The lockdown has changed people’s lives, and in my case, it has also impacted the way I think and see the world. I came into this new modern human experience with blinders that I did not realize I had been wearing for quite a long time. Marketing, public relations, and the propaganda machine that we have been exposed to since the early 1980s, impeded us from comprehending the social, economic, cultural, environmental, political, and ideological transformation that allowed neoliberal ideas to flourish across the world. This gift of the West to the rest of the world spread from the United States and England to every corner of the world, changing the power structures and the dynamics of democracy, as the citizen was slowly transformed into a consumer and the traditional politician was replaced by the technocrat. The private sector became the new architect, while the public sector became a facilitator and the citizen was once again marginalized.
The dialogue between citizen and government was replaced by a new direct communication channel between consumer and business, where accountability and regulation were devalued and replaced by new social and cultural value systems designed by the forces of capitalism. In less than thirty years business penetrated the political world, replacing the traditional career politician with the business-educated technocrat that brought with it the ideas of efficiency and “small government” that eventually paved the way to the implementation of the basic neoliberal principles; deregulation, privatization, free trade, and open markets centered on efficiency and diminishing government intervention.
I encourage the reader to imagine a world not dominated and subdued by the current neoliberal principles engrained in our subconscious, and how COVID-19 could have unfolded in that imaginary world. First, we would not live under an interconnected and interdependent global market system whose basic design centered on the private sector’s principles of efficiency and profit maximization. Second, the dynamics of democracy, and the dialogue and communications between constituents, government, and economic actors would be very different; perhaps enforcing levels of accountability on business that would have eventually transformed the social, political, cultural, economic, and environmental debates. Third, income inequality at the local and global levels would be very different today, managed by citizen-government relations instead of the invisible hand of the market. Fourth, the nation-state would have remained at the forefront of social, political, economic and environmental relations, and not the current designs of economic blocs and free trade zones tailored to the interests of transnational corporations.
The privatization of our world came front loaded with empty promises of efficiency and fiscal responsibility, as well as a humane and just private sector that would raise the quality of life of those lucky enough to be governed under this new system. Basically, all human needs were privatized, including essentials such as water. In a short period of close to forty years, new generations were born into a neoliberal world where privatization, deregulation, and free trade were “normal” concepts and ideas. Generations that did not know their history and were never told that at one point they owned and controlled their electrical grid or that they could attend their local state university for a very low cost.
Prior to the 1980s, before neoliberalism, there was a “normal”, and now after forty years of social, political, economic, cultural, and environmental experiments, a new “normal” was constructed. I am not surprised that we do not put a lot of thought into the concept of “normal.”
Today, media, in the left and in the right, bombard us with the phrase, “we need to get back to normal,” and the public regurgitates the phrase without processing its meaning. As a local community, as a society and as global citizens, we are now bombarded with this idea, here and across the world, that the “normal” was good but, in reality, the reason why humanity has struggled to overcome the current pandemic is because the world we refer to as “normal” was not designed for the collective good but for the benefit of a few. What is good for the market is not necessarily good the masses, yet it is one of the fallacies that has been constructed and ingrained into our subconscious.
The propaganda machine is operating on all cylinders trying to get humans to return to their “normal” lives because the more we are forced to stay home, the more visible the can of warms becomes. The possibilities of reaccelerating the globalization of the market is threatened every minute we are hunkered in, as we reawaken from decades of neoliberal experimentation. The basic income solution pushed forward by many Western nations as a solution to avoid a massive global financial crisis could become the new “normal” but if instead economies are opened quickly at the expense of human life, then humanity can return to the old “normal” and quickly erase this potential policy solution to decrease the gap between rich and poor that has resulted from the implementation of neoliberal policies. We live in dangerous times, mostly because humanity could actually open its eyes and question the current system.
Ideas such as strengthening local markets, focusing on the local economy or bringing back jobs from overseas are quickly debunked by the propaganda machine, not only in the United States but across the world. Nationalism is basically declared a threat to the system, a menace to the national security of any nation that is committed to globalization. Thanks to the constructs of the propaganda machine those who favor globalization are the good guys and those who are against it are the enemies. If we then understand this simple dynamic, then it is easier for us, as citizens, to overcome the misinformation coming from the propaganda machine that we are exposed to every day.
After 66 days of being home under the suggested lockdown, I finally have the clarity to share some of my COVID-19 conclusions. These are based on the temporal and spatial dimension constructed by the neoliberal tendencies of the last forty years and the subsequent era of globalization that came to a semi-standstill early this spring.
- President Trump is not responsible for the devastating outcomes of COVID-19, an administration in the hands of the Democratic Party would have experienced a very similar outcome because the privatization of health, the weakening of social healthcare programs, the dependency on international supply chains, and the lack of preparedness, based on the business principles of efficiency and low inventory costs, were all part of the incremental implementation of neoliberalism of the past thirty years.
