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This is the second of a series of articles about the world that awaits us out there.
The perspectives showed in this article and their intensity will depend very much on how long it takes until a vaccine is found, released and delivered, or until we get immunized at levels of over 60% of population (which is the percentage considered as herd immunity by the WHO).
There were 2 great socio-political revolutions that put an end to the Modern Age and pave the path to Contemporary Age: the English Revolution (aka Liberal Revolution) in the 17th century and the French Revolution in the 18th century. In the first one the concept of FREEDOM prevailed as the backbone of society, whereas in the second one it was EQUALITY. The English one was based on the principle that human beings are all good by nature and do not need either rigid social structures (State) or many laws. According to this principle, the State must interfere at a minimum because our nature already seeks the good per se. We can and must be as free as possible, according to it. Conversely, the French Revolution parts from the principle that we are all born selfish and it is precisely the social structures (State and laws) that civilize us -honoring the philosopher Hobbes, who affirmed that “humans are wolves to humans”-. Therefore, according to that line of thinking, we need a strong State with many and rigid laws that limits our natural jungle-ish behavior.
Both revolutions had their lights and shadows, as well as their legacy. We are still today the direct result of those two revolutions.
This crisis will approach the liberal way of thinking to a more egalitarian one. Now, after having experienced the most difficult moments of the pandemic, we have realized that it is the resources of the State and a set of stringent rules that make the difference between life and death. The increase in investments and budgets to strengthen the Health public services will be the first and foremost reflection of such egalitarian way of thinking. The world has witnessed how the well dimensioned public Health services economically and people-wise are freeing us in some countries (or would have freed us, in others) from this nightmare.
Countries that already enjoy a social model based on the Welfare State are going to strengthen it. That is the case of the EU and many other countries. The minimum threshold for public spending -in Health systems and other social services- will increase, with all parties in parliaments accepting a higher, indisputable and undisputed threshold.
Those countries that do not have a Welfare State model will adopt it in one of its versions. Specifically in the USA, where the ill-fated Obama Care (wide extension of health services to the population) was knocked down by the Congress, most likely will be reconsidered again with a much kinder look to it, because COVID19 will likely plunge them into the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. One way or another, access to health systems by the disadvantaged people (unemployed, elder,…) will be much easier.
The economic crisis that will follow the sanitarian crisis will wreak havoc on millions of citizens, those who will be laid off and do not have enough savings to withstand the many months until the economy rebounces. According to different sources, that will happen to more than 50% of those people who will lose their jobs.
States have two options: either to leave those disadvantaged to the fate of market forces, or articulate a series of financial aids at individuals level (like the Universal Basic Income) and at enterprises level (stimuli programs, bailouts). In some countries it will be a temporary measure, in others it will be permanent under stringent criteria. In a similar fashion, enterprises going through serious difficulties will also receive aids from governments or central banks.
On top of that, as mentioned in the previous section, collapse in health systems and sanitary supplies is weighing in a global mindset about reinforcing it in countries’ budgets.
Countries will have either to re-arrange their budget allocations to cover those financial aids, increase taxes to those citizens with higher incomes and to those enterprises with huge dividends, or, conversely, issue debt to finance them. All these measures are not mutually exclusive.
There will be two side effects of this:
We have realized that individual actions – confinement, social distance, reinforced hygiene – affects the rest. In a fluid world where international circulation across borders is business-as-usual, the solution will be global or will not be. We will accept to go back to a life constrained to our national borders just as a provisional measure, but not long-lasting. Travelling and exchange of knowledge and trade among countries is a human conquer we will not give up.
Citizens will demand earlier and worldwide measures to reduce lockdown periods, while also putting lives and science in the first place. This pandemic has caught countries without a unified global strategy to fight against it. There is not a global orchestra director. W.H.O. (or an evolution of it that will emerge, similarly to U.N.O. emerging after WWII as the evolution of the former Society of Nations) will have political and veto power to determine the countermeasures carried out worldwide.
A derivative is going to be the fight for environmental sustainability, because in our dystopian dreams we foresee it can bring about worse effects than a pandemic. Baby Boomers and Generation X, who both today hold the political power, are going to apply much more severe preventive measures, led by W.H.O. Now, finally, my generation (X) and Baby Boomers are going to do it! Why have we taken so long? We, Baby Boomers and Xers, are generations who sold our youthful dreams for money, because the power of dreaming in a better tomorrow was less sexy than the power of money in the current today. And here we are.
The European Union, once again, has proven to be ineffective in managing the pandemic as a single block. Each country has taken its own measures and separate schedules. In particular, in the search for sanitary equipment, each country has competed with each other to buy from suppliers on other continents. To cap it all, the different gigantic points of view on how to finance and subsidize the effects of the crisis among its member states have opened a great wound.
Some EU countries have felt more aided by third countries like China and Russia than by their own club.
The emerging world powers will take advantage of this weakness. They will establish advantageous country-to-country agreements and break secular alliances, in order to increase their economic and political power. China, who has showed an interest in establishing itself as a player who sets their own rules in the world economy (and also in having its currency become a value of reference worldwide), may use those non-written alliances to extend their influence. Similarly, Russia will take advantage to increase its influence in the geopolitical arena beyond Middle East.
Nevertheless, international cooperation will tend to increase in average, due to the realization that a pandemic is something that requires the involvement across borders. It is the reconfiguration of alliances that will change, causing a net increase in worldwide cooperation, although less polarized than before.
We will start to see biometric wearables (t-shirts, underwear, bracelet) that control our vital signs in real time (temperature, blood pressure, etc) or geolocalization through our smartphones to identify a potential infection of ourselves or of the people around us. We will consider it acceptable. Our movements will be under the control of governments. Why will we accept it? Because sociological studies prove that, when levels 1 and 2 of the Maslow pyramid (basic needs, health) are at risk, we are willing to accept loss of freedom in exchange for gaining security.
The dark side of it is authoritarianism. Governments with autocratic pretenses may utilize that information to have citizens under control and use it for obscure purposes. We will have to find creative ways to avoid sacrificing one of the two – freedom vs. security. The most effective formula will be to define a very strict and guarantor legislation, the strictest and most guarantor as possible, where citizens are equipped with the tools and laws through which our governments, authorities and organizations feel more controlled by us than we are by them.
The difference between a country/enterprise crisis and a global crisis is that the latter requires leadership that, firstly, is not dubious about making difficult decisions along with sensitivity towards people; and, secondly, that has the capacity to influence beyond its local tribe, that is, upon the global tribe.
Given the fact that we will not forget that a pandemic has to be dealt with as a global crisis, we will extend that line of thinking to politics and management. Both countries and enterprises will look for leaders with the characteristics of global crisis managers. We will vote looking for that ingredient of ‘good leader in times of crisis’ in the verbal and non-verbal language of the political candidate. And likewise in organizations, where we will grant greater authority to people with the profile of credibility, determination and, at the same time, human sensitivity, that crises require.
The future may be a negative self-fulfilling prophecy or a set of opportunities to build a better world. Either of those two options may be true. It’s in our hands.
If you missed it, find the first article of this series here: POST-COVID19 WORLD (I): Societal and Microeconomics changes
I wish you the best.
Daniel Sánchez Reina
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Autor de El mentor (Ed. Almuzara).
Co-autor de El dilema del directivo (LID Editorial).