Wednesday Night #1986

Written by  //  April 8, 2020  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

A poignant anniversary. Two years ago, on the night of April 8th, Chairman David left us for the Wednesday Night table in The Cloud, rejoining so many cherished friends. While I am glad that he did not live to endure the Covid-19 isolation, the dangers of infection and the onslaught of depressing news of a US president who is increasingly off the rails, how he would have loved the Wednesday Night on Zoom – he would have been in his element!

Once again, coronavirus dominates every aspect of the news from Boris Johnson in intensive care to the nasty spat between the US and Canada over 3M’s shipments of masks; the never ending shenanigans in or generated by the White House; Canadians’ justifiable pride in the leadership by collaboration of the different levels of government -who expected Doug Ford to shine?-; and the cheering story of the happy outcome of New Zealand’s lockdown.
In contrast, C. Uday Bhaskar writes movingly of the plight of the migrant workers under the draconian measures of India‘s clampdown in India could be staring at a human security catastrophe.
In Singapore, always of special interest to Wednesday Night, a new COVID surge has been met with drastic action that sees up to 200,000 migrant workers confined in close quarters to dormitories as part of its “circuit breaker” measures – a semi-lockdown period during which all schools and non-essential workplaces will be closed until early May.
In Africa While transmission rates are still low, the key fear is over what happens next. Will a young population help stem the spread of disease, or will it unleash catastrophe on creaking health systems?
Europe is not faring well as EU ministers fail to agree coronavirus economic rescue
(Reuters) – European Union finance ministers failed in all-night talks to agree on more economic support for their coronavirus-stricken economies, spurring Spain to warn the bloc’s future was on the line if it did not forge a joint response to the crisis. And Spain’s coronavirus deaths pass 14,500, but real toll may be bigger.

In their weekly Diplomatic Community dialogue, Larry Haas and Jeremy Kinsman paid tribute to the way Canada handled the 3M dust-up with the White House and discussed the world leadership vacuum at this time, deploring Trump’s lack of interest in convoking a crisis meeting for the G7 and the G20, currently led by Saudi Arabia totally MIA.

Politico‘s new nightly newsletter on Monday The search for a cure looks at some of the drugs — to test for, to treat and to prevent Covid-19 — that scientists are researching. Some are coming soon, and others are still some ways off. Mention is made of hydroxychloroquine, the pill typically used to treat malaria and lupus, which Trump is touting to the dismay of some of his medical advisors. Joining the Cheerleader in Chief is a motley crew led by -wait for it- a resurrected Rudy Giuliani and including White House trade adviser Peter Navarro who maintains that he is qualified to debate Dr. Anthony Fauci because “I’m a social scientist,” adding “I have a Ph.D. And I understand how to read statistical studies, whether it’s in medicine, the law, economics or whatever.” Seriously, we could not make this up! On the other hand, as our economists might say, Peter Navarro, now the administration’s point person for supply chain issues for medical and other equipment needed to deal with the virus, did warn Trump administration officials in late January of the danger that the coronavirus crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.

Andrew Caddell writes in The Hill Times: The role of the WHO in this crisis has been tarnished by politicsA poisonous cocktail of money and internal and global politics has left the WHO damaged by aligning with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s mendaciousness of the perils and spread of COVID-19. … as we note the egregious influence of China’s Xi Jinping in this crisis on current WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia. Many factors contribute to this policy of compliance.

We all have almost unlimited source of news and information from every corner of the earth, so rather than review what you already know, this week we offer some long reads and invite you to contribute your thoughts, arguments, solutions regarding how the world will emerge from the coronavirus crisis.

In Canada and a number of Western developed nations, mostly positive personal experience of community conformity and compassion coupled with governments rushing to supply safety nets for business,  suddenly unemployed workers and the homeless, leads one to an optimistic view of a new order. Will people return to their former habits, or be happy to disconnect from the Internet and enjoy a new appreciation of human companionship (although perhaps practicing social distancing from the families with whom they have been confined)? Will there be renewed calls for action to combat climate change and preserve an environment that has suddenly become cleaner? Will there be higher value placed on local businesses and greater respect for the underpaid workers who have ensured our safety and security?  Will citizens begin to insist on continued cooperation among the different levels of government? How will professional services and industry sectors cope with the urgent backlog of activities ranging from elective surgeries to scheduling construction?
In Stop talking about basic income and do it, Diana Duong interviews Dr. Evelyn Forget, author of Basic Income for Canadians, while CBC’s Michael Enright interviewed Hugh Segal about his latest book, Boot Straps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada. (See Amidst a global pandemic, Hugh Segal’s call for a guaranteed annual income is even more timely)

But, what about the rest of the world? Will the naysaying leaders who did not respond to the pandemic in timely fashion ever be called to account? Will there be civil unrest in nations with vast social inequality like Brazil? Will recovering economies rush to prop up their star industries, or introduce policies that favor broader and deeper economic recovery? Will there be concerted efforts to reduce inequality and improve the lot of migrant workers?

And the future of multiculturalism? The Monocle Foreign Desk (audio) recently aired a segment honouring multilateralism’s hundredth birthday, dating from the founding of the League of Nations. Asking As the world attempts to tackle a global crisis, what have our multilateral institutions learned?, the discussion includes reform of the UN and analysis of the efficacy of individual programs, such as WHO, UNHCR. See also Populism not dead but multilateralism gaining ground.

