Monday, 3 October, 2022

A New Normal In Post-Pandemic Paradigm

Dr. Nirmal Kandel

The two terms ‘COVID-19’ and ‘lockdown’ have become common for the public of the 21st century. The world has witnessed such a pandemic after more than 100 years. The Spanish Flu rocked Europe and other parts of world in 1918. We will never understand many of its impact on our lives. Every individual, community, society and country has been affected on different scales. Let us begin with how the event is affecting people in terms of their work, lifestyles and many others.
Daily wage workers are the first lot who are affected the most. They wake up every day with hope of getting labour markets. But, their dreams are shattered, and they start counting their earning for the next couple of days. Those who have access to trusted backups start calling or visiting them—those who do not have anyone to support them are expecting assistance from the government or social organisations. In several places, local governments are supporting, but many of them are still deprived of basic needs. When the deprivation reaches a tipping point, out-flux of labourers from cities is inevitable, walking a long distance to their villages, and a few losing lives on the way.
The second group of people are as busy as bees and ensuring the continuity of essential services, food, power, water, health services for the public. They are the frontline workers responding to COVI-19 and related situation. It is because of them many people have access to these basic services. Many of them are working more than regular hours, and among them, a few health workers are providing services despite not having adequate protective gears.
A third category is a group of people who are traditionally white or pink-collar workers, owners of small businesses or enterprises and their family. Many of them are working from home. Many are missing the hustle and bustle of public transportations. Those who spend hours on window shopping are now busy surfing online shops.
Among the third category, there are some who are engaged in misinformation, disinformation and mal-information. Mostly they are either politicians or business elites or psychopaths. Many of them shares false information for their benefits, risking peoples’ lives. Another sub-group consists of people who are teleworking and busy. They are producing more results than before.
A third ninety per cent sub-category is a group of people, who are busy with social media or TV shows, gossiping and sharing information. A fourth category is a group of people who are politicians and wealthy elites, who are strategising how to use this event for their political benefits or business gains. Many of them have the good intention of protecting the economy, development and social welfare.
The behavioural practices and impact due to pandemic in their lives, economy, society and development are going to shift a paradigm to a new normal. Some of the early signs of new normal are already in place. Crisis teaches more than anything else. The world had spent billions of dollars on hand washing campaigns, but the results were never optimum. But these days, not only people are washing hands, and they are washing correctly and meticulously. Handwashing now has become a routine habit like a way people greet.
A crisis is bringing a lot of changes in the habits of the public. They are trying to be fit for the survival as Darwin explained in his “survival for the fittest”. People are keeping the surrounding clean, respecting others and strictly follow hygienic measures. Many celebrities started posting their hand-washing videos and other messages to tell what to do and what not to. It was another paradigm change when individuals started realising how they can contribute to society and humanity.
The working culture and practices of white-collar workers can change dramatically. A few business houses and industries were practising flexible working hours and a concept of remote or virtual office space before the event. But with the experience from the pandemic, many are finding teleworking more productive and result oriented than working in the office buildings. The pandemic is testing teleworking so well that many would continue the same after the dust settles. Many offices in a post-pandemic situation would prefer to continue teleworking as part of their austerity measures to compensate their losses. In a few years, working from home or teleworking would become a new normal.
Many policies, socio-economic theories, sciences, technologies and behaviours are being tested right now. The fall of governments either through a democratic process or through protests is inevitable. Survival of governments depends on their response and management of crisis. An economic recession is inevitable, and global monetary bodies are estimating a loss of trillions of dollars. The recession can impact the financing of each sector so severely that it would take at least half of the next decade to recover.
The public has short memory, and many will forget the event and the difficult time they faced. Within a year, their expectation from their government would be the same as that of the pre-crisis level. These are the factors that can challenge the stability of the government which survived both pandemic and political crisis. The fall will be not because of unpopularity, but more due to a lack of resources to meet citizens’ expectations. Countries, with surplus treasuries can bail out to businesses, but this won’t be a case in many countries. The pandemic ha hit small business so severely that they may reach the point of no return. The frustration of the people who usually swing votes in elections is increase rapidly.
Eventually, the recession would lead to the deprivation of minimum health care services, education to children and social security benefits. Cumulative effects of the above results are enough to bring a shift in existing political and socio-economic systems and theories. Many citizens of the world might incline towards a welfare state or more right or nationalistic concept. This can increase a conflict between staunch capitalist and socialist theorists and practitioners. A social market economy would be an option.
Managing the influence of private sectors on basic and essential products and services would become a big challenge, and many governments may require bailout plans for these sectors. This is the time when the government needs to implement neo-socialist capitalism that envisages a welfare state, which provides all basic needs like food, shelter, health, education, social security, power, water supplies, etc. at a price that is affordable to all.
A debate has started in a diaspora of political and social scientists on the formulation of revised political and socio-economic systems or theories. Challenges faced due to interdependencies or offshore production of essential goods and services and their timely availability during the crisis are teaching countries to re-strategise their policies. Many countries may start producing all essential products and services within their sovereign territories.
In summary, it follows the socialist principle for essential goods and services like health care, social security, education, etc. and follows the capitalistic tenets of all other non-essential and luxury products and services. It ensures support to the non-essential goods and services industries through a comprehensive economic policy. It creates a system that fulfils the needs of the entire population by combining trade, tax, customs, investment and social policies and other measures.
Lessons of the pandemic together with the upcoming economic recession and the 2008 recessions, it is a high time for governments rethink their political theories and apply neo-socialist capitalism. The neo-socialist capitalistic system can ensure the provision of essential goods and services to all the public irrespective of their capacity to pay. The system should conduct more researches to innovate and use technologies for the benefit of the public, contrary to the current system, which innovates and invents for the profit of the business houses.

(Dr Kandel is a Geneva-based public health physician and anthropologist.