Is there a new world order waiting for us at the end of quarantine? Please, allow me to doubt that. The world will be different after COVID19 and that is a given…but I do not think it will be that much different. I distrust utopias that paint the future with rainbows and unicorns.
Images of limpid rivers, news of air pollution decrease, pictures of wildlife taking over urban spaces – those have certainly gone viral, and led people into believing that people are the problem and this is a future we can dream of. In my humble opinion, people are not the problem. The problem is capitalism, and once those wheels fall back into motion, we will be back to our old ways.
Although this is no time for hot-headed predictions or prophecies, there is a lesson to be learned about the way the different nations are handling the sanitary crisis. In critical times, priorities get re-juggled. In times of global struggle – and this is one like we have never seen before – societies discover what is really But of course, we should not need to live in perpetual danger to understand what is good for us. What can we learn from this extreme experience?
The first and most evident lesson is that sometimes profit gets in the way of survival. In other words, if we kept gathering in factories to produce as if nothing ever happened, we would probably catch this disease. We could even perish. There is no metaphor here.
Does this mean this is the end of capitalism as we know it? I still remain skeptical. However, there is no need to destroy capitalism per se. What we need is a model changeover – from finance capitalism to productive capitalism, from mere speculation to actual growth. That would really be something.
Nowadays people go to the supermarket and, instead of finding produce, they find empty aísles. This is an unfortunate situation, but yet an opportunity to realize that you just can’t eat money.
Around the globe, world leaders are raising a false antinomy – health versus economy. In other words, if you mandatorily quarantine your people and stop production, the economy will crash. However, there is another way to jump this misleading hurdle.
In Europe, with tens of thousands dead, restaurants and movie theaters are now closed but people keep attending their work places. They use public transport and remain in contact with each other. The dead keep piling up.
In Argentina, the country I live in, mandatory quarantine was issued last March 19th. At that moment, we only had to mourn three COVID19 victims.
Until at least April 12th, only essential jobs remain operational: health professionals, food industry workers, journalists. The rest of us must work from home, and only leave to buy groceries or go to the doctor’s.
Moreover, the government has released financial aid to independent workers and the unemployed. The situation is far from perfect, but people are being taken care of in spite of “the economy stopping”. Corporations are banned from laying out employees during mandatory quarantine, and the government is also providing financial relief to small companies. Food and other essentials are being distributed in slums and poor areas.
Of course, the situation is far from ideal. Economy will suffer, and the poeple too. But the government has decided to put people’s lives on top, and it is working.
When it comes to politics, nothing is truer than the old saying “when there’s a will, there’s a way”.
Now, what about Asia?
A few days ago, Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han wrote a most interesting piece on COVID-19 (it was published by El País, Spain’s most important newspaper.) You may remember Han, we discussed him in the past.
To summarize Han’s position, he states that Europe has failed and Asia is winning the battle against the virus. The author claims that Europe’s decision to close borders is “an overreaction”, while Asia won has the pandemic under control without even restricting flights. In his opinion, this is due to Asia’s authoritarian style and people’s trust in government decisions. More even so, the author points out that Asians are under constant digital surveillance and privacy is non-existent. Yes, we have discussed that too in the past.
I have my differences with Han. A strong governmental presence is never “an overreaction” – even less so in this state of affairs. However, I do agree with something: “The virus will not defeat capitalism. The viral revolution will not come to happen. The virus isolates and individualizes us. It does not create a strong sense of collectiveness.”
It all comes back to the role of the state. When it comes to development indicators, nations were compared in terms of gross domestic product, national product per capita and so forth. In April 2020, situation is tight and economy plays second fiddle. True national development is measured in critical resources, such as hospital beds per individual. The United States has 2.3 every 1,000 inhabitants, as much as Uruguay. Argentina has 5. Both Uruguay and Argentina provide universal and free healthcare to its population.
In usual circumstances, Uruguay and Argentina are deemed ‘underdeveloped’ by the major economic powers. Maybe it is high time we redefined development.
We are in the middle of an unprecedented situation here. Are there lessons to be learned? That is a given. Is this the time to draw big conclusions? Certainly not, because first we need to put some time and distance between us and this pandemic. History is in the making but – if you’ll allow me the metaphor – this cake is still underbaked.
That being said, strong governments have clearly proven to be more successful during this terrible episode. The ones who always advocated for this kind of administrations (like yours truly) did not need the occurrence of a global tragedy to understand this. The ones who ask for help from the government now, but only yesterday campaigned against “the dangers of socialism”…that sounds a lot like the 2008’s financial crisis, and we all know how that turned out.
A true and lasting revolution has never arisen from fear.
Tens of thousands are dead. If we go back to our usual ways once the crisis is over, those people died in vain. And that, my friends, is the greatest tragedy of them all.