Crises force society to reconsider its economic priorities.
It may seem callous to point that out in the middle of the danger. But it's a reality we should be alive to in this moment.
The horrors of World War II spurred a post-war settlement founded on principles of full employment and active state intervention.
These decades were not perfect, but they were the founding of the modern Australian nation. Industries grew, employment flourished, immigrants flocked from around the world.
A distinctively Australian culture took root.
The key institution that sparked this transformation, the Department of Post-War Reconstruction, provides a model we can draw from as we confront the extremely daunting challenges before us.
Because, at heart, government is the expression and execution of our capacity to share and co-ordinate.
We need to embrace it as we work our way out of this crisis.
Already, the great myth of the past four decades has been skewered: the idea that government has no legitimate role in marshalling investment, co-ordinating industry, and securing quality jobs and incomes.
Obviously, the urgent task is to flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission, while preventing economic and social collapse.
But we should also recognise that ideas that were anathema only a fortnight ago will be mainstream. We are going to get very swiftly used to the notion that bold ideas can solve problems.
The Reserve Bank must be encouraged to continue printing money, to fund massive government stimulus. This provides a baseline of confidence that finance will continue to flow.
The manner in which this money is used is also crucial. Boris Johnson's United Kingdom, along with Singapore, Hong Kong - even the US - have opted for some version of putting money straight into the pockets of working people.
Scott Morrison should reconsider his opposition this measure. A wage replacement system should be a founding principle of the response.
No self-respecting nation should allow itself to be in a situation where it can't retool for a crisis.
Then, as we transition out of crisis and into recovery, the building blocks for a more self-reliant and economically inclusive society need to be laid.
Three core principles should apply.
First, when the state bails out large, job rich companies, as it should, its financial support must be exchanged for an equity stake. Taxpayers deserve a return on their investment when the good times return and the state-owned stake can be sold.
Just as important, the economic restructuring of a downturn will leave some companies, especially in sectors such as transport and infrastructure, as virtual monopolies. An enduring public stake in these companies will civilise the way they treat both customers and employees.
Second, we should recognise the post-pandemic world will need a larger and more active public sector.
About one in 10 NSW workers are employed by the state government. As private sector employment collapses, we should be open to that proportion doubling. This would spur demand in the economy and provide stability to sectors hit by the pandemic, especially health and community services.
A significant expansion of the public sector would also allow the state to pursue pressing economic priorities that the private sector can't achieve.
We could, for example, establish a state-owned renewable energy company tasked with the aggressive expansion of solar panels to every conceivable private, public, and community-owned rooftop.
Third, we should heed the lesson the pandemic is teaching us about the economic and social dangers of deindustrialisation.
Over the past generation our manufacturing sector has been ripped to shreds. This is now painfully obvious as health workers and patients suffer through a shortage of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and medical supplies such as COVID-19 tests.
But even before the pandemic took full effect in Australia, the collapse of supply chains out of China was deeply frustrating for anyone trying to fix or replace even simple machinery. No self-respecting nation should allow itself to be in a situation where it can't retool for a crisis. We should be energy independent and capable of providing ourselves with the basics we need.
A crisis like this is horrible to endure. But it also creates opportunity.
As we step through the pain, as we will, we should have our eyes wide open to the social and economic opportunities on the other side.