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  • Writer's pictureDaniele Kielmanowicz

Reading List of the Week - Great thinkers of our times reflect on the world after the COVID-19

This week, Policy Shift will refer to some of the great thinkers of our times, to explore ways to get out of the COVID-19 crisis and consider various ideas of how to build a better world after the “storm” is over. Here we have gathered the key ideas of articles reflecting the thoughts of Bill Gates, Thomas Piketty, Yuval Noah Harari and Muhammad Yunus.

Image credit: Gabriel Bouys via Getty Images, Madrid, Spain.

Bill Gates

As the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation and noted philanthropist of the Bill Gates Foundation, he stresses the importance of international cooperation to defeat the pandemic. Even if rich countries manage to contain the disease over the next few months, Covid-19, could return if the pandemic continues to spread elsewhere. At some point, one part of the world will re-infect the other. To address this, Bill Gates suggests that world leaders work cooperatively to define a comprehensive approach to fight this disease. According to Gates, there are at least three steps that world leaders - particularly those of the G20 - can take at this time to fight against the Coronavirus:

  1. The first is to ensure that global resources to fight the pandemic are distributed effectively and fairly (e.g. masks, gloves and testing). We need to cooperate to deploy resources based on public health and medical needs worldwide.

  2. Second, world leaders should allocate enough resources to R&D to develop a Covid-19 vaccine in record time.

  3. Lastly, world leaders should start getting ready for the manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine, which will require even more funding and planning than the R&D phase. In other words, countries will have to invest in manufacturing infrastructure and production capacity upfront to be fully prepared to produce and distribute a vaccine against Covid-19 that is both affordable and accessible to all in a timely manner.

These three actions will require multi-billion dollar funding, which may seem exorbitant, especially at a time when entire economies are slowing down. Still, the cost is nothing compared to what we will have to pay if the epidemic continues. This sanitary crisis reminds us that helping others is not only the right thing to do, it is also the intelligent path forward. After all, humanity is not only bound by common values and social ties - humans are also connected to each other biologically by a microscopic network of germs that link the health of one person to the health of all others. In this pandemic, we are all interconnected. Our response must be interconnected as well.

By Le Monde (in French), “Bill Gates : Pour une approche globale de la lutte contre le Covid-19”


Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose work focuses on wealth and income inequality, argues that in the face of the Coronavirus sanitary crisis, it has become even more urgent to adopt a fair fiscal regime to allow redistribution from the richest and the big companies as much as necessary.

The epidemic could peak in poor countries, whose health systems are not able to cope with the situation, especially since they have been subject to the austerity policies imposed by the dominant ideology of the past several decades. On the other hand, self-quarantine in poor and fragile ecosystems may also be totally inadequate. In the absence of a minimum income, the poorest will soon have to go out and look for work, which is likely to revive the epidemic.

Piketty believes that at this stage, it is difficult to determine what the economic crisis after the end of the pandemic will look like. As of now, the priority should be to take the necessary measures to avoid the worst afterwards. A new social agreement will require fair taxation, so that the richest people and largest companies contribute their welath proportionally to the common wellbeing. This crisis can also be an opportunity to think about a minimum health and education provision for all of the world's inhabitants based on an universal right, financed by tax revenues paid by the most prosperous economic players in the world: the wealthiest large companies and high-income households (i.e. the richest 1% of the world). Piketty calls for global tax regulation to ensure social and ecological sustainability and reduce the existing inequalities.

By Le Monde (in French), “L’urgence absolue est de prendre la mesure de la crise en cours et de tout faire pour éviter le pire, Thomas Piketty”


Yuval Noah Harari

The author of Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, has raised attention to the important choices that humankind will have to make in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to him, the decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will likely shape the world for years to come. These long-term consequences will affect not just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture.

According to Harari, in this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices:

  1. The first is the opposition between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. Entire populations are being asked to comply with certain guidelines to avoid the spread of the Coronavirus, and several governments are making use of new surveillance tools to avoid future contaminations. These governments argue that biometric surveillance measures are temporary and will only last during the state of emergency. In reality, the coronavirus crisis represents the tipping point of the public debate over personal privacy. Asking people to choose between privacy and health is, actually, the very root of the problem. Citizens should enjoy both privacy and health without having to make such sacrifices. They should be able to protect their health not by instituting totalitarian surveillance regimes, but rather by being empowered by governments that share scientific facts and build a relationship of trust with the population.

  2. The second choice is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity. As the epidemic and the resulting economic crisis represent global problems, it would be hard to tackle them without international cooperation. First and foremost, overcoming the virus requires that information be shared globally among scientists and research groups. Global cooperation is also needed to produce and distribute medical equipment efficiently. From an economic perspective, given the global nature of the economy and of supply chains, cooperation is needed to avoid the chaos of a deepening crisis. According to Harari, if we choose global solidarity, it will be a victory not only against the coronavirus, but against all future epidemics and crises of the 21st century.

Harari argues that the storm will certainly pass and humankind will survive. Still, humanity will inhabit a different world. It is important to keep in mind that crises tend to fast-forward historical processes and short-term emergency measures can become the norm for a long time. With this in mind, citizens and governments should carefully consider the decisions that are made during this period.

By Financial Times (in English), “Yuval Noah Harari: the world after coronavirus”


Muhammad Yunus

The economist and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate calls for a “rethinking of the world” after the crisis. According to Yunus, we should not talk about a recovery plan, but about a reconstruction plan that must be social and ecological, in order to avoid a catastrophe that could be much worse than the current one.

The Covid-19 outbreak is inflicting immeasurable damage on our world. However, it also presents us with a unique opportunity. The whole world must answer a decisive question: should we return the world to the way it was before the coronavirus arrived? Needless to say, the world before the coronavirus was detrimental for humankind. Humanity saw an avalanche of tragedy rapidly approaching due to the increasing effects of climate change, mass unemployment and alarming inequalities. The pandemic thus opens the possibility of changing the economy.

Yunus argues that states must be the driving force of the change, particularly by taking care of the poorest and the unemployed through the traditional instruments of the welfare state. This includes ensuring the provision of health care and restarting essential services, and by supporting small and emerging businesses. Yunus proposes giving a central role to a new form of entrepreneurship, that of "social business." Social businesses aim to solve the problems of individuals, without any profit for investors other than that of recovering their stake. To accelerate their growth, governments can create national and local venture capital funds specialized in social entrepreneurship. They can encourage the private sector, foundations, financial institutions and investment funds to do the same and support traditional companies to convert to social entrepreneurship or to partner with actors within the social economy.

As long as economics remains a profit-maximizing science, we cannot rely on it for social and ecological reconstruction. The reconstruction plan must involve all citizens in solving collective problems by helping the; to set up their own social enterprises. Moreover, the proliferation of social businesses will help address the rising unemployment that the collapse of the economy will create. Unemployed people will also be able to become entrepreneurs themselves or to work for new social enterprises. As Yunus states, "people are born entrepreneurs, not job seekers."

By Le Monde (in French), “Muhammad Yunus : « La crise du coronavirus nous ouvre des horizons illimités pour tout reprendre à zéro”

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