Context: COVID-19 is forcing a paradigm shift. No section or sector is going to remain untouched and unaltered by the devastation the novel coronavirus is now unleashing.
- The world is unlikely to return to a pre-coronavirus homeostasis after the war against it is won.
- A second wave of outbreak is a realistic probability: Vaccines are going to be slow in coming and therefore, its taming is not immediate.
- Unique threat:
- Unlike other threats to humanity such as global warming and a nuclear armageddon, this threat is now, not in the future.
- It is here simultaneously for everyone, not for someone else and somewhere else.
- Its casualties are around us, not in far away battlefields or polar regions and coastal areas.
- No country can rescue another and each one fending for itself.
- Pushing the world into a deep recession:
- According to the International Monetary Fund, If the lockdown continues, the world economy will contract by as much as 6%. If it is not extended, the loss of human lives could be of unacceptable proportions.
- Changes occuring: Political systems, economic architectures and cultural mores are on trial.
- Disruption and redefining: Work patterns, production and distribution practices are up for redefinition.
- Learning lessons is the need: We need to be quick in seizing lessons from the present crisis and get ready to embark on measures to build a new paradigm of life, work and governance.
- Scenario changed after the second world War:
- Enlarged role of state was questioned: Systems that were putative alternatives to capitalism fell into disgrace. Entrepreneurs heading unicorns and ‘soonicorns’ have become the new demigods. Minimum governance became the mantra. The role of the state which was increased after industrialisation was not efficient to deal with contemporary problems.
COVID-19 is challenging the political economy
- The performance of state and non-state actors in the COVID-19 stress test will be tested.
- India embarked on the path of trimming the role of the state, initially, with such caveats as ‘safety net’ and ‘reform with a human face’.
Retreat of the state:
- Declining role of state: The Indian state’s role in health care, education, creation and maintenance of infrastructure and delivery of welfare has shrunk or become nominal, half-hearted, inefficient, and dysfunctional.
- Downsizing: Retreat from vital functions and abdication of its social responsibility have gained acceptance and legitimacy among the articulate upwardly mobile.
- ‘Private sector’ became the new holy cow in place of the ‘state sector’.
- the culture of a simplistic and shallow discourse of public policy that took hold in civil society. It mindlessly privileges the agenda of corporates. It transacts in the idiom of stock exchanges and international rating agencies.
- Lost voices: Those with no social media handles, who cannot organise annual ‘thought’ conclaves, who are incapable of highlighting their problems with impressive presentations are rendered voiceless.
- Bearing the consequences of downsizing the role of state and the lockdown:
- The farmer and farm labour, the migrant worker, the unemployed, those in the unorganised sector, the rural poor, and the small entrepreneur are the most vulnerable sections during the lockdown.
- Underfunded public health systems are unable to serve these sections.
- work from home, use Zoom, spend quality time with family that fill our pull outs are irrelevant for these sections of the society.
What should be done?
- Revisit the political economy :The country should begin a vigorous discourse on redefining every aspect of its involvement in our collective political, economic and social life.
- Urgent attention is needed on:
- The relation between the state and economy,
- State's role in allocating resources and addressing questions of inequality,
- States' duty to provide basic human needs,
- The extent of the market’s role in providing services such as health, education, civic amenities
- The responsibility of the state and private enterprise towards deprived sections
- The Indian state should be strong so that the weak in our society can lean on it.