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It's the Economy and Society — Stupid!

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on December 18, 2020 15:31

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As we enter the second year of the pandemic we need to start looking to the future. The various vaccines will not provide much relief for months, and in the meantime economies are creaking. What does the track record say about the political future?

In a recent interview, Bill Gates warned that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic was still to come. He pointed out the need to get the world economy and global cooperation working again.

And the state of the world economy is not good. While stock markets -- buoyed up by speculation on the vaccines, and fat on stimulus money -- may surge, employment is down in most of the world. Workers are suffering, money cushions are running out, and poor economies are beginning to default. But the Chinese economy has grown by 4.9% during the third quarter of 2020, still short of an expected 5%. In what is seen as a sign of what a post-pandemic world can expect, China has returned to pre-virus levels, in sharp contrast to most of the rest of the world.

And while Western nations are still flailing at what their response to the virus should be, China has adopted draconian health measures, including massive state expenditure in areas such as infrastructure development and industrial production, which has enabled the country to see a return to normal. This poises China to lead the recovering global economy, while Western nations chase after new records of infections and deaths.

We may well argue that the rigidity of the Chinese society and political structure contributed to the denialism that allowed the virus to get out of hand in the first place. And it can be argued that the openness and diversity of opinion that allows for vehement mask-resistance even at this late stage of the pandemic is a political virtue.

And indeed we are proud of the history of free democratic debate, of dissidence and political diversity, that directly contributes to economic creativity, flexibility and resilience. Yet the very political debate causes concern. When tolerance of political debate is shut down by activism when political leaders can be quoted as saying that the objective is not democracy, that "We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that." then we need to be worried.

It has been pointed out that the good Senator quoted above was trying to say that democracy should be tempered. This may be true, but I have heard that phrase, almost word for word, from the mouth of a dictator who came to power through a bloody coup and spent decades in power by manipulating election after election. Rank democracy can thwart that.

The command system leads to slave labor, exploitation, and destruction of nature. Can we posit a political system that takes into account a diversity of viewpoints and create a sustainable environment, economy and polity?

Before the pandemic, I wrote a love story where I tried to speculate what the implications of a flu pandemic might be. Much of what it says is still true: We need to learn to listen.

Time is running out.

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on December 18, 2020 15:31

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