Covid-19 exists everywhere and nowhere
From Berlin via San Sebastian to Groningen
Correspondence from our correspondent Paul Striker
Thoughts: Covid-19 exists everywhere and nowhere
At the beginning of the project I lived in Berlin, shared a flat with two friends of mine and experienced something like a lockdown (we did not have an official lockdown in Germany). Now I am living in Groningen and starting my Masters. In between I talked with Helmut and Kerry; but about what did we talk? What are my thoughts about our talks?
First, we talked about economic issues during the Pandemic. I realised that the German government/their experts underestimated the recession that will come by some percentage points (loss of GDP). Therefore, the recession will be bigger than expected at the beginning and the impact on the economy is harder than one thought. Because we wanted to focus on change/transformation in economics we quickly switched the topics towards how cities matter in the world. (Check out: https://www.c40.org/Around the world, C40 cities are taking bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future
And the doughnut economy; specifically, the Amsterdam City Doughnut
But what about Nations?
During the program I travelled to France and Spain (San Sebastian) for holidays. Wow, in San Sebastian everyone is wearing a Mask everywhere, even at the beach, some even while standing in the ocean. We did not have a lockdown in Germany - and in the Netherlands no one is wearing a mask except for public transport. Covid-19 hits everyone but even in Europe it hits everyone differently. What this means for the future I cannot anticipate. But our economies will get into competition again while trying to restart and this might drive European countries further apart from each other. Germany and France - as well as other countries - announced a plan to share debts through so called Corona Bonds. This might help against this competition driven system, but the decision on this is delayed as not all countries have agreed on this plan.
During the conversations with Helmut and Kerry, I thought about many different topics, problems and solutions that are happening in these times. The world is moving faster rather than standing still. Politics are faster than I have ever experienced. Money hasn’t appeared to be an issue. The EU alone raised 750€ billion for a long-term recovery (https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/economy/20200513STO79012/covid-19-the-eu-plan-for-the-economic-recovery).
But where is the Green New Deal (worth only 1 Billion)?And what will the recovery plan recover? A fossil –fuel based economy?
What about climate change? Biodiversity loss? The acidification of the oceans? All of this does not seem to matter on national or supranational levels. Why? I think politics was not prepared to make the best of such a crisis, they did not, and have not adapted fast enough. When companies where closed in lockdowns, training programmes should have been offered for people working in environmental harming jobs to seek out environmental friendly ones. I just came across an idea that the state should offer a job guarantee for everyone, where one is remedying externalities (old idea? yeah, perhaps). In the worst case scenario that would be 445 million jobs. That is possible with 750 billion, at least for a period of time. Here is another idea from the European Party Diem25: a 3-point plan for dealing with COVID-19 depression(https://diem25.org/diem25-presents-covid-19-economic-response-plan-and-green-recovery-investment-program/).
All of what I have written so far is Eurocentric. I am glad that our Bubble was not. We talked about trade issues for Thailand’s rice farmers. Side fact: Trump blocks the World trade organisation (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-wto-idUSKCN1LC19O). This means that powerful multinational institution cannot force nations to play by the rules of free trade. What this means for Thailand’s rice farmers, I don’t know. And here I need a break. I hope there is more to come. I hope this idea of having conversations across countries about their living situation, about their experience of political measures and what all of this means for the future will continue.
While writing that, I need a pause. But I realised I cannot pause here. I want to finish with a recent scientific publication about an ethical framework for global vaccine distribution. As mentioned above: economies will restart and the old capitalistic idea of the race to the top is still going on. A vaccine could be a key variable to win this race. Therefore, it is important that we start demanding a fair distribution of the vaccine now as it will be the next big step, after all the monetary decision about recovery – not the planet but industry - have been made. I just want to highlight two things from the framework (here the link for more interested minds: https://www.rug.nl/news/2020/09/ethical-framework-for-equitable-global-covid-19-vaccine-distribution?lang=en&fbclid=IwAR1YCGwdztRzCproyU04E4INJq3VHDkTwHbo-JGFcb3cN2CTU_jhJENq1Ms): First, deaths and especially premature deaths are the most important measure. This means helping the least off the most. As the pandemic/the first wave is still not at its peak in e.g. Sub-Sahara Africa, this is even more important. Second, nations must share their vaccine when the reproduction rate is under 1, which means that the pandemic is not an emergency anymore but a serious health issue.
And this leads me again back to the topic of economics, our current economic theory, and what emerging economists (like myself) are taught. I want to focus on what they/we are not taught. We are not taught to question the idea of using (up) the planet’s resources. In an economic degree you do not question where, on a global level, the resources come from and where they go (for example; fossil fuel -->Co2). In economics, at undergraduate level, we are not taught about ethics. But as I have outlined above this Matters, or better, it should matter. We need to change this “science” or at least demand change. Until such a time, all we can do is choose, as an individual: when we work, where we work, how we trade/buy goods, how we live. We can try to participate in an economy that fits our values, our understanding of how an economy should be. This is easy said and hardly done. But this project showed me that we need the connection between the people behind the goods. And lets see if this evolves. At the end I want to shift the view outside of Europe. This pandemic, as well as all other global crises, will likely hit those with the least the most.