Stemming Democracy in the Time of a Pandemic
What kind of emotions do we feel when we fail someone close to us? Is there a surge of anger, remorse, or guilt within oneself? Does an institution, like a corporate company or a government, feel the same when they fail someone? Or is it a quality only available to true living beings, like animals and humans? That’s a question, I suppose, that all of us want to ask– to the world that failed us.
The world is a web– a web of laws and money, a web of power and the misuse of it, a web of governments, a web of people and their opinions, as well as the lack of it. And when an unwanted entrant makes it to this web of ours, it tends to make us uncomfortable. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has made not just us, but also the governments of all countries across the world, uncomfortable.
This leads me to the fact that humans have always more or less relied on their governments and the system to cater to their issues, and therefore, the responsibility of managing a country and its people’s lives during a virus outbreak also falls onto the shoulders of the governments of all countries. But the pressing concern here is to understand how governments essentially do the decision making, and how many mistakes they make on their way, hereby, failing the humans that rely on them.
Policies– While for most countries, the first and foremost response was to implement interventionist policies such as a travel ban, shutting the borders, prevention of public gatherings and using police force wherever necessary, and most importantly, lockdowns and social distancing; many countries delayed their response to the pandemic outbreak and hence, found themselves in the mud in terms of protecting their people. This led to a lot of countries hiding the true figures of people testing positive or even worse, testing a lesser number of people so that their figures remain to a minimum. On the other hand, there were countries, like Japan and Sweden, that could not impose lockdowns because of constitutional barriers which led to Sweden adopting an approach that placed the faith on the public by implementing ‘voluntary cooperation’, but not a lot of people were found to be cooperating. It is also safe to say that a few developing countries, like India and Greece, which have a lack of proper healthcare services and not enough resources to cater to a large number of patients, were quick in their reflexes in implementing a police-backed lockdown knowing their limitations in the healthcare sector. On one hand, where a few countries saw a power dynamic tussle between the central and the state governments which made their responses slower, a few countries found themselves doing good when the state governments took charge of their people because of how well they understood the demographics of that particular state.
Trade-offs – In this globalised world of ours, the last few decades saw betterment in overall livelihoods and living standards all across the world when measured in terms of national income, but while the wages of workers in developing countries rose, the wages of unskilled workers in developed countries fell. Even in developing countries, when the workers earned better, it was still negligible in comparison to the rich elite classes of these countries. This economic disparity begets various forms of social disparities and gives rise to societal discontentment because there is never a single decision that can be implemented on every citizen and not all of them react to it similarly. That is why all the governments, of both developing and developed nations, had to make trade-offs to please not just their respective national interests but also to maintain their positions on the economic spectrum of this world. The best example would be of the USA, which hasn’t implemented a lockdown to date when the virus has managed to seep into our lives in the past four months. The USA, under President Trump, has found itself valuing the economy more than its own people and their lives. New York has seen a surge in the numbers of positive testing patients and thousands of deaths, but thanks to the New York Stock Exchange, a lockdown was never implemented. A lot of democracies have failed to take public opinions and willingness to stay in prolonged periods of a lockdown into account. However, Brazil, under authoritarian leader Jair Bolsonaro, did not implement an effective lockdown to maintain its image of being an apparent democracy that does not bind its people. Countries that respect people’s freedom and privacy were compelled to make a trade-off between long-term healthcare of the public versus their willingness to obey an imposed lockdown. Developing countries like Pakistan have also taken to certain unprecedented measures such as encouraging tourism in the midst of a pandemic owing to the lack of revenues for the normal functioning of the government, while India resorted to opening liquor stores to fill up their pockets, hence, making a trade-off between long-term health consequences of the public due to alcohol consumption as well as disobeying norms of social distancing versus stabilising the economy.
Understanding on a broad spectrum, the responses of various countries bring us to the fact that most countries have had to ignore one end of a scale to benefit the other which has given tendencies of anti-liberalism in these countries a rise. The realisation has hit the public that the private factors in our globalised world can do no collective good in times of a crisis. Even state machinery is not one hundred percent reliable, and questions have been raised on the market-based economic policies that all countries adopted and implemented.
The solution, you may ask? Well, the solution is not simple, and most definitely not uniform. But what’s best that can be suggested is the fact that it is time for us to realise that our lives’ responsibility cannot be put solely on politicians sitting at the top of the pyramid. We need expertise. Most countries have for long seen its citizens as self-proclaimed experts who are either misinformed or uninformed and are able to climb to the top of the ladder by using tools of condemnation at best. Therefore, the call for experts is legit and urgent. Most politicians and leaders have a disregard for expertise because of how experts failed to predict the 2008 recession which affected the whole world. But now is the time to act on reason, coherence, and most importantly, transparent facts. Hence, scientific reliance on experts to survive the economy and sustain all possible human life is imperative to make the governments not fail humans, when humans need their governments the most.
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