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  • Writer's pictureDaniele Kielmanowicz

Reading List of the Week - What do great thinkers of our times say about the future of globalization

Image credit: Triple Dollar Sign by Andy Warhol

As Mario Vargas Llosa said, in crisis periods we should be able to rely on intellectuals and artists so that we have testimonies that allow us to find the words to express and register what is being felt and seen to foster new ideas. This week, Policy Shift will refer to the great thinkers of our times, to explore the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on globalization. Here we have gathered the key ideas of articles reflecting the thoughts of Ai Weiwei, Suzanna Arundhati Roy, Francis Fukuyama, Thomas Friedman and Mario Vargas Llosa.

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, the most well-known contemporary Chinese artist, a famous dissident of the communist regime, criticizes the way his country is handling the pandemic: "If this virus spread in such a disastrous way, it is largely because the truth was hidden”.

Ai Weiwei talks about the unprecedented global crisis caused by the Covid-19 and points out the link between the disasters that are hitting the planet and the lack of humanist values. According to him, the Covid-19 virus spread can be largely attributed to a lack of transparency from the Chinese Government. What is happening should serve as a great lesson to us all about the importance of freedom of speech and transparency. The ongoing transmission of the Coronavirus has happened because we guide ourselves only based on interests and benefits, forgetting about principles. Europe and the United States have supported the Chinese regime. When such impunity is tolerated, you lose the right to speak up about what is right or wrong. If the West allows itself to be guided by profit or interest only, it will not be in the position to complain about losses linked to human rights disregard. Ai Weiwei believes capitalism has come to an end. It cannot continue to develop morally and ethically. This epidemic has warned us that the enrichment of business through globalization must cease. And if not, the misfortunes to come will be even greater.

By El Pais (in Spanish), "Ai Weiwei: El capitalismo ha llegado a su fin"

Suzanna Arundhati Roy

Suzanna Arundhati Roy is an Indian author best known for her novel "The God of Small Things", which won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997. She is now sharing her views about how the Coronavirus is shaking her home country, India, and the rest of the world.

According to Arundhati Roy, the tragedy that is now being seen, is epic but not new. It is the result of problems that have been accumulating for years. In India, a “poor rich” country, marked by feudalism and religious fundamentalism, casts, capitalism and governed by the extreme right Hindu nationalist, the first case of Covid-19 was registered on January 30th, a few days after the Parade of the Republic day, when the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a denier of the Covid-19, left Delhi as an honor guest. On March 11th, the World Health Organization passed the status of the Covid-19 from an epidemic to a pandemic. It was only on March 19th that the first Minister Nareda Modi finally discussed the concept of “social distance” in a national communication. Insensitive to much of the suffering, on March 24th at 8:00 pm, Modi announced the national lockdown starting from midnight. With no planning nor consultation with the head of state governments, markets were asked to close, public and private transports became scarce before being banned, and one billion three hundred eighty thousand million people had to stay at home with no previous preparation.

India is thus further revealing the inequalities present in its social system. With millions of people relying on the informal economy, on jobs that would be put on hold during the lockdown, many people tried to get back to their villages, even by foot when necessary. Some died in the way, others reached the border and had to come back when authorities blocked frontiers to avoid the dissemination of the virus in other parts of the country. Supply chains are broken, medicines and essential supplies are becoming limited. Knowing the existing limitations of the health system in India or in other developing countries, it seems impossible for them to cope with a crisis of the same magnitude as the one facing Europe and the United States today.

Across the world, Covid-19 has forced the engines of the economy to stop, temporarily, but with no clear notice of when it will return to normal. This pause has been long enough for us to examine our systems failures and success, and to consider new paths to move forward. Arundhati Roy argues that nothing would be worse than a return to normality. Throughout history, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and reinvent their world. The current pandemic should not be different from previous ones. It is a portal between yesterday's world and the future. We can choose to leave behind us the remains of our prejudice and hatred, our greed, our dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies. Or we can step over it, ready to imagine and to fight for another world.

