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How Covid-19 is shifting free market tectonic plates

covid 19

By Muhammed Nafih Wafy

Covid-19 has brought free market juggernaut to a grinding halt; now if we are serious about changing the course of history, we can’t afford to lay waste to this pandemic

It’s nearly ten months since the Covid-19 first broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and now with many parts of the world in the midst of a second wave of what has turned out to be a deadly pandemic, it’s still a matter of conjecture how long it will take before the virus is fully contained and the normalcy is restored.

However, while attempting to find quick fixes to circumvent the current crisis, we tend to miss out on the larger picture, more disturbing questions the Coronavirus raises about the sustainability of our life, our species as well as our planet.

The uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 is as much about its origin as its end. Therefore, any serious attempt to eradicate the deadly virus cannot be complete without diagnosing the root cause of its very existence. Any solution that does not address the reason why the virus is here in the first place will become only a temporary patch-up.

Today we are pretty much clueless not only about when and how the pandemic is going to end but also of how and why it originated. Barring the ill-fated wet market in Wuhan to where we conveniently trace the origin of the pandemic, much of how and why the pandemic is here remains a mystery.

There are theories and speculations rife regarding the outbreak of the virus, especially its specific mutation that set off the current pandemic. But it seems we don’t much bother about the origin as much as we are obsessed with finding a vaccine to wipe the contagion off once and for all.

It seems our biggest priority is to clean the mess created by the pandemic and restore the normal order of life it sought to disrupt. Therefore, we cannot afford to philosophize amid a crisis about why it broke out and why it brought the ‘triumphant march’ of human civilization, aboard the neoliberal, capitalist chariot, to a standstill.

But this obsession with finding an immediate solution while turning a blind eye to the circumstances which brought the virus into being and contributed to its global spread, risks ignoring the true symptoms of the disease.

What we desperately seek is a vaccine to put the chariot back on track and resume the march, no matter what triggered the deadly contagion, what accelerated its rapid spread, what made the fight against it a debilitating task for the most disadvantaged of the world’s population, with its repercussions and economic impacts heavily skewed against them. We do not want to poke our nose to those disturbing questions. We do not bother if what triggered today’s contagion can cause it again tomorrow, as if we are rest assured that the free market will find its way out then.

Now, ten months into the reign of pandemic, we need to look at this terrible predicament for human civilization from a boarder, cosmic perspective, connecting it with a string of other man-made crises such as recurring epidemics, natural calamities, global warming, growing inequality etc. But, on the contrary, we are looking to take some shortcuts and quick fixes to get past the temporary hurdles blocking the victory march of free market capitalism. We consider the current pandemic as merely a traffic block that needs to be circumvented.

But we cannot afford to lay waste this pandemic. If the current crisis does not encourage us to do an introspection of the way our governments rule our citizens, our corporates exploit our resources, our technocrats manage our economies, our systems and ideologies treat the unprivileged who constitute a major chunk of world population, we are likely to head from a deadly pandemic to a series of similar crises that will make human life more miserable on the earth.

We can no longer ignore the writings on the wall which now the Coronavirus has made more visible to us. And we cannot gloss over the fact that the pandemic has shaken the very foundation of our neoliberal, free-market order as never before. What had a humble beginning as an infectious disease in a Chinese city swept the entire world at an alarming pace, bringing industries and businesses to a grinding halt, grounding airlines and marooning travellers. Economies the world over were found in tatters as governments who had touted stringent austerity measures were suddenly seen pumping trillions of dollars to cushion the blow of the pandemic.

Coronavirus has proven that an epidemic can render our great plans, grand strategies and glorified ideologies irrelevant overnight. Apart from the rising death rates, one of the most frightening aspects of the Covid-19 was that it caught the whole world unawares. No one could understand the magnitude and impact of the crisis the pandemic unleashed. While the world’s economically and technologically advanced countries were not prepared to face the enormous challenges posed by the deadly contagion, the movers and shakers of the world were left dumbfounded as their estimations of GDP growth and economic recovery were proven fatally wrong.

The planet-wide panic and paranoia the pandemic has triggered proves that the world hardly moves the way our free market policy makers planned and aspired. It shows we could not have ignored some saner voices which drowned in the free market cacophony. History has a way of correcting our mistakes and forcing us to take a path we are least accustomed to. Currently we are at a critical juncture in our civilization where we should pay heed to those saner voices and make a course correction. This is not the time to talk about the grandiosity of our past plans and ideologies that have already failed.

The uncertainty about the future always makes us prepare for it in advance. We plan and strategize to make sure that the future unfolds the way we want it. But when the future turns out the way it wants to turn out, we are forced to revise our strategies and redraft our plans. When we wade into the uncharted territories of the future, it behooves us to revise our plans and roll out new strategies. Now is the time we need new plans and dreams to help us navigate the choppy waters ahead. If we fail to pause and take our lessons from the pandemic, we will be missing an opportunity to mend the wayward course our civilization has taken.

Muhammed Nafih Wafy is an Indian journalist and writer currently based in the Middle East

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