COVID-19’s many lessons for us

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By Trevor Sudama

The rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus to every country in the world, whether developed, developing or underdeveloped, and the explosive escalation in some countries, together with the mounting death toll, can possibly teach humanity a few critical existential lessons.

The pandemic should emphasise the fragility and vulnerability of man’s existence on this earth, given that a minute virus is capable of wreaking such unimaginable havoc. It should impart some humility to humankind with respect to our own capacity to determine our own survival.

It should serve to decrease our ego, truculence and arrogance about our ability to dominate and harness through science and technology all animate beings and inanimate elements to our so-called developmental purpose.

It should dampen the urge to propagandise and gloat over national economic success, material well-being and military prowess in an environment of global vulnerability to dramatic and unforeseen developments. It should thus have some beneficial effects on the human psyche.

The virus has further exposed the tight interconnectedness of the world as a result of the irresistible movement of people, goods and services and, indeed, diseases. It is remarkable how incidents and activities in one part of the world, however remote, could have global consequences of great severity.

The obvious conclusion is that the world is a closely interwoven global community and an interdependent ecosystem. Thus, Wuhan’s affliction yesterday is New York’s pain today. Though isolationism may be a temporary necessity, it is not a long term practical solution to our problem. The issue therefore is how do countries address significant negative global developments and establish the platform for effective and speedy co-ordinated action.

The huge volume of resources required to treat with the consequences of this pandemic both in terms of provision of medical facilities, equipment, medication, staff training and research and the requirements for resuscitating damaged economies should force us to assess the availability and use of earth’s resources. Given that these are limited, the question to be addressed is how can they be exploited in an optimal way and their usage prioritised for maximum benefit to all peoples.

In other words, the focus should be on the need for development that is in harmony with the environment, globally viable and equitable in its distribution of benefits. This demand may point to a new paradigm for economic development in all countries.

The crisis has exposed a disjunct between the real economy and the financial framework that mirrors it. Markets, asset-pricing and employment availability are in a state of rapid flux. It is seems that the tools prescribed by conventional economics, whether monetary or fiscal, are not likely to yield the required results.

A more direct intervention by the state in partially assuming the role of markets in distributing spending power into the hands of the consumers and funds in the hands of investors signals a departure from convention. The market as an allocator is being by-passed and little concern is being expressed about the volume of money creation and government spending and the consequences for national debt, the economy and inflationary pressures.

The discipline of economics may have to reformulate some basic principles, bases of prognosis and advisories with respect to economic recovery and possible resurgence in the future.

The lockdown imposed by many countries has caused a virtual shutdown of vehicular and air traffic both of which are heavily reliant on fossil-based fuels. As a result, carbon emissions and greenhouse gas levels have noticeably decreased. The lesson therefore is that the movement away from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources should be accelerated in order to achieve environmental benchmarks and combat climate change and so too should investment in alternative clean energy.

Finally, the pandemic has re-emphasised the need for a global executive authority with powers of enforcement of decisions and command over access to and deployment of world financial and other resources from where they are available to where they are needed. This authority will itself be the centre of timely overview and analysis followed by swift and decisive action as necessary.

Indeed, global problems, whether occasioned by global warming, disease pandemic, natural disasters, uncontrolled migration, wars, drought, desertification, land and marine pollution, acute water shortages and systemic underdevelopment can only be effectively addressed by global solutions and only partially by national initiatives.

The establishment of a global executive authority, adequately resourced and empowered, will not materialise in the foreseeable future or possibly ever as it would require countries to relinquish significant elements of national sovereignty which, in a world consumed by territorial nationalism both at the micro and macro levels, is hardly possible. Nevertheless, for the survival of mankind, the imperative of globally empowered action is inescapable. (T&T Daily Express)

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