Such are the radical impacts of unusual, devastating “black swan” events: they rewrite our assumptions and responses – our perception of where serious threats lie. And countering this may be the challenge for the Government now. For whereas the psychology of scarcity previously explained a kind of irrationality of behaviour when confronted with shortages, in today’s post-pandemic world, it explains a very real rationality.
All of us have seen a crimp on the things we have long taken for granted. Maybe, in this context, it is perfectly sensible to miss a child’s birthday to spend hours buying a gallon or two. Who knows what could come round the corner tomorrow?
This subjective appreciation of how “in control” governments are, is vital.
Happiness is an esoteric quality which tends not to increase, for example, as people get richer, or have less work to do. But contentment is strongly tied, researchers have found, to the effectiveness and stability of government. As the Swiss economist Bruno Frey notes: “The [well-being] effects flowing directly from the quality of institutions are often much larger than those which flow through productivity and economic growth.”
If that is true, discontent may be brewing – and not just at the pumps – as the givens of our pampered modern lives, from cheap reliable energy to abundantly stocked supermarkets, appear to come under threat from fraying logistics. Which is why we may see that emblem of British logistical reliability – the Army, with its ironed creases and precise timetables – on the streets sooner rather than later.