Reflections on WIFW 2020: COVID-19 edition

For a second year, the Worldwide Intergenerational Fairness Week (6–12 July 2020) has been marked by a series of blog articles from around the globe – this time focusing on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on young people. As the world tentatively emerges, blinking, from lockdown, the international public sphere seems in agreement: this is going to hurt, long-term – and it’s going to hurt young people most. IF editor Antony Mason summarises the week’s contributions.

“Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.” Thus spake former US president Herbert Hoover in 1936, midway through the New Deal programme of massive public spending designed to hoick the USA out of the doldrums of the Great Depression.

It’s a comment that seems very apt today as well, as we look at what lies ahead to our post-COVID-19 world – or, since we are by no means out of it yet, perhaps this should be “in our peri-COVID-19 world”.

The 18 articles in the WIFW 2020 series have covered a lot of ground (the full list, with links, can be found below). There are serious concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on the education of the current generation (graphically described in articles on India and Wales), and on the prospects in the early-career job market (Japan, Australia and Europe generally).

Blessed are the young

Government-led survival strategies, designed to contain the spread of the virus by confining whole populations to their homes while promising a minimum loss to livelihoods for the duration, will – however successful the result – cost a colossal amount. National debts will soar and – Herbert Hoover was right – the young will pay.

David McNair of ONE, the global campaigning movement fighting poverty and disease, describes how the vulnerability of the young will be seen right across the continent of Africa:

“The full picture of the intergenerational effects of COVID-19 is yet to emerge. But for a virus that targets older people, the long-term fallout is likely to weigh heavily on younger people. And that burden will inevitably fall disproportionately on Africa because it is the world’s youngest continent. And it’s a continent long beset by crises and difficult challenges that today’s youth will inherit.”

Intergenerational fairness: share this burden

The burden can and should be shared more evenly by tapping the resources of older, wealthier generations.

The words of Danielle Wood and Owain Emslie, of the Grattan Institute, writing about Australia, ring true for all nations, but especially the wealthier ones:

“When the economy is back on track, Australian governments will need to tackle structural budget challenges. The risk here is that the burden falls disproportionately on the same generation that is bearing the cost of the shutdown at present. For example, if all the hard work is done through creeping income tax collections, young people will pay twice: first in the initial employment shock, and second with a higher tax burden through their careers.

“Fiscal consolidation over the medium-term should ensure that comfortably-off older Australians pay their fair share. Winding back some generous tax breaks for older Australians that serve little policy purpose would be a better way to ensure that the economic cost of the coronavirus doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of the young.”


But while the road ahead looks rocky, the disruption to our industrialised, CO2-heavy economies has provided a pause-for-breath, which many see as an opportunity to embrace our commitment to achieving the pre-COVID-19 climate goals with greater resolve – and perhaps even greater belief in their achievability.

Roman Krznaric casts our minds forward a century to ask how future generations will view COVID-19. Their lot will depend on the choices we make now and in the near future.

Rebecca Freitag, in her “Letter to Future Generations”, pictures a future world where we have made the right choices as we emerged from COVID-19:

“Simply pressing ‘play again’ was no longer an option. As we said then, no more ‘business as usual’. We began a new chapter in our history. And we saw how the impossible was made possible.”

It is possible, isn’t it?


These articles have brought plenty of other fresh, interesting and thought-provoking insights into what COVID-19 has done and is doing to our world, and what it means to young people. To cite but a few:

  • João Leal tells us how, amid political chaos exacerbated by COVID-19, Brazil is haemorrhaging young, vitally-needed science researchers to emigration.
  • Danny Dorling witnessed the power of young activists that was galvanised – under the new prism of COVID-19 – by the Black Lives Matter movement in the battle over the statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes in Oxford.
  • Jörg Tremmel sees investment in health and vaccination research as an essential vehicle for delivering long-term intergenerational justice.
  • Lauren A. Johnston tells us how China’s response to the COVID-19 crisis was in fact shaped by long-term thinking about its ageing society.
  • Sándor Fülöp takes inspiration from a blackbird eating cherries outside his balcony to call for the fair sharing of resources that might be made possible by global environmental law.
  • Martin Solly speculates how Italian children can make sense of the pandemic through the highly-coloured lessons-for-life of traditional fairy tales and stories.

There’s much more, and forgive me if I don’t mention all our valiant contributors by name here. But you can find them all in the list below, and see what they have to say by following the links to their articles.

And if they inspire you to reflect on intergenerational fairness in your part of the world, wherever you are, why not join us next year for the Worldwide Intergenerational Fairness Week, second week in July 2021.

What will the world look like then?

Published in WIFW 2020

Monday 6 July 2020

Politics, COVID and Brain Drain in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

by João Leal

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating Brazil’s brain drain, and consequently affecting Brazil’s intergenerational development plan and its educational future, writes João Leal, recent MSc graduate of the London School of Economics and now Policy-Maker at the State Secretariat for Social Development in São Paulo. First, to help us understand the chaos that Brazil is facing right now, he takes a brief detour throughout Brazil’s recent scientific and political past.

Online education in India: fault lines of enduring inequality

by Prasham Kothari

Online education necessitated by COVID-19 is aggravating educational inequalities in India, with the potential for dire and long-term consequences for students. Prasham Kothari examines the fault lines. An MSc graduate of the London School of Economics in Social and Public Policy and currently an economics tutor, he also works at the grassroots level with various NGOs in the field of education for the underprivileged.

