As the world is witnessing a global pandemic caused by the Chinese Corona virus (widely known as COVID-19), ‘public health’ has topped on the agenda of all national governments throughout the world. Lockdown and social distancing have become common words all over the world. Various governments have used their powers to control the spread of the virus within their geographical territory. Their decisions are unfurling new information about how the rulers preserve their interests while choosing one policy instrument over others. Interestingly, people’s response to government decisions is also bringing new light on the social structure of the 21st century.
Big businessmen and philanthropists like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Fashion designer Giorgio Armani, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and many others have donated billions of dollars of money to fight against the pandemic. One can understand the role of super-rich people’s donation in the developing and underdeveloped countries as their national governments have to concurrently deal with many other important issues such as hunger, poverty, etc. However, it is worrying to see developed countries taking help from rich people in emergencies. The virus has exposed the vulnerability of public health systems in developed countries. For me, this indicates that something is wrong with their governance system.
The role of any public health system during a pandemic is to prevent the spread of disease as well as to cure the infected patients. It seems like the flourished neoliberal economies in the developed countries have failed to strengthen their public health system during the absence of pandemic as they had other things prioritized on their governance agenda. This has resulted in the chaos that we are seeing today! Rich is funding for public health rather than government and democracies are praising themselves on their government’s performance.
In another development, power-hungry rulers are looking at this pandemic as an opportunity to fetch more power in their hands. In Hungary, by-elections are suspended and the Prime Minister received sweeping powers from the parliament to rule by decree without any concrete time limit to it under the name of ‘health emergency’.
China is an example of power-hungry rulers which showcases how modern days’ authoritarian powers may backfire the government. Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina in her recent article in The Atlantic magazine compared China’s failure in the identification of the Corona virus with The Great Chinese Famine that happened in 1959 during the Mao Era. There are speculations that authorities in Wuhan might have misled the central government in the fear of reporting bad news. The global environment would not have been suffering through the pandemic if the local authorities had reported accurate information on time! If the speculation is proved to be true, it will send a message to all governments to maintain accountability and transparency in the governance system as a feedback loop to avoid any such misadventure in the future. South Korea and Kerala (State in southern India) can be seen as two ideal governments who have followed this principle of accountability and transparency while fighting against the virus and achieved appreciable success in it.
As said earlier, governments need to be open enough to listen to the public through different stakeholders in society. The United States of America can be seen as experiencing democratic authoritarianism wherein expert opinions are offending the federal government. President Donald Trump’s decision to step out of Paris agreement, slashing funds of science, technology, and climate change-related research and closing down the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense showcase how authoritarianism can backfire the government at critical junctures. What follows with such backfiring is the illusion that the governments create to show people that the state is doing something, Trump is not an exclusion to this!
The ongoing pandemic has shown two interesting patterns in international politics. One is that nations have been lauding each other’s efforts in handling the pandemic. People under the lockdown are being fed with foreign media’s news that praises their domestic government’s performance to hide the inefficiencies in the governance system. Another newly emerging pattern is the aggressive criticism of international organizations, particularly the World Health Organization in an ongoing situation to target other nations for the blame-game. This much of aggressive criticism has never happened in recent history
In and all, this pandemic has revealed how fragile and unprepared our existing governance systems are! We, as a global population needs to revise the basic foundations on which social structures like ‘governance’ are built upon so that it can safeguard in the future unforeseen event!
Note: While most of the arguments are based on authors self-observation and analysis of ongoing events, readers can refer following articles to read more on some of the arguments mentioned in this blog post.
Image Source: Authors creation
- Applebaum, A. (2020, March 23). The People in Change See an Opportunity. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/when-disease-comes-leaders-grab-more-power/608560/
- Harvey, D. (2020, March). Anti-Capitalist Politics in the Time of COVID-19. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from Jacobinmag: https://jacobinmag.com/2020/03/david-harvey-coronavirus-political-economy-disruptions?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=5ef9cb4135123ee9693dd09ba17c101cb3e54c3c-1587881452-0-AesH_Sz0R2g91YVy1mWRVo3DYM_54A1g3es9QDCiQCi7tyd5uvAbnjuockKsI66wb2J5U8CGd3V6-o_2iNFIuhPE7EyQ2H3
- Reich, R. (2020, March 22). The Dangers of relying on Philanthropists. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from Wired: https://www.wired.com/story/opinion-the-dangers-of-relying-on-philanthropists-during-pandemics/
- Tufekci, Z. (2020, February 22). How the Corona virus Revealed Authoritarianism’s Fatal Flaw. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/02/coronavirus-and-blindness-authoritarianism/606922/
- Tufekci, Z. (2020, March 15). Trump, Truth, and the Mishandling of the Corona virus Crisis. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from Newyorker.com: https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/trump-truth-and-the-mishandling-of-the-coronavirus-crisis
This blog post was originally written on 25th April, 2020 while the developments related to Chines Corona pandemic were still going on. Any political developments thereafter will obviously not have been registered while writing this blog post.