Democracy X Corona

The toll taken by the Corona Virus on human life and on livelihoods is enormous. It is difficult to find a silver lining in such terrible events. But the virus outbreak is exposing interesting phenomena and trends:

1. Students of globalisation and network theory are having their moment.

2. We can’t afford to have populist, extreme right-wing, lying politicians leading us. We need TRUTH and SCIENCE to combat the outbreak. Fake news and conspiracy theories immobilise people and make them take the wrong decisions. Listening to the BBC this morning, I heard an English woman say “I don’t know what to do, information is so confusing!”. We need to have access to the correct information to be able to make the right choices. The outbreak has revealed the true capabilities of extreme-right wing politicians: they are desperately devoid of ideas and can’t take the right decisions, because populism is based on lies and fantasy, and denies or ignores science.

3. We can’t survive without collective action, and without accountable governments. It is not Google or Apple or Tesla who are putting 60 million people on lockdown in Italy: the Italian State (as chaotic as it is) is doing that. The Italian state also organises FREE UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE, which ultimately will be a decisive factor in this war against the virus. Many Americans are scared of medical bills and hesitate to go the doctor. Others in the Global South don’t have access to good health care. Hesitation and lack of access to health care can be fatal. 

And now Italy is talking about putting people who have “independent” jobs (like UBER) on WELFARE BENEFITS, even if they know Italy will go into recession. 

We must not let the “market” dictate what is good or bad in our societies. Maybe it is possible to organise ourselves differently and to consume less and to grow less. But we can’t do anything individually: we need collective, coordinated, democratic and accountable ACTION.

4. There is a whole discussion on the efficacy of democracies to deal with such large scale societal emergencies. Some people argue that democracies are too “disorganised”, people are unruly and democratic countries cannot tell people what to do effectively. People will just not obey authority, while authoritarians states have a better chance to succeed, because people are more used to comply. 

I disagree with this argument. I think democracies are more effective in disclosing real information that is vital for people to make decisions. China is doing a wonderful job containing the outbreak, and I am forever grateful for my dear Chinese students who are so mindful of their colleagues and so patient with people’s ignorance about China. 

But the truth is that the lack of transparency and accountability were a big problem when the outbreak started. Yes, China is able to put millions of people on lockdown, and people seem to comply. But the costs of misinformation and mistreatment of vulnerable people in China are enormous.

Italy is a notoriously unruly country, where people have little regard for authority. But what you see there is that society and government start to work together and find solutions. It is not perfect, and there are rumours of people who are not cooperating, but in general society comes together to tackle the threat. 

Please, tell me what you think and let me know about the stories you are living. I am really curious about this discussion and obviously I don’t have the answers.


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