According to Webster’s dictionary, a “pandemic” is an event that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects a large number of people. The word “pandemic” is composed of two Greek words which indeed denote this: an event that concerns a large number (pan) of the people (demos).
In this sense, the world is now faced with three pandemics: coronavirus, climate change and migration.
The health pandemic has brought to the forefront a host of economic problems. Some are the immediate result of the crisis. Others have historical origin.
The world economy is at war. All means are justified. The cost will be evaluated after the end of the war. The economics we know has been abandoned.
The political implications of this situation, though, are the most worrying. Income inequality was on the rise since the early 1990s. It got worse in the first decade of the 21st century as a result of the 2008 financial crisis.
The pandemic has brought to the forefront other, till now partially hidden, inequalities: in health, in birth and death, in professional advancement, in opportunity and prospect, in dignity.
Long-simmering dissatisfactions with the system have surfaced.
With China at the one end, Putin’s kleptocracy somewhere in the middle and Trump’s America, Orbán’s Hungary and Duda’s Poland on the right, authoritarian capitalism purports to offer jobs, security, and a social welfare net. What it does not say explicitly is that these come at the expense of human rights. At the expense of democracy.
The world is at crossroads. The future will depend to a large extent on the way we deal with the health pandemic. If we manage to come out of it relatively unscathed, then we have to restructure multinationalism, possibly recreate it, and hope that this will enable us to deal with climate change, immigration and the new coronaviruses that will inevitably emerge – at least until we manage to implement a less invasive interaction between nature and humanity.
At the same time, economics will have to search back and rediscover its roots in the political economy of the 18th and 19th centuries. And capitalism, as a system, must return to the days when investment in buildings, machines and materials led to real production while management ensured that prices did reflect real costs. It is a tall order.
Anthony Kefalas writes about the trilogy of events, which could be classified as “pandemics” in the the Greek Business File November-December 2020 issue.