There are different ways in which people choose to interpret the Covid-19 pandemic. Is it simply another epidemiological “event” – one that was an inevitable eventuality of our globalized world? Or is it a pandemic which we signally failed to anticipate because of ‘bias’ in our thinking and policy making – the kind of bias discuss by Meyer and Kunreuther in their recent book: “The Ostrich Paradox”?
Whatever the cause, we need to take the time to reflect on it. It’s what human do: try to discern the zeitgeist, the meaning and the significance of epochal crises of this magnitude, ‘the signs of the times. Also, vaccine or no vaccine, there can be no catharsis, no resolution and no lessons learned without an understanding of what’s unfolding in our lives and in our world: in our hospitals and workplaces –in our homes and in our Parliaments.
One of the best-selling books in the post-2008 global financial crisis was Reinhart and Rogoff’s study of previous financial crises, going way, way back. It’s called “This Time is Different”. Their point was that it never really is different, all financial crises have their roots in the same regulatory failings and human foolishness; the same unwillingness to read the signs of the times.
But this time, it really is different.
Our globalized economy has experienced successive crises over the last century, half-century and decade. Here are ten reasons why this one really is different – ‘the worst human and economic catastrophe since at least the 1930’s’ (OECD)
- The global scale of the resultant economic crisis
More catastrophic than even the breakdown of the post-war Bretton Woods system in the early 1970’s – broader and deeper than the post-2008 Banking crisis which morphed into The Great Recession. The contraction in the US economy in the second quarter of 2020 was sharper than at any time since WW2.
- The way it has struck at the two lungs of the global economy
Demand and Supply and at its central nervous system: globalized and highly synchronized financial markets.
- The scale of the response by governments to the crisis and the fiscal consequences
From unprecedented monetary easing to war-sized government borrowing, transferring an enormous Debt burden to our children’s children. The IMF estimate the total costs to all governments will exceed $10 trillion.
- The unprecedented uncertainty about when, and how, economic recovery will become self-sustaining
Current ‘forecasts’, as we see only too clearly in the US, the UK and others, vary from ‘best guess’ to political kite-flying. We do not know. There are so many variables – especially when an effective vaccine will become available for mass distribution. Our capacity to live with what John Kay and Mervyn King call ‘Radical Uncertainty’ will require a very different approach to policy making.
The catalyst for the crisis
A pandemic originating from a novel form of a virus – lies outside of the economic system but because of its effects and the policy responses, it continues to exert tectonic pressures within the global economy and financial markets. These pressures have laid bare the weaknesses and limitations of the present model of globalization.
- The multi-dimensional nature of the crisis
There is no domain of our lives untouched by the virus and its effects – no country unaffected. The transmission of the virus was facilitated by the ease of travel and openness of borders – the beating heart of globalization.
- It has struck at national health systems that were wholly unprepared and overwhelmed
Although they had good reasons to be prepared for just such a pandemic.
- It has subverted the engagement of countries with each other
It has re-imposed borders –and opened diplomatic fault-lines. The visceral dispute between the US and China, whichever way you look at it, has done grave damage to global governance and cooperation. Importantly, the restrictions on freedom of movement has brought home the reality that responsibility for the welfare of citizens ultimately rests – and should rest – with national parliament including control of national borders.
- The phenomenon of intergenerational ‘psychosocial scarring’ on this scale
Death and illness – the collapse of business and long-term unemployment. These things impact behaviours and expectations. They also create new kinds of dependency.
- It has changed our way of ‘being-in-the-world’
The reassurance of being in the presence of others is being corroded by a learned behaviour of reassurance from their absence –from separation. It has triggered repressive actions by governments, including suspending fundamental freedoms of movement and of worship, which should cause grave unease.
THINKING IT THROUGH
This globalized crisis has changed our world. It presents two challenges.
The first is mitigating the vulnerabilities of the present model of Globalization which is aligned to the economic and ideological agenda of the titans of corporate capitalism – not ‘capitalism’ per se but a rogue form of capitalism. It has made countries dependent – vulnerable to its own vulnerabilities, impelling them to align their fiscal and educational system, their politics and privacy – even their foreign policy – to serve the ephemeral demands of their agenda. We have seen this.
Globalisation is not just an ideal medium for transmitting Covid-19. It’s also a transmission belt for the present dominant form of ‘progressive’ liberalism characterised by an anti-scientific and repressive Gender Theory and ‘Identity Politics’ which has infected our politics and our universities – and is laying siege to our schools.
Its not the cargo liner ‘Globalisation’: it’s what it is carrying, who has wrested control of the rudder and where its taking democracy.
The second challenge is to square the circle of globalisation. Christian Democracy –on which Germany was rebuilt after the catastrophe of war and the genesis of the European Community –provides the definitive model. The systematic subversion of Christian Democracy in the EU has been accompanied by a political fragmentation across the West. The recent EU Pandemic Response Summit laid bare the division of the EU between the North and South – between the new orthodoxy in the Centre of Europe and the eastern Visegrad countries, who remain unambiguously Christian, actively affirming national identity and the centrality of marriage and family.
Covid-19 is an epochal catastrophe – different to anything we have seen before. It is also a metaphor for the infection of the West by cultural Marxism across – in plain view.