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COVID19, The Economy, The Commerce, The Society and The Polity: Business Can Never be as Usual

[avatar user=”Amar” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” target=”_blank”]AMAR YUMNAM[/avatar]

The Implications:

While the world has yet to have an appropriate response to the threat caused by COVID19 infections, we are already witnessing the manifestations of usual strategic games of International Political Economy. Nothing is more unfortunate than this for the implications of the COVID19 now plaguing the world possess some critical dimensions for the continuance of human life on this planet and the civilisation we have conceived. There are inter alia at least Four Critical Dimensions:

  1. Behavioural Component: Post COVID19, all the people anywhere in the world cannot continue any longer with the production, consumption and sharing patterns as they are accustomed to today.
  2. Governance Component: All the governments so far have been used to focusing on stand-alone policies as if one action in one aspect would have nothing to do with what is happening and would impact upon in other aspects. This has been invalidated by the COVID19 crisis. Economic policies, Business policies, Social policies, Environmental policies, Domestic policies and External policies can no longer be stand-alone policies but necessarily have to be integrated policies for a shared prosperity for all; the key principle is shared prosperity.
  3. Demographic Component: The governments have so far been keenly influenced by the border (implying boundary), ethnicity (in the sense of exclusivity), attitudinal (longing to dominate over the other) and pure numbers (“For forms of government, let the fools quarrel”) in framing policies and deciding on the constituent programmes. This has to be abandoned.
  4. Development Component: The predominantly zero-sum methodology so far to development approaches and interventions relating to Nature, Materials and People have turned out to be very costly, almost to the point of costing our lives and livelihood. Reviewing this has to be initiated right ahead.

The impact so far and the unfolding dynamics of the disease establish for sure that the prevailing models of business can no longer be valid and successful in the Post-COVID19 era. There have to be revisions in the Behavioural Component, Governance Component, Demographic Component and Development Component of our approaches to prosperous survival. Further, the revisions cannot be done along the contemporary disconnected and disaggregated lines but necessarily through comprehensive approaches incorporating overlapping implications across the components. In this endeavour, we have to go back to the trajectory of ideas and development as we have understood so far.

Trajectory of Ideas:

While going back to Darwin on the origin and evolution of life would be appropriate, for the immediate purposes let us go back to William Godwin who had such a profound influence on the First Thinker on Demography, Robert Malthus. Godwin wrote in 1797 in the very first Essay of his Enquirer: Reflections On Education, Manners, And Literature thus: “The true object of education, like that of every other moral process, is the generation of happiness. Happiness to the individual in the first place. If individuals were universally happy, the species would be happy. Man is a social being. In society the interests of individuals are interwisted with each other, and cannot be separated. Men should be taught to assist each other. The first object should be to train a man to be happy; the second to train him to be useful, that is, to be virtuous. There is a further reason for this. Virtue is essential to individual happiness. There is no transport equal to that of the performance of virtue. All other happiness, which is not connected with self-approbation and sympathy, is unsatisfactory and frigid. To make a man virtuous we must make him wise. All virtue is a compromise between opposite motives and inducements. The man of genuine virtue, is a man of vigorous comprehension and long views. He who would be imminently useful, must be eminently instructed. He must be endowed with a fagacious judgment and ardent zeal. The argument in favour of wisdom or a cultivated intellect, like the argument in favour of virtue, when closely considered, shows itself to be twofold. Wisdom is not only directly a means to virtue; it is also directly a means to happiness. The man of enlightened understanding and persevering ardour, has many sources of enjoyment which the ignorant man cannot reach; and it may at least be suspected that these sources are more exquisite, more solid, more durable and more constantly accessible, than any which the wise man and the ignorant man possess in common. “Thus it appears that there are three leading objects of a just education, happiness, virtue, wisdom, including under the term wisdom both extent of information and energy of pursuit.”

It was the person who was so strongly influenced by this kind of outlook started his celebrated 1798 book on An Essay on the Principle of Population thus: “THE GREAT AND UNLOOKED FOR DISCOVERIES that have taken place of late years in natural philosophy, the increasing diffusion of general knowledge from the extension of the art of printing, the ardent and unshackled spirit of inquiry that prevails throughout the lettered and even unlettered world, the new and extraordinary lights that have been thrown on political subjects which dazzle and astonish the understanding, and particularly that tremendous phenomenon in the political horizon, the French Revolution, which, like a blazing comet, seems destined either to inspire with fresh life and vigour, or to scorch up and destroy the shrinking inhabitants of the earth, have all concurred to lead many able men into the opinion that we were touching on a period big with the most important changes, changes that would in some measure be decisive of the future fate of mankind.”

It was with this understanding that Malthus reiterated the then contemporaneous preoccupation of public mind: “It has been said that the great question is now at issue, whether man shall henceforth start forwards with accelerated velocity towards illimitable, and hitherto unconceived improvement, or be condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery, and after every effort remain still at an immeasurable distance from the wished-for goal.” This is exactly the kind of question we are face to face today. Based on his understanding of things, Malthus gave us his famous theory that “the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.”

But come 2019 when we have witnessed two opposing things. Towards the beginning of the year, we had one of the most appreciated books of the year –The Human Tide: How Population Shaped the Modern World written by Paul Morland. In this book and in way different from the Malthusian fear, Morland writes: “The great improvements in material conditions, in nutrition, in housing, in health, in education, which have swept across most of the globe since the start of the nineteenth century, have clearly been economic but they have also been demographic, which is to say they have concerned not just the way people produce and consume but also the numbers of people born, their rate of survival into adulthood, the number of children they in turn have, the age at which they die and the likelihood of their moving region, country or continent.” Now from about the end of the same year we have been fighting against COVID19 wherein social distancing is a key strategy.

Time Frame:

The trajectory of ideas and the interplay of it with the lived events call for all the nations to appropriately evolve strategies for Post-COVID19 social existence. While doing so we need to be very clear on two things. First, fighting the COVID19 is altogether different from framing the social policies. The virus is an absolutely extraneous agent over which we have no control except defending ourselves. Second, framing social policies and evolving social characteristics relate to matters over which we can apply our individual as well as collective mind. Given this differential feature, we must emphasise that the responses cannot always be based on a rush order basis. Fighting the virus has to be done right now and within a short period. But social policies are more of long term. Let us have the example of Education. Announcing the results of examinations can be treated as a short period endeavour and can be like fighting the virus. But imparting education is very much a long run intervention with multiples of long term social implications. Further while evolving countrywide policies for rebuilding prosperity Post-COVID19, we should not be repeating the old mistake of adopting homogeneous policy in a heterogeneous country. One immediate example which comes to my mind is the collective response to COVID19 reflecting secular ethnicity and sustenance of food security on indigenous products in Manipur under lockdown. We need to enhance these heterogeneous strengths across the country.

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