The Covid-19 pandemic has made us realise our fragilities, as well as our interconnectedness and interdependence as a global community.
“This is our wake-up call. I am convinced that we are at an inflection point in human history. All the suffering will not have been in vain if the pandemic can prove to be a portal to a better world,” Ian Goldin, Professor of Development and Globalisation at the University of Oxford and the founding director of Oxford University’s interdisciplinary Oxford Martin School told a GIBS online Forum.
Speaking to former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, Goldin said his concern is “that we bounce back onto the road we were on, which is leading us over a precipice. My nightmare is the language of reset, which implies we go back to the operating system that we had before, which gave us the pandemic and is giving us rising inequality.”
The biggest failure of the pandemic has been in international solidarity and a contraction of international aid at a time when it is most needed. Vaccine nationalism is another aspect of inequality, with “devastating consequences for poor people and poor countries,” Goldin said.
“If this pandemic does not help us to understand our codependency and mutuality, then we will be in a very grave situation. If we don’t stop Covid everywhere, we don’t stop it anywhere.”
Goldin’s new book Rescue: From Global Crisis to a Better World presents an optimistic vision of the future after Covid-19. In it, he confronts the challenges and opportunities posed by the pandemic, ranging from globalisation to the future of jobs, income inequality and geopolitics, the climate crisis, and the modern city.
Call for a global coalition for change and cooperation
Just as the aftermath of the Second World War led to the creation of the welfare state and multilateral organisations such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund, this crisis can create opportunities for change and a host of other social and economic reforms to change the world for the better.
“Pandemics require all countries to participate and has shown us we have a mutuality of interest in stopping this and other global crises,” Goldin said.
He called for a creative coalition for change, not necessarily only between nations, but also between like-minded cities, communities, and corporations to address the issues of climate change and create global solidarity on tax to reduce inequality.
Goldin said the looming Cold War with China led by the United States is a dangerous development in international relations: “If we go back to Cold War politics, we cannot solve any global problem, whether it is vaccine distribution or climate change.” Global co-operation is in the world’s best interest, Manuel reinforced.
Inequality and the disproportionate burden of the pandemic
The pandemic has come at an immense cost. Goldin said that advanced economies have been able to “tear up their rule books and create debt at unprecedented levels,” but this option has not been available to developing countries, which has added to the stark exacerbation of inequality. “Within and between countries there is an increase in inequality, of both income and of health,” Goldin said.
While many of those with existing assets in the form of property and stock market investments and individuals who have been able to continue working remotely throughout the pandemic continue to earn and accumulate wealth, workers in the informal sector have been at the greatest risk with no income support or healthcare.
“We have seen extraordinary developments with extreme increases in poverty and in wealth,” Goldin said.
The pandemic has derailed education and delayed the UN Sustainable Development Goals by at least 10 years, he argued.
“The response has to be a very strong redistribution of wealth and a basic income grant. People need guarantees of basic services such as healthcare, education, and shelter.” This would require a global action campaign, similar to the Make Poverty History movement, in order to raise awareness and increase political pressure for action.
Opportunity to reimagine cities
One of the opportunities presented by the pandemic is the reimagining of the modern city as “areas with the most potential for innovation, dynamism and creativity. The future of cities is critical as it is where most of the world’s inhabitants live,” Goldin explained.
The pandemic has created the potential to accelerate the cities of the future and to reconfigure the empty office buildings and high streets to be more community-focused and to reduce carbon emissions.
Cities are driving forces for change in the world but can also be desperately lonely places and places of very serious inequality. While the opportunity is exciting, Goldin said he is worried about the financial dynamics of cities as wealthy tenants move out, with revenue collapsing, resulting in a downward spiral.
“Cities need international support in the form of concessional lending from international institutions and city alliances” to fully grasp the potential of the moment.
Goldin suggested South Africa could use the current opportunity to redress and leapfrog the inequality that still remains across many of its urban centres as a result of apartheid spatial planning.
Goldin concluded that people around the world “need to feel there is an alternative vision for the future, an alternative which offers a better life for all and creates a more stable and sustainable world.
“We mustn’t allow the fact that some countries are slowing progress to stop the train. There needs to be other drivers, and South Africa has an important role to play in the coalition.”
Relying on established multilateral organisations such as the United Nations is to “rely on something that is totally gridlocked. Unless we create momentum in other ways, I think we are stuck in the present.”