For the first time in living memory, the global economy is no longer shaped primarily by politicians or economists, or even by market forces. Instead, he was overwhelmed by the imperative for our health and the survival of millions of vulnerable people.
Globalization, which has dominated our thinking and the formation of deep-rooted interconnectivity and economic dependencies, has proven unable to coexist in its current form with the fiercest of health crises.
Economic philosophies that have espoused the ability of world trade to advance living standards have been valuable, but have never succeeded in adequately addressing the unacceptable implications of globalization for other critical goals.
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Both environmental imperatives and the importance of eliminating massive international and intra-national inequalities have now been exposed as grossly misunderstood or ignored for decades, to the detriment of the stability and sustainability required of political, economic and social communities. of the world. And, now, on top of that, we see that our global health goals have simply not been given the primacy they needed: they too have clashed violently with the economic system we have created or allowed to develop.
Global health risks from disease have only appeared occasionally, such as during the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic, but have not remained in the foreground. Advanced economies have often seen themselves as immune. Despite high-profile warnings, they have not been at the center of the debate.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, former director general of the World Health Organization, spoke forcefully about the risks in 2001: “The disease does not respect national borders. Patterns of globalization that foster growing inequalities will encourage the spread of diseases – especially those associated with extreme poverty. There are no health sanctuaries. The separation between national and international health issues is no longer useful, as more than two million people cross international borders every day. “
The Covid-19 has demonstrated its ability to bring the world to a virtual standstill. In addition, many scientists point to the high risk of massive disruption caused by viruses recurring more frequently. They see external shocks to the environmental ecosystem due to human behavior dramatically increasing the likelihood of virus transmission from animal and biological ecosystems to humans.
We must now explicitly expand our view of global development to embrace this new world into which our consciousness has been catapulted. We need to move away from consideration of economic and social development, encompassing our economic growth goals and our distributional goals with respect to well-being, inequality and poverty, and global sustainable development, and now explicitly embrace the global health imperative in ways we just haven’t done before. All are critical goals and all interact intimately with one another.
Indeed, we should consider more acutely the sustainability of health and the environment as the precondition for the economic and social vision of our world, whatever the precise political and societal choices in this matter.
The UN recently highlighted serious concerns for the safety and well-being of children due to the current crisis. Minimizing the negative impacts of Covid-19 on children and their families will be critical to our global recovery and resilience.
We need to refocus economic globalization to unambiguously reflect the full range of results we seek. It will require strong collaboration, but global governance has been seriously exposed by Covid-19, with almost no international collaboration, and just the bleak view of competition for crucial health resources. This prospect shouldn’t really surprise us, but Covid-19 has done just that.
There is also a lesson to be learned from the 2008-09 financial crash. At the height of this crisis, the appreciation of the deep weaknesses of the global financial system and the necessary fundamental adjustments were well advanced. As soon as the pressure began to ease, however, the demands for fundamental change quickly dissipated.
Equally important with Covid-19 will be that the momentum to learn and change does not dissipate in the same way. There are therefore extremely difficult choices that will have to be made in the aftermath of this crisis.
Until science can provide more reassuring assessments of the future course of Covid-19 and how viruses are transmitted and mutated, it seems the highest priority to struggle with is knowing how a sustainable economic system can be defined in this new context, which addresses not only the more common inequalities and environmental imperatives, but also the immense risks to global health.
Professor Andrew Goudie is Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Fraser Institute of Allander, University of Strathclyde, former Chief Economist at the Department for International Development and the Scottish Government; and former senior economist at the World Bank and the OECD.
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