By Le Monde (in French), "Arundhati Roy: En Inde, le confinement le plus gigantesque et le plus punitif de la planète"

Francis Fukuyama

Political scientist Francis Fukuyama, author of the well-know essay “The end of History and the Last Man” (1992), that announced the emergence of liberal democracies after the fall of the Berlin wall and the decline of communism, analysed the responses provided by states to the Coronavirus pandemic and reflected about the impact they could have on democratic systems.

In the face of Coronavirus, the protector state is back at center stage. It seems that in this war against a virus, it is not the militaries that carry the combat operations but high bureaucrats and the state apparatus. There is a correlation between the type of regime and the quality of response that is given to the pandemic. Everything relies on the state capacity to provide a response in terms of public health while also depending on the trust given to the state and to its leaders. The real boundary will be between the countries with a strong state body and an efficient health policy and the countries that have weaker institutions and public health capacity. This includes regions of the world like the Indian subcontinent or in Africa, where they are likely to face catastrophic losses.

This pandemic confirms the political vision that denies neoliberalism with minimal state intervention. Maybe it is the beginning of a new story, of a new balance, that this crisis will lead to. Companies are rethinking their value chain as they realize the risk of relying on providers dispersed across the globe. Some level of self-sufficiency will be recovered and it is likely that a sort of deglobalization will take place, probably with some moderation to avoid a harmful decline of the development level. According to Fukuyama, we will get back to the liberalism of the 1950-1960s in which the market economy alongside private property, cohabitates with an efficient state that intervenes to repair and reduce the social and economic inequalities. In summary, this pandemic reveals the need of a strong state to change the balance between liberalism, social protection and state intervention.

By Le Point (in French), "Francis Fukuyama: Cette pandémie révèle le besoin d'un État fort"

Thomas Friedman

The journalist and writer Thomas L. Friedman, three times recipient of the prestigious Pulitzer prize, with expertise on the Middle Eastern and U.S. Foreign Policy, has written remarkable essays on globalization, notably “The Earth is Flat” in 2004.

According to Friedman, we should not expect that after the self-quarantine and the lockdown of the economy for two months, that we will be able to automatically “get back to normal”. Either we must take serious actions to control the transmission of the Coronavirus by massively testing and monitoring the population or we wait for a vaccine, which could effectively ruin our economies while we wait. At the moment we should put in parenthesis questions such as the right to privacy, to a certain extent, in order to act for the common good. It can be more complicated to survive the bankruptcies and the collapse of the economy than to survive the Coronavirus.

In face of the pandemic, we are seeing a race for technological innovation, which makes us hopeful to find a vaccine faster than ever before. More than ever, we rely on human ingenuity, capacity of adaptation and collaboration. We can say that globalization is slowing down if we take into consideration only the volume of transactions and the movement of people. However, if we consider that globalization is the capacity to act on a global scale, then we see another picture. In today’s world, people from across the globe are collaborating and exchanging data and ideas to find a cure for this virus. From that perspective, we have never seen such a level of globalization before and this will likely be the one thing that can save us.

By Le Point (in French), "Friedman: D’ici la sortie d’un vaccin, l’économie sera en ruine”

Mario Vargas Llosa

Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian writer, Nobel Prize recipient in Literature and icon of liberalism, reacted to the impact of the sanitary crisis on our lives, and more concretely on deprivation of liberty.

According to Vargas Llosa,the Coronavirus is a good pretext for the enemies of freedom to take over our liberty and basic rights by intervening in the public sphere of citizens’ lives. Our public freedom has been restricted, democracies’ fragility is being tested, and our daily lives are impacted by hyper-technolologization as social contact and communication becomes virtual and distant.

While the spread of Coronavirus can be partially explained by the movement of people and goods in our globalized economy. Globalization, the free market, competition and technological progress can support the reduction of poverty and promote greater freedom. Vargas Llosa concludes that it would ultimately be detrimental to our societies if, as a result of this pandemic, globalization were to regress and we were to re-establish hard-won old borders.

By Le Point (in French), "Mario Vargas Llosa: “Le Coronavirus ravit tous les ennemis de la liberté"

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