Tuesday September 28, 2021

Any change?

May 19, 2020

In response to the cataclysm occasioned by the coronavirus, three lines of thinking are emerging. One is that the emergency necessitates extraordinary measures, but the basic structure of production and consumption is sound, and the problem lies only in determining the moment when things can return to "normal."

One might say that this is the dominant opinion among political and business elites. Representative of this outlook is the infamous Goldman Sachs-sponsored teleconference involving scores of stock market players in mid-March of this year, which concluded that "there is no systemic risk. No one is even talking about that. Governments are intervening in the markets to stabilize them, and the private banking sector is well capitalized. It feels more like 9/11 than it does 2008."

A second line of thinking is that we are now in the "new normal," and while the global economic system is not significantly out of kilter, important changes must be made to some of its elements, such as redesigning the workplace to accommodate the need for social distancing, strengthening public health systems (something even Boris Johnson now advocates after Britain's National Health System saved his life), and even moving towards a "universal basic income."

A third response is that the pandemic provides an opportunity for transforming a system that is ridden with deep economic and political inequalities and is profoundly destabilizing ecologically. One must not simply talk about accommodating a "new normal" or expanding social safety nets, but of decisively moving toward a qualitatively new economic system.

In the global North, the needed transformation is often articulated in the form of demands for a "Green New Deal" marked not just by "greening" the economy but by a significant socialization of production and investment, democratization of economic decision making, and radical reductions in income inequality.

In the global South, proposed strategies, while addressing the climate crisis, stress the opportunity offered by the pandemic to tackle deep-seated economic, social, and political inequalities. An eloquent example is the "Socialist Manifesto for a Post-Covid 19 Philippines" by the Laban ng Masa people’s coalition, a detailed list of short and long-term initiatives the introduction to which proclaims: "The manner and disorder of these hegemonic players’ responses to the crisis proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the old order can no longer be restored and its ruling classes can no longer administer society in the old way. The chaos, uncertainties, and fears resulting from Covid-19, depressing and dreary though they may be, are also pregnant with opportunities and challenges to develop and offer to the public a new way of organizing and managing society and its attendant political, economic, and social components. As the socialist Albert Einstein pointed out: 'We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them'."

The first two perspectives downplay the possibilities for radical change, with some predicting that the popular response will be much like that during the 2008 financial crisis – that is, people feeling dislocated but with no appetite for much change, much less radical change.

This view rests on mistakenly equating where people were at during the two crises. Crises do not always result in significant change. It is the interaction or synergy between two elements: an objective one, meaning a systemic crisis, and a subjective one, that is, the people’s psychological response to it that is decisive.

Excerpted from: 'The Race to Replace a Dying Neoliberalism'.

Commondreams.org