Young people respond to COVID-19 in Japan

by Hikari Hida

Hikari Hida, a recent graduate in political science and Asian studies at Temple University, Japan, began her first job at The NY Times in April in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Although many young people in Japan have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis, she takes heart in a new spirit of activism that has come out of it.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

Generational change: breaking the silence of the old

by Danny Dorling

The COVID-19 crisis has coincided with worldwide Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020. They triggered the resolution of a long-standing controversy over a statue of Cecil Rhodes in the English city of Oxford. Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at Oxford University, detects in this a major and promising acceleration in the demands for change among the young.

The corona crisis and the future of Europe

by Maria Lenk

Although Maria Lenk’s passport says “German”, she considers herself European through and through. But COVID-19 has tested the unity of the European Union, and as well as faith of young people in its institutions. Now is a critical moment to address this deficit. Maria advocates for the interests of young and future generations as member of the Germany-based Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations (

Fairy tales and reality: making sense of COVID-19 in Italy

by Martin Solly

Children in Italy have had a baffling time in the topsy-turvy world of COVID-19. How are they going to cope with the new normal, and what echoes of it will reverberate in the long-term future? Martin Solly, professor at the Department of Culture, Politics and Society at the University of Turin, envisages the pandemic through their eyes.

Wednesday 8 July 2020

Education post-COVID – a life or death decision?

by Jane Davidson

COVID-19 has placed education at high risk around the world. In Wales, the way forward is guided by Well-being of Future Generations Act of 2015. Jane Davidson, Pro Vice-Chancellor Emeritus at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, was a leading architect of that groundbreaking legislation when, from 2007 to 2011, she was Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing in Wales. Her book #futuregen: lessons from a small country was published last month.

Australia under COVID-19: still “the lucky country”?

by Danielle Wood and Owain Emslie

The disease itself may have touched Australia relatively lightly, but the wider consequences have hit the young particularly hard, especially in employment. Danielle Wood and Owain Emslie, CEO and Senior Associate respectively at the Grattan Institute in Melbourne, reveal the facts and figures, and the broader patterns that underlie them.

COVID-19 warns us: we need global environment law

by Sándor Fülöp

COVID-19 is a warning to us: our behaviour risks the destruction of the planet, and the obliteration of humankind – and we need not just international environmental law but fully enforceable global law to prevent it. Sándor Fülöp is an environmental lawyer who held the office of the first Parliamentary Commissioner for future generations in Hungary from 2008 to 2012 – a pioneer in intergenerational governance.

Thursday 9 July 2020

How a microscopic virus shines a searchlight on the world’s inequalities

by David McNair

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is unequal, hitting the most vulnerable the hardest – and nowhere is this clearer than in Africa. By David McNair, Executive Director, Global Policy, at ONE, “a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030 so that everyone, everywhere can lead a life of dignity and opportunity”.

China: pandemic preparedness for ageing populations

by Lauren A. Johnston

For pandemic preparedness, every country best adopts an economic demography strategy, writes Lauren A. Johnston, Research Associate, SOAS, University of London. China’s unique long-run approach is very much shaped by its demographic history, and its responsibilities towards its ageing population.

Plagues and Intergenerational Justice

by Jörg Tremmel

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that future generations have to be protected by wise precautions – both medically and economically. Jörg Tremmel, professor at the Institute of Political Science at the Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen, Germany, shows how intergenerational interests are served by an assertive vaccination policy.

Friday 10 July 2020

Poverty and homelessness: the risks remain

by John Bird

COVID-19 might have threatened to bring the scourge of homelessness to many more people in the UK. A swift response averted that crisis, but strong action on homes and work-creation is still needed to “Ride Out Recession” and prevent a descent into poverty, says John Bird (Lord Bird), founder of the The Big Issue and sponsor of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill currently making its way through parliament.

The asymmetric intergenerational impact of COVID: the Italian case

by Luciano Monti

Worrying intergenerational divides were already apparent in Italy following the recent double-dip financial crises, and these can only have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Analysis by Luciano Monti, Adjunct Professor of European Union Policies at LUISS Guido Carli (Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali) in Rome, and Scientific co-director of  the Bruno Visentini Foundation, a research institute with a notable track record in intergenerational studies.

COVID has forced Australia to re-evaluate its values

by Sweeney Preston

First bushfires, now COVID-19, Australia is reeling, and the young risk bearing the brunt. Sweeney Preston, a 22-year-old newsroom contributor for the FYA (Foundation for Young Australians) – as well as a comedian, cinema worker and anthropology student at the University of Melbourne – turns a critical eye on recent events, and describes how it looks from his perspective.

Saturday 11 July 2020

How will future generations remember COVID-19 – if they remember it at all?

by Roman Krznaric

Roman Krznaric is a public philosopher who writes about the power of ideas to change society. His new book explores the virtues of long-term thinking – essential for good intergenerational policy. Will the current COVID-19 pandemic be a critical landmark on the three possible paths that lead into the future?

The scars of COVID-19

by Lukas Sustala

The COVID-19 pandemic is laying bare intergenerational inequities that have already deepened after the Global Financial Crisis and will be significant challenges for the post-COVID recovery, argues Lukas Sustala, Director of NEOS Lab, the Vienna-based think tank and academy of NEOS, a liberal Austrian party. In his book Zu spät zur Party (“Too late to the party”), released in 2020, he has analysed the adverse long-term consequences of the 2008 financial crash on the prospects of younger people, and warns that the challenge is too severe to ignore this time.

A Letter to Future Generations

by Rebecca Freitag

Rebecca Freitag – Ambassador for the Stuttgart-based Foundation for the Rights for Future Generations and a former UN Youth Delegate for Sustainable Development – has asked herself this question: “How I will explain this historic, COVID-induced opportunity for a new beginning to my children and grandchildren – and how it finally turned out?” She imagines the future letter that she hopes to be able to write.

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