On Globalization and Pandemic

After undermining the threat and overdoing the panic, we are starting to discuss, if only very gradually, the possibilities of a post-Pandemic world. After Donald Trump's April 12th came and went, we are pinning our hopes on the ever-so-slight flattening of the slope of the curves in various countries. France's 11th May target to reopen the schools, on the sound logic that digital deprivation is now turning into an educational gap, is being taken more seriously. 

However, we know this is not going to be a return to normal as we know it. There is increasing speculation whether this is the end of Capitalism. At least one serious thinker, Slavoj Zizek, believes that this is the moment we will start taking communism seriously (not of the soviet variety, but rather of the war economy type that we are living with now). Though this is rather unlikely - socialism of the temporary kind ends up concentrating ever more resources in fewer hands, as we have seen from the last financial crisis - something is got to give. 

That may indeed be globalization. If anyone didn't reckon the risks of globalisation, now it is abundantly clear. Besides, the businesses that were locally rooted may come out stronger. Business and services which were dependent on mobility would have to take a huge hit. The pandemic has shut down global travel, which will take months to come back to normal. And, the disruption in the global supply chain may allow new arrangements to emerge - and remain in place for a considerable period of time for us to get used to them.

But, equally, there is this other possibility of closer global cooperation. We will never get out of lockdown without some kind of global coordination. The defanged institutions of global governance have performed poorly in this crisis, but that - at least to some observers - highlighted the necessity of having effective institutions. The nations-first Presidents and Prime Ministers squabbled over medical supplies and policy issues, but that showed the ineffectiveness of such politics in the face of global threats such as a pandemic. The inadequacy of the current architecture of globalisation has indeed become apparent; but, at the same time, it has created an imperative to set it right.

Leaving out a handful who believe this to be a conspiracy, this pandemic has established the possibility of such a global crisis. For a generation which has never been disrupted, this is a great moment to appreciate the limitations of parochialism. Trump may call this a Chinese virus and imply that the best way forward is to keep the immigrants out, but the next threat may come of the melting permafrost of Canada and Alaska. This is a crisis spread by those some countries called 'the best and the brightest' - most certainly, these were the richest - and our asset-dependent economies wouldn't survive if we look to keep them out. And, as we have found out, we are better off accepting Chinese ventilators and masks than going down the Childish route of boycotting their products.

Therefore, while this is a fork in the road for globalisation for sure, but not the end of the road. What's exposed is the imbalances of globalisation, which were hiding in plain sight; we are able to see it more clearly as the pandemic killed the noise. If we thought the global capital can keep expanding unchecked without the matching institutional structure, this is the moment when the penny drops. This is not the moment we all go back to our villages; rather, this is a moment we drop our complacence and start being aware of the risks of globalisation. If anything needs to stop, it's the tearing hurry with which the regulation warriors were undermining supranational arrangements. It's only fitting that at its most arrogant moment, the United States of Donald Trump was brought to its knees by a 'mere flu virus'. 

Is this too optimistic a view, that we are in for a more humble, balanced globalisation? Perhaps it is, as human beings have been proved to be capable of utter self-destruction more than once in its history. But, as it appears now, the alternative is to live in lockdown forever - or at least with germophobic social distance for the rest of our lives.



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