Building back better after COVID19 means thinking deeply, prioritising the vulnerable and coming together.
COVID-19 has gripped the world, but we must not forget that other world issues do not come to a halt in the midst of a pandemic. In fact, many experts have expressed concern that the stagnation of economic development across the globe will make matters far worse. So, how can we tackle the virus and ensure we’re in a position to build back better?
Every country is different
The first thing to note is the need for contextually relevant solutions. Governments across the world will have to invest in social welfare, but effective budgeting looks different depending on the social situation in a given country. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, there are certain principles, from the field of welfare economics, that should help to guide these decisions.
Given the current global situation, the best welfare function would be something called the ‘Maximin/Rawlsian function’. Essentially intervening with a focus on improving things for the least well-off members of society.
For example, in developing countries interventions would target those in absolute poverty whereas in countries like the UK interventions will be targeted towards the elderly and those in relative poverty. In practice this can work by Governments making use of the “big push theory”- by investing broadly in various sectors. These investments will help society directly and indirectly, from the bottom up.
A direct investment would be something like increasing food programs that lowers malnutrition in children (often the most vulnerable group). Whereas an indirect investment could be in an irrigation system that allows people to earn their own income and thus increase their living standards. Both have their pros and cons; however, these investments will only become fruitful if they are made in various sectors. There is no point in investing in education if child mortality rates are high. That is why breadth and diversity of investment is so important.
That having been said; how can governments afford these broad investments while keeping up the fight against COVID-19?
Building Back better takes funding
The simple answer is through bonds and loans from the IMF (International Monetary Fund) or other international financing bodies. However, we must avoid toxic debt cycles. The international response should be a collective response. A global virus needs a global response. Historic (and colonial) debts should be written off in-order to keep debt repayments low.
We need to come together. This should mean greater communication between countries as well as sharing of resources. To give an example of this, countries with lower cases should help countries facing their peak and this should cause a chain reaction of countries helping each other based on which part of the curve they are on. Greater communication and information flows will also help us to find treatments and vaccinations.
Once a treatment has been found, it should be the moral duty of all countries to ensure that this treatment is not only accessible to those who can afford it. Since the virus does not discriminate neither should the availability of a future treatment. Hence, organisations like the WHO need to ensure equitable allocation of prospective treatments.
Look to the Future - Stay positive
I wanted to write this because I think planning out solutions helps to cultivate ‘hope with reason.’ Human beings have a built-in negativity instinct; a tendency to notice the bad more than good. It helped us survive in the wild. In-fact recent studies have shown it takes 3 positive outcomes to offset one negative one. But, especially now, we are subjected to a never-ending cascade of negative news from around the world. We can’t will the horror of this virus away by ignoring the negatives, but we can ‘hope with reason.’
Things can be bad but can get better. Next time you see the number of deaths on the news, instead of letting the negative instinct kick in, remind yourself the situation is bad but by following government guidelines, coming together and looking out for each other, it will improve. And start thinking about how we can enact bottom up, collective change.
Stay home, stay safe and remember all can be well!