But nobody dared to touch the scheme based on unlimited growth and immediate profit, fueled by the financial economy and short-term market speculation. We have seen these days to what extent stock markets, with the bearish positions and short sales, unscrupulously sink with the excuse of the pandemic and with no other purpose than to “bounce”: to continue making money no matter what else.
Until four days ago, Donald Trump bragged about how Wall Street markets were stronger than ever, and how the American economy was at its best. All thanks to its policy of trade confrontation with China and its renewed protectionism, withdrawal of multilateralism, and widespread tax cuts, especially to companies and large fortunes, whose lobbyists in Washington have had champagne for breakfast since November 2016. Everyone was washing their hands and foresaw a glorious reelection.
In his bewilderment at the unexpected factor of the pandemic, Trump even went as far as to assert on February 28 that the coronavirus alert was just another set-up by the Democrats (their new hoax). A farce to discredit him. Until the virus imposed its stubborn reality and has forced him, like almost all affected governments, to adopt harsh containment measures, prior to those of total confinement.
Disruption and hope
We do not know to what extent the system will suffer and if this crisis will be deep enough to cause substantial changes.
At the moment, concerns about the consequences of economic stagnation are causing a change of focus, and it seems that the injection of liquidity is the first emergency measure. This implies a relaxation of the limits of public indebtedness that were tightened by the 2008 crisis and justified austerity policies, including major cuts in public health with devastating consequences for the most vulnerable sectors of the population.
Pre-existing levels of inequality are going to be a key factor in measuring the social consequences of expected sharp falls in GDP. Furthermore, in regions where the informal economy predominates, such as in Latin America, too many people will find themselves without any income if the streets are emptied, as seems to be the case.
In any case, ‘disruption’ is the name of the game now. And it gives us a lot to think about. The economic and social reorganization caused by this new situation should represent an important opportunity to rethink various aspects of our daily life and of the values that drive our individual and collective aspirations.
The confinement that tens of millions of citizens are living in Europe can be used to reflect and rethink our schemes, today adapted to a quick and superficial reading of a reality that changes at full speed depending on work, news, events social, cultural and sports, and depending on our leisure schedules based on the consumption of goods and the tourism boom. Travel, travel, travel, that is the dream that nourishes our spirit. Travel to photograph ourselves happily, and to self-contemplate ourselves.
Perhaps it is a good time to recapture old ideas that emerged in the second half of the last century, when everything that is happening now was just an improbable dystopia.
Take Gaia’s hypothesis – developed by British chemist James Lovelock alongside microbiologist Jean Margulis in the 1970s – that the planet is self-regulating through the interaction between living things and the inorganic environment on earth. Gaia’s goal is to maintain a balance in the ecosystem that allows her to stay alive.
Beyond debatable scientific credibility, Gaia is a very useful philosophical metaphor. What Gaia’s hypothesis could be telling us is that the current pandemic is nothing more than a defense mechanism for life on earth, a kind of antibody against an especially aggressive and toxic factor for the ecosystem: the human species in permanent demographic explosion.
The virus would be, in this daring hypothesis (since there have been other epidemics when our presence on the planet was much less predominant), a way of abruptly stopping the enormous pressure that our species exerts on the climate and natural disasters, which are increasingly frequent.
The virus stops fossil fuel emissions in its tracks, and a sudden drop in traffic at all levels (land, sea, air) immediately improves the quality of the air we breathe in cities, as no international treaty has managed to do. The fall in consumption and confinement also lower the demand for many superfluous products and many unnecessary trips.
The virus also has the virtue of making us equal, even momentarily, rich and poor, powerful and humble: we can all be equally infected. Populism and nationalism, which have been rising since the 30s of the last century, show their clear limits: there are no borders for the virus, nor does it distinguish between races or religions; it demands solidarity among all, with a focus on political public services of a social nature, starting with universal healthcare.
The State, which has been the target of systematic attacks by neoliberalism that looks to reduce it to its minimum expression, also makes perfect sense again, because it is the only one that can guarantee us protection against the consequences of the pandemic, present and especially future.
The absolute hiatus forces us to reflect on time, which we have lost the measure of in our crazy daily race to get financial resources, to ensure that we can continue running the next day. Suddenly, thanks to the virus, we share time with our partners and children, and we realize that in this hyperconnected world, we actually have very little communication with our immediate surroundings.
The conronavirus reveals to us that it is possible to work from home and how useless and costly daily commutes are, which add up to more than two hours lost in most of our metropolises. And we also discover that there is a forgotten analogue world: that of the books that accumulate on the shelves, waiting, now, for an opportunity to be read, and also the art of conversation.
Finally, by forcing us to maintain a “social distance”, the virus makes us value the sense of proximity with our fellow citizens, and the importance of hugs and kisses that are now forbidden to us.