31/03/2020

The pandemic and beyond...

We are living in truly historic times. The closing off of the world has no precedent in human history. Today, the priority for almost every government is to “flatten the curve” of infection so that health systems don´t collapse, thereby preventing victims from multiplying. But there is no doubt that the social and economic cost will be enormous. Only through an indispensable plan of global reconstruction and cooperation, will the world be able to recover. But the crucial question is: What prevents the same thing from happening again next year? Neither the world nor any country could face a "second" pandemic, at least not for a decade.

This global crisis is not surprising. It has been known, for over two decades, that it would happen. At least ten movies and series have developed on the idea of an outbreak of a pandemic. There is something about this pandemic that is similar to the First World War. The world could not afford a new World War and for that reason the Great Powers created a League of Nations that could guarantee peace. The project failed and the "Second" World War broke out: Europe and parts of Asia were devastated, the soul of humanity was broken by the genocides committed by the most "civilized" cultures.

If this pandemic is teaching us anything, it is that personal interconnection has reached such a point that it only took three months for a new virus to invade the entire Earth, transmitting itself from person to person. We have become the perfect breeding ground for global viruses. And each time this happens, will the world need to stop?

Millions of companies will go bankrupt if States do not subsidize them. Billions of people are ceasing to work and therefore to earn income unless the States subsidize them. But who will pay for the expenses of these States? More taxes, more money issued more debt? Whatever the answer may be, it is obvious that we are looking at a change of model.

There is total consensus that the impact will be brutal. Today, no one thinks that international trade will be able to return to the dynamism it maintained until the 2008 Crisis. It is known that the world is going to deepen policies oriented towards the demand of the internal market, employment and State action. That is, "Keynesianism", a bad word for the free market ideology, which has been dominant for the last 70 years.

This crisis not only shows that free market formulas have become ineffective. Above all, it proves that the central issue is global asymmetry and inequality. That is the true pandemic.

Suddenly, the IMF calls on States to spend more. But today the resources are no longer within the States. They have been privatized and are controlled by a very few, to the point that some years ago an association called Patriotic Millionaires came along, with its members confessing that the world had paid them more than their share and so they asked the State to raise their taxes. We clearly live in an upside-down world: "where one thief is a policeman and another, a judge". (Quote from a famous children´s song by Argentine composer and activist Maria Elena Walsh)

A hyper-connected yet asymmetric world is not possible. Two billion people, a third of humanity, do not have running water, not only for washing their hands but also to drink. Inequality has become our weak point as a species and this is going to be exploited by  viruses that have discovered that humanity has become easy prey.

Asymmetries have made the world an unlivable and unfeasible place, where solidarity has become an imperative, even for the most selfish. This pandemic attacks, as always, the poor in the poorest countries, but the novelty is that it also attacks the rich in the richest countries, and those in between. "No one can save himself on his own," Pope Francis said today in a moving global prayer pronounced to an empty and rainy Vatican Square.

We live in "global anomie". Francis Fukuyama himself, one of  the greatest ideologist of the benefits that globalization would bring to humanity, now calls for the "return of a distributive socialism" capable of rebalancing the world:

"This extended period, that began with Reagan and Thatcher, imposed certain ideas concerning the benefits of unregulated markets, with disastrous effects in many respects. In terms of social equality, it has led to a weakening of the labor unions, the bargaining power of ordinary workers, and the emergence of an almost worldwide oligarchic class that exercises undue political power. ("Socialism Must Return", Francis Fukuyama, The New Statesman, October 2018)

How can we move towards a more symmetrical, equitable, inclusive and environmentally-friendly world, and avoid the advance of fascism driven by the "save yourself" suicidal attitude?

The influential Foreign Policy magazine said last week that "the pandemic will change the world forever" ("How the World Will Look After the Coronavirus Pandemic", FP, 03/20/2020) and is publishing many articles in order to help understand " how the international power structure will be reorganized ”.

Considering what happened in the First and Second World Wars and the 2008 Crisis, it is highly probable that, when the pandemic ends, there will be an international summit to establish a new world order.

If the 2008 crisis revealed that the G7 was no longer sufficient and the G20 Summit was created, this crisis shows that today, even the G20 is no longer sufficient. A world congress will be necessary, with the most probable starting point being the United Nations General Assembly.

The ILO's historic global social justice agenda, the UNCTAD agenda protecting the right to development and the climate change agenda will have to be revisited. This is an agenda that ties in with the global agenda that Pope Francis is promoting from the Vatican, based on egalitarian intercultural dialogue, to constitute a new world order where no human being is excluded.

It is urgent that we end unequal international relations, remnants of colonialism and neocolonialism. Progress needs to be made on essential issues such as the South-South dialogue, national and regional autonomies (such as Mercosur, Unasur and Celac), the regulation of multinational mega-companies, and the crucial international question of division of labor (which is at the heart of the world's asymmetrical design).

What we maintain is that the central axis of this new world order must be the elimination in the short term of the great global asymmetries. If not, global pandemics will repeat themselves again and again, reaching the point where all social organizations are annihilated.

 

Alberto "Pepe" Robles is a Union Lawyer with expertise in International Labor Relations, a Professor at the Julio Godio World of Work Institute at the National University of Tres de Febrero (UNTREF), a Professor in Labor Relations at the University of Buenos Aires, and at the Postgraduate Course in Human Resources at the University of San Andrés.

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