By Roberto Savio*
The letter of 7 April 2020 calling for immediate international action to address issues arising from the COVID-19 crisis sent to the G20 by more than 200 former world leaders, leading economists and global health experts, makes sad reading.
The letter, sent by a group that claims the right to speak on behalf of humanity – when the United Nations was founded for this – demonstrates how a diverse group of personalities, some of whom such as the former Argentine president Mauricio Macri, are the opposite example of good governance and close the circle on the status quo.
The document, which incidentally has the mediocre flaw of seeking the lowest common denominator rather than the greatest common divisor, returns to giving the same recipe that has never worked: making the system generated by the Bretton Woods agreements responsible for international order.
We have already forgotten that the international financial system was one of the signatories of the famous Washington Consensus created by the US Treasury and the organisations involved in the Bretton Woods agreements, which forced the world to consider markets the only dominant value after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Washington Consensus signatories forced the various states – and obviously the poorest and most defenceless of the system – to accept the idea of minimising their regulatory capacity as moderators and promoters of growth, cutting all that was not immediately productive: health, education, research and everything that made up national welfare systems.
This action was decisive in reducing the standard of living of the poorest classes. The inevitable failure forced Bretton Woods, not long ago, to return to indicating the state as an indispensable player in the governability that had been delegated to the private sector.
After an orgy of neoliberalism – in which, for example, the former President of the United States Ronald Reagan wanted to eliminate the Ministry of Education in his country and privatise the entire health system, or in which former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said that “there is no such thing as society: there are individuals, men and women and there are families” – the United Nations’ power of action has been reduced to a sort of powerful NGO, something like a super Red Cross of nations.
The power to make political decisions has been eliminated and only the problems of childhood, poverty and education have been entrusted to it. Several countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom or Singapore, for example, have withdrawn from UNESCO.
The G20 has claimed the right to be the global tool of governance and the Davos Economic Forum has become the annual meeting of the financial, corporate and political system that makes global decisions without anyone having chosen it.
The letter to the G20 is full of good intentions, respects the most fragile countries and the need to act in the field of health, but today it does not escape five fundamental problems that the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly revealed:
1 – It does not refer to the role of the nation states, giving the Bretton Woods System responsibility for solving problems.
2 – Once again the foundations are laid for the path that generated the 2008 crisis, which was a crisis of financial markets. Which means we don’t understand that this time we are facing a global collapse of the system. There is no suggestion in this letter concerning this. Telling governments to stop cutting health, education, research and again prioritising social justice and reducing inequality is an essential indication.
3 – There is no reference to the need to return to a political vision based on common values, such as solidarity, participation and cooperation. This omission totally reveals the intentions of many of its signatories.
4 – There is no reference to civil society, which is playing an increasingly key role in making up for the shortcomings of states; this is not recognised and is not asked for support.
5 – The fact of completely ignoring the tragic issue of climate change and the harmful interference of man in nature is symptomatic. The arrival of a virus transmitted to humans from over-exploitation of the animal kingdom calls for an urgent approach. The pandemic has come to remind us of this, not to make us forget it.
These are just some of the omissions that make this document a simple dejà vu. The numbers it suggests for dealing with the pandemic are also lower than the real numbers.
The problem is obvious and serious. If some innovative and holistic actions had been proposed in this letter, the number of signatories would have been significantly reduced. The pandemic blatantly demonstrates that human society exists, that the market cannot solve global problems in the interest of humanity.
It is ironic that the entire industrial and financial sector is now asking the state to come to its aid. What is evident is that this virus will irreversibly change the way we live. Without suggesting a debate on the current geopolitical system devoid of values, with the intention of creating a different sustainable system, it is clear if avoiding facing the obvious structural problems persists, the great efforts of budgets and sacrifices that are being made will only cause an increase in global debt which will leave us even less prepared for the next virus. Let’s not forget that COVID-19 comes after the epidemics of SARS, swine fever, avian flu, Ebola or MERS.
Meanwhile, the poles continue to melt, forest mass is disappearing, biodiversity is decreasing as are available water reserves, there is an increase in hurricanes increase, and so on. I wonder what has yet to happen to make us decide to get rid of the culture of the Washington Consensus and put humans and their habitat at the centre of the system, not the financial market. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 April 2020]
* Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of an anti-neoliberal global governance. Director for international relations of the European Center for Peace and Development. Adviser to INPS-IDN and to the Global Cooperation Council. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.