- American citizens need to go back to work. We do not have robust social welfare programs, the system is not designed to take care of its people, the market is hypothetically designed for that. We take care of ourselves with our labor or our entrepreneurial initiatives.
- Almost seventy percent (70%) of our national economy depends on our ability and desire to consume. We do not depend on exports for our national economic growth, like Germany or China, we depend on our ability to consume. That is why we need to reopen the economy, it is a national security issue.
- Those who argue against this reality are not being honest. Actually, if we ever wanted to move toward a more social democratic system, we would need to increase consumer and business taxes, negatively impacting consumption and in the long-term slowing down our national economic growth. Over time, higher taxes would change our cultural behavior, new generations would consume less, eventually transforming the national economy into an export economy that would become highly dependent on foreign consumption.
- National security has been redefined by the pandemic, therefore international relations and even international trade will be redefined after COVID-19. There is no going back to “normal,” the pandemic represents the end of a temporal and spatial dimension of history. What follows is a new chapter in the history of humanity; new social, cultural, political, environmental, and economic relations.
- Consumers, not only in the US but across the world, will become more dependent on local goods and services simply because the global market system will not be fully open for business until a few years from now, and if that is the case and the borders open up incrementally, consumer’s choices and behaviors will have changed.
- New business models will flourish and old business models will disappear. Small, medium, and large businesses that adapt to the new realities will survive and those unable to adapt will disappear or will be absorbed by those with the human, technological, and financial capabilities to adapt. This will also be the case for the working force, particularly in the professional fields where the new business models will demand the worker to adapt and change. Those that do not adapt will be left out of the market.
- Nationalism is inevitable. Every corner of the world will see a rise in nationalism, simply because in order to recover any national economy, the process must necessarily begin at the local level. That is why the advocates of globalization want to go back to the “normal” pre-COVID-19 world as quick as possible. Nationalism is a hamper to their business interests, but in order to survive they will be forced to adapt and tailor their new business strategy to the new post COVID-19 consumer and its desire to consume local goods and services, even if they cost a bit more.
- Politics will change and so will the rhetoric, not only in the United States but across the world. Those advocating against local and national interests will be out of sync. For example, those that do not question the level of irresponsibility of the Chinese Communist Party will find themselves politically isolated.
- Companies around the world will reevaluate their China strategy and many will redefine their international supply chain strategy. China will feel the negative impact while other countries will enjoy the benefit of seeing production return home.
- International corporations will move their money out of risky countries that do not recover quickly from the pandemic or that represent a risk to their supply chain strategy. In the last thirty years their investments and international business strategies created the ideal conditions for China’s economy to flourish, but the momentum could potentially shift away from China and a new emerging market could become the next epicenter of international business. It could be India.
- China will have lost the trust of the world, impacting their geopolitical strategy, including their Belt and Road Initiative. No matter how hard the propaganda machine tries to convince us that the Chinese Communist Party acted responsively and never used the pandemic as an opportunity to advance their own long-term geopolitical strategy, very few will trust the Chinese, just like very few people around the world believe that our democratization campaigns of the Cold War was benevolent and humane.
- Emerging economies around the world will suffer tremendously as they overcome the social and economic impact of COVID-19. Their bet on neoliberalism will be questioned, as the forces of nationalism will take hold of the reconstruction of the local economy. Political and social instability will be the norm following the pandemic, particularly in nations that struggle to keep their citizens safe; Brazil will definitely will be one of them.
- Nations that overcome the crisis quickly and successfully reignite their economies will be in a position to influence and dictate the future of the post-COVID-19 world, and those unable to quickly stand on their feet will be marginalized.
- The reconfiguration of global geopolitical power structures will heavily mark the post-COVID-19 world. China will challenge American hegemony in the world and use development aid and foreign direct investment in order to win the hearts and minds of nations, forcing the US to consider a Marshall Plan for the global market system. Nevertheless, rising nationalism in the US might impede this from happening.
- Rising nationalism in the US might result in a revision of parts of the multilateral system crafted by the United States and the Western world, after the Second World War. President Trump’s initiative to remove the US financial support from the World Health Organization is a clear sign of the future to come. It is no secret that the European Union, Canada, China, Russia, and others have used multilateral organizations as instruments to curtail US hegemony.
- The current pandemic is the ultimate test for the United States. Our ability to rebound as a society and as an economy will determine whether or not we remain the super power of the world. In this current capitalist system, the recovery depends more on the private sector than on the government that is, at this point, just a facilitator.
- Up to the present time, the US has recorded the most COVID-19 cases and the most deaths, but the 6% ratio of deaths per cases shows that our medical system was able to face the crisis without collapsing. Contrary to other advanced industrialized nations, our economy was not completely shut down and some sectors continued to operate thanks to our human, technological, and infrastructure capabilities.
- Media, from the left and right, has constructed the divisiveness among Americans but local communities have refused to accept this false construct. The privatization and politicization of media is the problem and the industry should be held accountable for the instability that they have created.