It is almost clear now. COVID-19 is not just a pandemic or a health threat. Nor is it all about livelihoods. Its implications are going to be far wider in redefining many things in life, which we had been indoctrinated to take for granted. Many changes are inevitable in the global order, philosophy towards life, and economic doctrines.
First, let us turn to global order and institutions. Post-World War 2, for bringing in an institutional framework, the United Nations Organisation (UNO) was created by an executive body within the Security Council with permanent 5 members, representing the 5 dominating countries of the time.
It was followed by the creation of various multilateral organisations including the World Health Organisation (WHO). In the financial sector, the World Bank was formed for developmental assistance, and an International Monetary Fund was created for liquidity and exchange coordination.
There were other bodies like the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for labour, World Trade Organisation (WTO) for trade and tariff etc and many more like UNESCO, UNICEF, UNCTAD, etc.
Most of these had already suffered a huge decline in influence and effectiveness considerably after emergence of the USA as the only superpower, and these were mostly reduced to debating clubs and research institutes.
Might is right, and the mighty US was seen as the natural arbiter of the world order. This dichotomy is manifested as the world is under COVID-19 pandemic with global health emergency and the one institution, WHO, which should lead the world in this fight, is itself under existential threat by the virulent attack on it by the US with chopping off funding support.
Many world bodies, institutions, and initiatives like climate change have been relying on support from the US and have been side-lined by the country. But what has come to the fore now, is growing irrelevance of even the US in leading the world, as it has been hit the most by the current pandemic.
The world order of the 1950s was built on the assumption that a third world war would be catastrophic and the architecture was built to have safeguards in conflict-like situations.
70 years later, it has been proved that a biological virus can be more devastating than a military conflict. Fear is now proximate, not of a distant enemy warrior.
Today it may be a biological virus, tomorrow it could be a computer virus with still more devastating effects. It might sound like fiction today. But as we have found recently, thanks to COVID-19, facts could be more chilling and gripping than fiction.
Second, turning the focus from institutions to ecopolitical dominant ethos of the 1950s. Two schools of ideology dominated, capitalism and communism.
Power to the wealthy (capital), or power of the proletariat (worker). In the 1990s, after the disintegration of the USSR, capitalism remained the dominant political theme in the ecosystem, notwithstanding China in the background.
Wealth creation was the largest pursuit of mankind, and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) got top rank as an index of development of a nation.
Nations looked to a number as a magic wand, like say in India a $5 trillion economy in 5 years catapulted a billion dreams. Development used to be measured in terms of per capita GDP, and countries ranked as developed, developing, and underdeveloped.
But the failings of GDP as a barometer of the standing of a nation is much evident now as many developed countries like the US, Britain, and EU countries like Germany are at the receiving end in the fight against novel coronavirus.
In recent years, a Human Development Index (HDI) was proposed as an alternative to conventional assessments of development based on measures of per capita income, such as GDP. Its components--health, education, and income - are intended to capture the essential dimensions of the quality of human life or human development.
And depending on the priorities of a government, its ranking in both indices could be significantly different. For example, in terms of GDP, India ranks 5th in the world, but 129th in HDI. This only means India is getting richer, but sorry, the quality of life of Indians is not getting any better.
Third, the move towards increased centralisation in decision making. Globally, the balance of decision making in whatever context has tilted towards a powerful few. Big brother (s) knows the best. The smaller ones got marginalised in the process, and when in need like the present crisis of COVID-19, many nations are struggling to find feet on the ground, as the existing order has destroyed much of self-resilience.
Even in India, during COVID-19, many have voiced that centralised bureaucratic decision-making from Delhi has not been able to understand the ground realities and quality of policymaking and more so in implementation thereof has been sub-optimal.
Once the menace of COVID-19 pandemic is over, a new ecopolitical order will emerge which will be more focussed on human development, infrastructure around health and education, climate preservation and most importantly on people, and of course the new matrix of emerging risks and risk management with focus on the last man in the line.
Talk about our own socio-economic philosophy of Sarvodaya, propounded by our father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi.
He was very critical of capitalism, communism, and industrial civilisation of his time. He postulated an alternative model of social reconstruction which he named Sarvodaya (meaning 'Welfare of all").
His concept of Sarvodaya was influenced by Ruskin's work "Unto This Last". With Adam Smith and Karl Max dead, is it time for Gandhi and John Ruskin with egalitarian thoughts, with emphasis on a green universe, to make a comeback and influence the shape of the world to come?
(The writer is a policy analyst and columnist)
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