Wednesday April 17, 2024

Imagining the post-pandemic world

By Amir Hussain
April 08, 2020

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

It may look too early to imagine the post-Covid 19 world while we do not know for sure as to how long we will be tormented by this tiny creature.

There is a battle going on between intellect and instinct to handle the uncertainty unfolding on us almost on a daily basis. We are surprised by new unknowns and even some of the knowns are challenged by emerging new knowledge about this pandemic.

Coupled with this uncertainty, there is a deepening sense of disillusionment with the global political order and its inability to respond to what appears to be the most devastating global crisis of recent history. It has exposed the fragility of the uncontested domains of free market economy and the neoliberal political ideals of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’. The least contested political notions like an apolitical civil society, post-ideology and individualism are being questioned along with the international political and economic system.

Today the question is not only about the struggle for survival but also about the intellectual contestation for alternative political and economic frameworks for a better post-Covid-19 world. In the absence of universal healthcare, and with underfunded public hospitals, lack of equipment and inadequate facilities the wealthy Western economies have disappointed their citizens. State capitalist China has outperformed its Western political rivals by overcoming the pandemic because of its strong and developed public sector.

Contrary to an inefficient free market economy, the centrally planned capitalist economy of China has delivered well and saved thousands of lives within a short span of time. China being nearer to a socialist economic model of universal healthcare has demonstrated the importance of efficient public services to salvage people during the crisis. It appears that the post-Covid 19 world will be the end of the free market neoliberal model and the world may be moving towards a system that guarantees universal access to basic social services.

Covid-19 has also challenged our socially and politically constructed ideas of security and protection. The equity of fear, helplessness and vulnerability has made the conventional levers of power and control redundant. The callous, rapacious and arrogant movers and shakers of world politics and economy have lost the luster of their power and influence. The neoliberal economics that dominated the international politics for three decades is now crumbling under its own weight of inefficiency and profiteering.

As they say, you need to get your politics right to get your economics right. They are not two separate domains but are interlinked to shape the outlook of a society. We have had enough of disparity and dispossession in politics and economics with an ever-expanding bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid.

The economics of wealth generation for the rich has created a poor global society which is governed by fetishism, kleptomania and consumerism. The very human essence of creativity, art, innovation and invention has been replaced by a strict regimen of earning and spending. A false sense of individualism and freedom has taken away from us the spirit of solidarity and happiness.

However, this is purely because of the interplay of economic centralization with political fragmentation. What do I mean by all this? Let me explain a bit simply.

Economic centralization means the concentration of productive resources and wealth in the hands of a tiny minority at the top of the socioeconomic pyramid. This concentration of economic resources is mediated through political ideas of individualism and freedom of choice. There are two types of freedoms then. One is the freedom of capital from state regulations, to be converted into wealth for those who control the means of production. That is the freedom for the rich to become even richer without being impeded by the government’s regulatory mechanisms. This means that if you have wealth you are free and that the ultimate objective of human freedom lies in making more and more money. Two, the freedom of choice as a consumer where you are bound to earn but free to spend. As a consumer you do not own the means of production but you can only become a worker to realize the freedom of spending. This freedom of spending is conditional upon your ability, skills and hard work to earn. The more freedom of spending you can attain the more money goes into the pockets of the rich. There is no political intermediation of state to put a check on the extractive freedom of capital to multiply the wealth of the richest.

The freedom of the consumer to spend is only a false notion, a mirage in the desert of poverty which is concocted politically as the individual freedom. This is exactly what neoliberalism has done to global society today. Consumerism and over-spending has reduced the working classes to the instruments of wealth generators for the rich. The political voices that challenged this extractive economic system were pushed to the margins of society as social pariahs and advocates of tyrannical order. The mainstream corporate media presented them as insurgents and remnants of a closed society. Those who raised their voices for an enhanced role of the state in the provision of basic public services like education, health and transportation were ridiculed as proponents of a defunct ideology. The excruciating daily life experience of the poor will continue to haunt governments’ inability to tackle the newly emerging economic and political challenges of the post-Covid-19 world. The promises of an egalitarian and prosperous society have already gone into the dustbin of history, the miseries of Adam Smith’s invisible hand of market fundamentalism still inflicts pain on humanity. The richest nations of the world, who have spent $20 trillion during the last two decades on wars against poor nations are failing miserably today to protect their own people against the coronavirus.

Now there are two distinct choices for humanity to craft a new world from the ashes of Covid-19. One is to return to business as usual till the time another pandemic hits the world. If we choose this path the world will become a dangerous place for those who want to live in peace and harmony. There is another possibility: that humans choose to create an inclusive, equitable and prosperous world where all resources are spent on the welfare of people. Where the need for wars ceases to exist and resources are available to fight the impending pandemics collectively and effectively.

A better world is possible; we have already experienced from the ongoing global crisis that this is not the world we aspire to build again. We have also witnessed how fragile human existence is on earth, despite all scientific knowledge and technological advancement. We also know that if we continue to fiddle with nature it will react and we may cease to exist one day. It is our collective responsibility to resist the restoration of a neoliberal order because if it is restored, the post-Covid-19 pandemic world will be even worse for 80 percent nof humanity of the world. Do we want to continue as denizens of a bubble economy again? This is the time to make better political choices.


Twitter: @AmirHussain76