Never before have I been forbidden from leaving my home by the government. Coincidently, neither have my parents. My grandparents lived through the brutal Spanish civil war, and even they find the situation shocking. Universities and schools around the world lay barren, alongside bars and cinemas, in an attempt to fight the spread of the virus. Markets plummet as armies deploy to support struggling health services. The situation is surreal, yet so international that for the first time in history, regardless of your place of origin, I doubt this story is unknown to you. Covid-19, or coronavirus as it is commonly referred to, has shaken our world as a whole. Casualties will mount, panic will ensue, civil structures will crumble and fail. Yet it will pass, and when it does, what will our world look like?
The first thing this new crisis has put into question is the ability of states to protect their citizens. Sidelining the healthcare aspect momentarily, European and American leaders have been too slow to react to the impending threat. Measures such as social distancing and closures were only implemented once control over the spread of the virus was lost. It appears that maintaining normality was valued higher than public safety. This cannot be blamed entirely on them, given that they merely represent the priorities we used to collectively have as communities. Surely, a European post-covid society will not be caught by surprise in the wake of the next global pandemic. Both governed and governors will come to realize that the very health and life of citizens must come above all other considerations, be they commercial or idealistic. Therefore, the role of the state as a provider of security and wellbeing will inevitably be reinforced, given the lack of viability of any private or decentralized solutions to similar crisis. However, sadly, throughout many countries across Europe, and without a doubt similarly around the world, a general mistrust of government information and recommendations has arisen. This general mistrust is mostly driven by previous ideological manipulations of less severe events, which have unfortunately become commonplace, alongside the rise of social media and the spread of misinformation. Covid-19 must, and hopefully will, put an end to this hinderance. Governments will realize that keeping citizens properly informed is the only way of effectively curving similar outbreaks. No more will false rumors be allowed to subsist, or information be withheld, given that seamless communication will become central to successful government.
Moreover, another question lurks amidst the present pandemic, can public hospitals face epidemic levels of infections among wide ranges of the population? The answer is still in the air, much like the virus, although early signs point to the contrary. With under ten thousand cases, Spanish hospitals are already beginning to struggle with intake, while Italian hospitals are in a state of collapse. What went wrong? It is hard to pinpoint exactly, although austerity measures throughout Europe, stemming from the 2008 financial crisis, would seem like viable culprits. Experts report that the US health system is similarly unprepared to face the crisis, given the inadequate federal funding and private nature of their healthcare system. Therefore, once the virus subsides, this matter must be resolved. I cannot help but find deeply ironic that the USA, with a trillion-dollar military budget, can be brought to its knees by a microscopic organism that makes no friend-or-foe distinctions. Consistently for the past years American governments have decreased the expenditure in medical threat prevention while unloading cash upon billion-dollar fighter jets that sit idle in their hangars. This fact comes to show that our assessments of the necessity for healthcare expenditure were way off. I have no doubt that the post-covid generation will remediate that mistake, regardless of ideology.
A further crisis is also upon us. Whatever can be salvaged from the virus onslaught will have to face one of the most severe recessions in human history. As per the 24th of March, markets around the globe have plummeted – billions of dollars vanished into thin air, leaving behind unemployment and hardship. Moreover, the drastic decrease in consumption and investment are leaving local small and medium businesses hurting. In extreme cases, government closures of commercial activities have left many without any source of income. For an illustrative example, the CEO of AMC, the largest cinema firm in the world, recently baffled spectators by declaring on CNN that revenue for the second half of March would be exactly 0. Rather flexible labour markets have allowed many companies to offset the impact of the crisis by laying off most of their staff, but this solution is neither perfect nor viable on the long-term. Given that the impending recession is fueled by the decrease in consumption and investment, cutting the cash flow to households at this time will only exacerbate the negative effects of Covid-19 on the economy. Post-covid societies will be forced to find a viable way of easing the pain of catastrophe on companies and households without jeopardizing either’s survival. Few solutions appear viable, but states have begun to flirt with a revolutionary concept: universal basic income (UBI).
However, UBI is not a new idea. Incidentally, even before the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in China, a candidate for the democratic nomination to the United States presidency, Andrew Yang, proposed the introduction of UBI in the USA. He dropped out long ago, crushed by more conventional candidates, but his proposals have seen a resurgence within the Trump administration. Although forms of UBI has already been tried as fiscal stimulus measures before, they were structured as tax refunds, that varied depending on previous payment rates. However, the US government now envisions sending each and every American a monthly check until the end of the crisis to avoid the collapse of the economy and keep millions of families, recently unemployed, fed. Although the quantitative effects of the measure are still to be evaluated, this appears to be the fairest and most viable solution to the economic fallout stemming from the present covid-19 crisis. Additionally, given the rise of automation, measures of this character will become commonplace across post-covid societies, which will nullify the negative societal effects of unemployment, allowing companies to dynamically adapt to changing economic trends.
It is crucial to keep in mind that every society is uniquely different, and that these changes will vary greatly from one to the other. Moreover, the future is uncertain and unpredictable, therefore these remain humble, and optimistic, predictions. In his book, “The end of history and the last man”, Francis Fukuyama refers to our time as the end of history, in which current western societal modes forever reign supreme and unassailable. Recent events prove that his theory couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our current mode of untamed globalization has proved inadequate to tackle pandemics, and so cannot reign supreme as Fukuyama predicted. This comes as no surprise, but should not serve as an excuse to throw away the progress in prosperity and peace achieved by freedom of movement and commerce. History shows us that pandemics and similar catastrophes are consistent catalysts for societal change, but make no mistake, change is not assured. We could continue business as usual and allow this opportunity for progress to pass us over, leaving us unprepared to tackle the next global pandemic. On the other hand, we could devolve into closed-off protectionist regimes, brittle and scared of the outside, unable to save the unifying work of our ancestors. Western societies can do better, and so a reasonable middle ground must be found. Now, much like in the aftermath of world war one and the Spanish flu, we are presented with the chance of realigning our societal priorities, while uniquely adjusting our economic systems to quell future hardships; it’s time for our roaring twenties.