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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/14/20

PATRICK LAWRENCE: Our Post-Pandemic Future

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From Consortium News

Full restoration or fundamental change: As the Covid19 infection and fatality curves at last begin to flatten, the entire world now asks which of these lies in our post-pandemic future. Will human civilization simply resume its course its destructive, inequitable course, along which lies too much suffering or will there be a sobering up, let us call it, a recognition that very far-reaching reforms are needed in too many spheres to count?

Another way to pose the question: Is humanity any longer capable of self-correction? Or has the dreadful prevalence of neoliberal thinking denuded us we in Western, post-democracies, that is of all will in the face of circumstances that require it, along with a determination to act imaginatively and bravely?

No one anywhere can credibly turn in an answer to this question -- not yet. But several months into the Covid19 crisis, it does not seem we Westerners are able to unmoor ourselves sufficiently from what can only be called the perverse security of our too-familiar insecurities. We do not appear to trust ourselves to depart from the hellishly precarious life for so many in a neoliberal world.

Expressions of hope for a different kind of future are everywhere. In here-and-there fashion, there are signs it is justified. I am not much for monarchies, but one must say the Queen rose impressively to the occasion in her "We will meet again" speech to Britain last week. The grainy frames of all those wartime films depicting British gumption seemed to flicker by. It was the right thing to do at the right moment, especially given the prime minister (whatever one may think of him) was then on oxygen in an intensive-care ward. It has had the desired effect.

At about the same time, the British government asked for volunteers to assist the National Health Service to attend to the most vulnerable Britons. Whitehall expected 250,000 hands to go up and got triple that number of applicants. "A stirring display of British national solidarity," the ever-Anglophilic New York Times called it. It was, one has to say.

Queen Elizabeth delivering her
Queen Elizabeth delivering her 'We shall meet again' address.
(Image by You Tube Screenshot)
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In this same line, the Financial Times published an editorial last week that has to be counted remarkable for what was said as well as who was saying it. "Virus lays bare the frailty of the social contract," the headline announced. The paper of City of London stockbrokers then laid out a program worthy of left Labourites such as the late Michael Foote or the recently defeated Jeremy Corbyn. Here is the pithiest paragraph:

"Radical reforms reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades will need to be put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix."

Behind the FT's editorial surprise lay another. The budget Prime Minister Boris Johnson made public in February turned British politics upside down. Here was a true-blue Tory committed to equalizing the UK's economic geography "leveling up" is Johnson's phrase to the benefit of disadvantaged regions that once were Britain's industrial backbone. A high-speed rail line to the rust-belt North, worker-training programs, big new spending on the N.H.S. Johnson's plans amount to a kind of Tory populism, all-out Keynesian-ism from the party of big business.

It is tempting to read into these developments in the money center across the pond a harbinger of a fundamental shift an imminent abandonment at last of the ruinous neoliberal economic model.

Were this so, it would stand as the single most positive outcome possible as the Covid19 crisis recedes, whenever this proves to be. But any such interpretation would be incautious, especially in the American case. It is more likely these events will turn out exceptions proving the rule that nothing need change -- and nothing will.

Zero-Sum Nationalism

Rather than international unity in the face of a common challenge, the response to Coivd19 among the industrialized post-democracies is zero-sum nationalism, every nation for itself and implicitly against all others. The virus's savage spread has already left the European Union in a shambles.

"Solidarity becomes a hollow mantra," as Shada Islam, a prominent think-tank inhabitant, told The Guardian over the weekend. So have the Brussels technocrats punted the exceptional vision of the European project's founders.

Prominent among the exceptions to this are those non-Western nations now coming selflessly to the aid of the afflicted in Europe as well as their allies in the non-West. This is another tragic irony in the making, a bitter one: The unenlightened responses to Covid19 among the major Western powers are likely to leave the world more divided, not less, once the threat subsides poor vs. wealthy, South vs. North.

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Patrick Lawrence is a columnist, author, editor, and educator. He has published five books and currently writes foreign affairs commentary for Consortium News and other publications. He served as a correspondent abroad for many years and is (more...)

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