We admit we took Philippe Couillard to task for his opportunistic offer of his services (Philippe Couillard réclame une cellule de sortie de crise),  it is becoming increasingly urgent to consider what our world will be once the pandemic panic has faded, what must be done to ensure that some of the lessons learned are applied, that perhaps momentary flashes of great goodwill endure, while some of the authoritarian grabs for unlimited power do not, and a kinder, gentler, cooperative, multilateral world order prevails.
After absorbing such bleak commentary as How the right is responding to the coronavirus: denial, realism or dangerous contrarianism and We’re a nation all too ripe for another shock, it is time for the thinkers and doers to concentrate on how to work for a positive future based on the pandemic experience.

We recommend starting with Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How.
A global, novel virus that keeps us contained in our homes —maybe for months— is already reorienting our relationship to government, to the outside world, even to each other. Some changes these experts expect to see in the coming months or years might feel unfamiliar or unsettling: Will nations stay closed? Will touch become taboo? What will become of restaurants? A crisis on this scale can reorder society in dramatic ways, for better or worse. Here are 34 big thinkers’ predictions for what’s to come.

From the Washington Post
History’s deadliest pandemics, from ancient Rome to modern America
The novel coronavirus has taken just a few months to sweep the globe. How many will die, how societies will change — those questions are impossible to fathom as the disease rages. But history shows that past pandemics have reshaped societies in profound ways. Hundreds of millions of people have died. Empires have fallen. Governments have cracked. Generations have been annihilated. Here is a look at how pandemics have remade the world.

Brookings:  Stretching the international order to its breaking point
A long crisis, which is more likely than not, could stretch the international order to its breaking point. Even after a vaccine is available, life will not go back to normal. COVID-19 was not a black swan and will not be the last pandemic. A nervous world will be permanently changed.
… No one knows how exactly, but educated guesses are possible. A collection of massive domestic crises will collide, as health systems collapse or come close to it and governments struggle with double-digit unemployment, a severe recession or depression, plummeting revenue, increased expenditure, and mounting debt. Intermittent shutdowns, returns to work followed by retreats, and the continued suppression of demand are likely. The recession will look more like an L or W shape than a V. Companies and governments will run out of cash. They may default on debts, which will have ripple effects for other companies and could destabilize financial institutions.

Will coronavirus signal the end of capitalism?
The peasants’ revolt after the 14th-century plague saw off feudalism. After COVID-19, will it be the turn of capitalism?
Though the COVID-19 virus may kill between 1 percent and 4 percent of those who catch it, it is about to have an impact on a much more complex economy than the one that existed back in the 1340s – one with a much more fragile geopolitical order, and on a society already gripped with foreboding over climate change.
Let us consider the massive changes the pandemic has already forced.
First, the partial shutdown of daily life in large parts of China, India, most of Europe and numerous states in America. Second, significant damage to the reputations of governments and political elites who either denied the seriousness of the crisis, or in the initial stages proved incapable of mobilising their healthcare systems to meet it. Third, an immediate slump in consumer spending across all major economies which is certain to provoke the deepest recession in living memory: share prices have already collapsed and this, in turn, hurts middle-class families whose pension funds have to invest in shares. Meanwhile, the solvency of airlines, airports and hotel chains is in doubt.

Past pandemics change the future for the better
If history is any indication, lasting positive changes will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Multimedia journalist Jordan Heuvelmans points to research that led to government action with important benefits for society. Further, she cites Eric Klinenberg, a professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University, who told Politico that we could see less individualism in the future as we look towards solutions that benefit the entire community. With COVID-19 exposing all of these social inequalities, there is a need for those barriers to be broken. We don’t know how long we’ll be fighting the virus, but if history is any indication, lasting changes will come out of this that will help improve our livelihoods, and make our community changed for the better in the long run.

In an interview with Project Syndicate (paywall), Kemal Derviş suggests “there are reasons to hope that the pandemic could lead to greater international cooperation. We are also seeing an unprecedented level of open scientific collaboration, aimed at developing vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics. Japan and China – usually rivals – quickly offered each other generous aid. Even US and Chinese leaders pledged mutual support in a phone call on March 26!
Such support must extend to developing countries as well. In fact, if the developed economies neglect poor countries’ enormous needs during this crisis, it would foster deep resentment that would be very difficult to manage in the future. It would also likely lead to additional waves of infections globally – including in the rich countries that have contained the virus.”

Writing in The Guardian, professor and clinical psychologist Steven Taylor of UBC predicts For the generation shaped by coronavirus, life may never fully return to ‘normal’
Based on the hallmarks of previous pandemics, some of my predictions about coronavirus have proved eerily correct. I imagined that we’d see growing anxiety, racism, panic-buying, the proliferation of conspiracy theories, and sporadic instances of looting and theft – but also altruism and generosity, as people reached out to the physically isolated with offers of help. … Other psychological effects will have more to do with environmental and social changes. Covid-19 has forced societies to trial entirely new ways of living. School lessons have moved online; work meetings take place over Zoom; groceries are delivered via Amazon. We’re living through the first global pandemic in the digital age, where the internet has made it possible to withdraw from the outside world.
Even before the outbreak, people were already working from home, shopping online, and having food delivered, rather than going to restaurants. The outbreak may have further entrenched the direction in which society was already heading. After coronavirus has passed, we may find that life never fully returns to “normal”. Risk-averse, digitally connected people could continue retreating to the safety of home.

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