The COVID-19 virus gets the blame for almost every problem we are facing today.
We are too focused on the temporary immediate problem caused by the virus and don’t pay any attention to deeper and more dangerous systemic problems.
It is a natural human tendency to pay more attention to acute problems that appear suddenly than slow-developing problems that develop over time.
CRISIL, India’s credit rating agency, said that ‘Economy was in limbo even before the pandemic hit’. They report negative -6.6% growth, negative -12% decline in auto sales, and negative -1% decline in exports in Oct 2019 before the COVID pandemic. These underlying problems make it difficult to recover. There is also the capital flight as India “lost the highest percentage of dollar-millionaires to migration since 2014”.
Our socio-economic-political problems existed before the pandemic, and they will slow our recovery from it.
In the USA, the economic condition of the public is disconnected from the stock market which is where the rich individuals and corporations make money. The stock prices are showing recovery while the economy is still depressed. The senior executives and shareholders profited while the economy shut down.
It is the same in India. Dr. Rahul Kumar from Centre for the Study of Social Systems, JNU writes “The CEOs of the corporate houses are well connected and know how to extract public funds for their own & family advancement. The lion share will always be usurped by the corporate houses in connivance with the Ministers, bureaucrats and politicians. The working middle class people will feel the pinch in the coming years. They should be mentally prepared for the worse to follow.”
The incomes of politicians, corporations, and bureaucrats have not declined. So, they don’t have any urgency in helping us.
If government tax revenues fall, they increase taxes, create inflation, reduce infrastructure spending, and cut the public programs while still retaining the government framework, privileges, and government employees. They don’t share our loss.
Shutting down the economy for months decimates the public but has minimal effect on the prosperity of government, politicians, and corporations. As Pulitzer prize winning journalist Chris Hedges says, “they are all thrilled that nobody can go out in the streets because of the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing”.
Conjure: make (something) appear unexpectedly or seemingly from nowhere as if by magic.
Laws will be passed with a view to improving ‘public safety’ during the pandemic but they will persist beyond the pandemic and will be used to undermine democracy, human-rights activists, whistleblowers, and journalists who expose government and corporate corruption. It is no different from a conjurer(jadugar) emptying your pocket while you are distracted. The pandemic is a god-sent opportunity for governments and corporations to do what they want.
Security guru Bruce Schneier talks of ‘Security Theater’ and ‘COVID Theater’ where governments implement safety and security measures which are ineffective but create the illusion of security and safety. However, the measures also hide sinister laws that undermine democracy, stay long after the virus is gone, and are used to arbitrarily detain human-rights activists, whistleblowers, and journalists who expose government and corporate corruption.
Grand spectacles and tamashas to manage the crisis make news headlines. Counter-intuitive and sound policies don’t.
The COVID-19 is probably the greatest lesson in modern history of the value of freedom of expression, whistleblower protection, and limiting government authority. The world would have been informed much earlier of this pandemic if the researchers, whistleblowers, and journalists in China had freedom of expression and whistleblower protection. It would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, saved crores of rupees, and prevented the suffering of billions.
The pandemic will also be remembered for squandered opportunities. Instead of evaluating and reflecting, we want to continue with more of the same. The crises will not be seen as an opportunity to fix what is broken in our socio-economic-political model but to maintain the status quo at all costs. Why do we yearn and lament for normal times when those times were full of systemic socio-economic-political problems?
The pandemic was also an acid test for the quality of governance in a country. The better the governance and leadership in a country, the less the poorest suffered. All countries that are known for good governance did not do as bad because of the pandemic e.g. Taiwan, Singapore, Bhutan, South Korea, Thailand, New Zealand, and Germany. The suffering of our poor should be a wakeup call for the poor governance which afflicts us all.
What to do
The virus may have put the patient in the ICU, but underlying health problems kept him there for longer and in a deeper shock. We should get ready for bigger bills too in the form of high inflation and hidden taxes.
The future will bring more pandemics. The problems due to the climate crisis will be even bigger.
The French philosopher Bruno Latour asks if the virus and its response is just a dress rehearsal for the bigger climate crisis. He also says “the scale of changes and decisions to be made to stem climate change are many times more complicated and more drastic than the ones we have (with the coronavirus)”.
We are too focused on the temporary immediate problem caused by the virus and don’t pay any attention to deeper, and more dangerous long-term systemic problems. We have to fix them before the next round of global crisis hits us as our underlying socio-economic-political problems delay recovery.
The solution is to solve our underlying problems: bad governance; eroding democratic rights; corruption; populism and its distractions; economy based on resource extraction and labor exploitation; consumer and retail dependent economy; poor infrastructure; capital flight from lack of trust; and sense of helplessness in our ability to fix things.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate”: Carl Jung.
Avneet Singh is Founder, Voice of Mankind. Voice of Mankind is a non-profit Think Tank working to influence public opinion on issues that affect us all. We are here to make sense of this changing world.