Peston: Why the coronavirus recovery is worsening hideous inequalities

When the US stock market recovered all its Covid-19 losses last night and moved into positive territory, I was filled with as much dread as reassurance.

Because just like what happened after the 2008 banking debacle, we have an economic and financial rescue that has bailed out those who typically own assets, and has therefore widened inequalities again - especially the gap between younger people in insecure employment and Boomers, the older generation, my generation, who hold most of the shares and property.

To be clear, within our financialised global economic system, after the coronavirus started laying waste to health and prosperity, there was no remedial alternative than to slash interest rates to zero and create mind-boggling quantities of new money, with the express purpose of stimulating asset inflation and shoring up the confidence of businesses and consumers.

But what is disturbing, almost horrifying, is the sheer speed with which share prices have returned to where they were. The sore point is that we are just at the start of witnessing the devastation of the incomes and living standards of poorer and younger people, as government measures to sustain employment through furlough schemes (and their overseas equivalents) are gradually withdrawn.

Entire industries, from hospitality (pubs and restaurants) to travel to energy, employing millions, are being devastated. But in the vast ocean of global financial markets they are plankton and their destruction is trivial compared to the onward march of the tech whales and monsters.

We face an autumn and winter of high and rising unemployment and proliferating poverty throughout the rich West (even in the US, where joblessness remains at a post-war high and where the recent fall in numbers claiming unemployment looks like a statistical solecism).

All this grotesque inequality is becoming more conspicuous in an era where it’s a cliche that, even in healthy times, a tech-driven financialised globalised economy creates a profoundly unfair chasm between the insecure poor and the wealthy.

To be clear, and well before the Black Lives Matters protests, the government’s behavioural scientists and the police who advise ministers through the SAGE committee were already warning that the curbs on our freedoms to suppress the dreadful virus would foment social unrest.

That risk is hardly lessened when those with no assets or savings worry what kind of paid employment will still exist in a world of semi-permanent social distancing, and when they see the accumulated wealth restored not just of billionaires but also of all those lucky enough to have a pension pot and a home.

The harm to health from this virus rises exponentially with age, but the income and wealth toll is viciously greater for the young.