves, the situation, and their citizens, various parts of civil society would have been better equipped to ready and tackle the virus.
The material wellbeing we enjoy at the present time is the result of great strides in the advancement of trade – we must not let the fears of the pandemic destroy all that progress. Where people can trade more with fewer barriers, the better off they are in a very real, visceral sense. The value of trade is exponentially great – our fears and desires for control should be pushed back.