To have an equitable post-COVID world, address structural inequality among nations

It is clear that COVID-19 has extirpated the global economy, which is based on feeble footings and fallacious credit booms and has brought to light its inherent vulnerabilities and limitations

Samudrala VK Jun 24, 2020

It is clear that COVID-19 has extirpated the global economy, which is based on feeble footings and fallacious credit booms and has brought to light its inherent vulnerabilities and limitations. It is not the intensity of pandemic that thwacked the global economic structure but the fragility within the system and its proneness to shocks had brought the entire neo-liberal economic system to its knees. The socio-economic surmise which has placed individual interests over collective and community goals, political authority (state) as the protector of private property and market as the sole decider of economic life is like a house of cards. 

There is no reinforcement to sustain this slender set-up at a time when external agents or internal convulsions due to its own weight act upon the very fundamentals of this complex whole. The market, regarded as an unopposed chariot that ultimately benefits consumer due to its competitive behaviour amongst the producers, has created a dichotomy between the short term interests of individuals and the real and long term interest of society. Although regarded as a rational creature, the modern man has caught in the servitude of the market which guarantees happiness neither at an individual level nor at the societal level. 

After all, individuals constitute society. What is seen as an unchallengeable development path, from agricultural to industrialization to service has forced many third world nations to unleash the a wave of privatisation and openness which has created not only urban-rural divide but also beleaguered the very existence of human beings in these countries. The present ruling dispensations all around the world are themselves privatised so there is no point in arguing that the governments must step in to relieve the much-vexed working class from the hardship and miserable quality of life. 

This calls for an altogether new kind of consciousness among masses to put forth an alternative development model before the political authorities that take cognisance of interests of each and every citizen of the community, with due emphasis on the natural environment. This marks a radical departure from the path which has buttressed the phenomena of concentration of wealth in a few hands and undue exploitation of bio-wealth. It is preposterous to conclude that COVID-19 as a solitary reason for current crack-up but it has hastened the inevitable implosion of the prevailing economic system. The long boom since the 1980s has been parallel with acute inequalities in the economic spectrum and far-reaching consequences in the environmental domain. 

In the long run, these can spiral out of control ensuing cascading effects on marginalised communities threatening their right to life, liberty and property, the core values of liberalism. The brouhaha against this lopsided development model often remained unheard and the detrimental effects went unnoticed. In the neo-liberal regime, the economic benefits are skewed towards the class which had access to resources and opportunities to maximise profits. The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a new consciousness not only among the urban elite but also in the minds of underprivileged masses about the importance of biodiversity and the role of man in this interconnected whole. 

There has been a shift, from anthropocentric to ecocentric, in their external outlook. The asymmetric development agenda has squashed the environment with no chance of repair and affected the livelihood aspects of the local populace. This had led to forced migration, which is termed as development- induced displacement, from their homeland to unknown territories. The need of the hour is to replace this eccentric pattern of destructive development to eco-centric development model in order to renew disappearing natural wealth and to mitigate its ill effects on indigenous communities. Human-induced global warming has accelerated the phenomena of extreme weather events which have a direct bearing on the survival of indigenous people, the traditional conservators of mother nature. The pandemic has exposed numerous fissures both at the domestic and international levels.

In the international arena, COVID-19 has challenged the long-established notion of Western supremacy. The US, overseer of the global economy and the pilot of liberal economical tradition, has been turning inward and trying to insulate itself from other shocks at a moment when other nations have been trying to follow the US. It is pertinent to realise that ever since the dismantling of welfare economics, there has been a steady rise in income inequality, homelessness, gender pay gap, racial discrimination, residential segregation and child poverty in the US. 

Inspired by the US, many nations across the world espoused neo-liberal policies and followed its footsteps. India is no exception. In the colonial era, imperial powers plundered colonies of their economic wealth and administered these colonies without any sort of legitimacy and consent. The widespread disparities between the prosperous 'first world' and the resource-rich but starved 'third world' gave rise to asymmetrical power relationships in the global political and economical order, which is dominated by the Western powers. In the contemporary world, this exploitation has been continuing with the consent of legitimate political authorities depriving the rights of depressed sections in 'third world' nations. This trend has become institutionalised and viewed as par for the course which is indispensable to sustain growth momentum.

The dominance of the global North in socio-economic, cultural and technological spheres has exacerbated the North-South divide in terms of accessibility to resources and distribution. Many developing nations, although resource-rich, are left out of their due share. The time is ripe for developing nations to act collectively and to formulate a 'new green deal' that must take account of the needs of vulnerable communities in these nations in the post-COVID world.

(The writer is a columnist on international affairs)