Building forward is better

It now seems like a long time since the ritual Thursday clapping and the peace that allowed us to hear the birds.  As the tragedy of suffering and death grew during the lockdown, a hope also grew that this pause (for many but clearly not all) from the daily rat race, could also give an opportunity for humanity to rethink its normal madness; to commit to building back better.

So is that hope now dashed?  Many wrote about how we cannot go back to how things were. The news though was and is totally dominated by how to deal with the pandemic. The question of what happens after hardly gets a look in.

A new surge in infection rates is picking up pace in many parts of the world as the northern winter comes in and no hope of any change until at least the spring. Deaths may not be as high as in the first few months but unemployment and hardship could be a lot higher as governments reduce their support schemes. Furthermore the mental health impacts can only escalate as time goes on.

But maybe the talk of building back better was all too previous anyway. In the midst of the ongoing crisis and increasingly fractured debate over what needs to be done, there was unlikely to be real space for such a discussion. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a space in the future.

So could that opportunity come when the crisis is seen to recede and no longer dominate? I would suggest that that conversation can only happen at that point if there is a collective willingness to talk. The real question then is whether societies are more or less fractured by the time the pandemic ends.

Even if countries are doing well on the numbers of infections and deaths, does this necessarily point to a lesssocially fractured country as they come out of the pandemic?”

At this point we can ask the reader to look at the culture wars being waged in the US and the UK: are we on the brink of wreckage or recovery?  The interview with Surbhi Kesar also suggests culture wars are being used in India to cover over the failures in controlling Covid-19. Brazil seems to be in a similar camp.

On the other hand, China reports next to no infections. South Korea has just pulled out of a second wave and Taiwan is totally free of infections. So are these Asian countries some of the societies that are not ‘freedom loving’ in Boris Johnson’s words and hence better at responding to the pandemic?

Of course such a simplistic pattern, with a strong flavour of racial stereotyping, quickly shatters as we see the wide variety of countries seen as relatively successful: New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Iceland, Pakistan, Thailand and Senegal, as we discuss in our interview with Mwangi wa Gĩthĩnji. And why is Italy doing so much better in the second wave compared to France and the Netherlands?

Even if countries are doing well on the numbers of infections and deaths, does this necessarily point to a less socially fractured country as they come out of the pandemic?

The world is likely to receive further shock therapy over the next few months, which may fracture or unify different societies.”

The world is likely to receive further shock therapy over the next few months, which may fracture or unify different societies. We can only work to build bridges and show empathy at home to increase the chances of a conversation about building back better when the time is ripe.

Our columnists open the issue with cautionary tales. Frances Coppola makes a case for embracing the positive changes to normality that Covid has brought and urges us to keep off the dangerous path to the past. And the Outsider warns that a President Trump could be waiting for us on the other side of November.

Covid has brought its own home spun problems but much of its harm or potential for more harm is through exacerbating existing established ills in society and economics. Kira Allmann explains how digital inequality amounts to exclusion from a fundamental part in modern society. And Miriam Brett points out how the pandemic has laid bare the life-saving importance of the internet and why it can’t stay in the hands of a few.

Covid, meanwhile, has unleashed some out-there ideas into the world of reasonable-people. John Barry thinks it’s time to be unreasonable.

Covid, meanwhile, has unleashed some out-there ideas into the world of reasonable-people.”

The morality of the UK’s laissez-faire approach to tax avoidance is questionable at the best of times. Alexander Tziamalis asked for justification as it continues to act as an ace fixer for tax avoiders amid the acute need for public funds to protect the public from the pandemic. Richard Murphy, however, explains how tax hikes are not the way out of Covid’s chaos.

Over the horizon Surbhi Kesar provides a report from an India awash with Covid.  And Grimot Nane tells how even the already horrific violence that pervades Nigerian society has actually risen a notch. Mwangi wa Gĩthĩnji, however, has a less gloomy tale to tell about Africa in the pandemic.

An ocean away, the pandemic has X-rayed Brazil’s political and social ills says Laura Zampini.

On the subject of ways to build back, Sierra Leone has shown how money and technology are not necessarily the best redoubt against pandemics says Francisco Perez. Guy Dauncey tells how people the world over can do it for themselves.

Kate Bayliss offers a note of warning in asking who might things be better for when we build back from the Covid’s worst? Johannes Lenhard wants governments to venture forth out of the pandemic.

Other perennial problems remain to be solved and the way we teach economics could just be throwing gasoline onto the fire of global warming says Marc Beckman. Elsewhere, an idea half a millennium old could offer an end to drudgery for the poor says Stewart Lansley.

So plenty of brain nourishment as winter comes. Best wishes with the next phase of pandemic crisis.

Henry Leveson-Gower

Henry is the founder and CEO of Promoting Economic Pluralism as well as editor of The Mint Magazine. He has been a practising economist contributing to environmental policy for 25 …

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