Yesterday evening, the prime minister of the Netherlands addressed the entire country. I read that it was the first time a Dutch prime minister had done so in over 40 years – on the previous occasion the world was experiencing the oil crisis of the 1970s. Although there were words of encouragement and assurance, the message was by no means an easy one to hear. The underlying expectation, however, was that this difficult situation will not go away anytime soon.
I’ve never mentioned my personal thoughts about any major issue on this blog before, partly because I want to keep it a photography blog and mostly because I’m not comfortable sharing my opinions with strangers on the Web. But there are always exceptions.
I expect that by now that everyone in Europe has been made painfully aware of the mathematical concept of exponentiation. As a consequence, drastic measures have been enacted to stem the virus’s spread. European governments have closed their nations’ borders, or restricted them to goods and freight, and the European Union as a whole will close its borders to non-EU countries for 30 days. Furthermore, pretty much everything that’s non-essential has been closed, or remains open with heavy restrictions (for example, in the Netherlands restaurants are only open for takeaway, and you can’t go there in person to place an order).
My office is closed until 6 April and everyone is required to work from home. I’m not worried about my company as we’ve been prudent over the years and have enough resources to weather this storm.
But not everyone is this fortunate. In particular I’m thinking about the many people who run or work at small or medium businesses. This year I’ve been trying to prioritise my personal growth in photography, and to that end contacted two photographers in Germany to enquire about workshops. Both run their own photography businesses, one in Hamburg and the other in Heidelberg.
I’ve had a rather lengthy e-mail exchange with one of them, and this morning he shared that he has one final job for a large corporation and will have to figure out what to do next. He runs a gallery and corporate photography business along with six other colleagues. These days I’ve been so distracted by what’s going on and figuring out simple logistics to limit my going out, that it only dawned on me after reading the e-mail about the impact this virus situation has on his and other small businesses.
Several countries have made pledges to keep businesses running no matter what. In Germany, where these photographers are based, the federal government has pledged ‘unlimited’ credit to companies of all sizes, along with the possibility of deferring their taxes. This sounds very good, and to be fair it is a generous offer given how little the German economy grew last year.
For smaller companies borrowing may pose a challenge. It means having to generate enough income to pay back the loans and deferred taxes atop their typical expenses. Recessions, and here I’m assuming there will be one in 2020, aren’t like shutting and opening a tap. Just because the virus situation ends and the economy starts recovering doesn’t mean a small firm will immediately earn revenue. It could continue borrowing until business picks up, but there’ll only be more money to pay back (and who knows with how much interest).
That’s a bit of a bind to be in. Scale this to all of Europe and you see just how difficult things are for small companies everywhere, not all of whom will benefit from such generous loan packages.
So, for those of us who are fortunate enough to still have some money left over after sorting out our expenses and savings, let’s not forget about the small businesses in our neighbourhoods and districts. These enterprises likely rely on local patronage to survive, and if they’re all gone, we get less variety and that is to no one’s benefit. I should walk this talk too and find opportunities to support small businesses. Maybe I’ll order prints of my photos (online, of course).