A SIMPLE, SOUND AND SOUL-REACHING SOCIAL CONTRACT AFTER CORONA
Two months into the globalized version of the pandemic and only recently people are starting to look beyond, that is beyond gloomy announcements, into the actual impact of the twin health and economic crisis. The most connected and interdependent parts of the world were the first to understand what SARS-CoV is and had all the interest to be serious about things. They had an interest to save each other, being interdependent, but they have not acted fully to do so, which is a lesson for the future. But, for better or for worse, we do have a global system in place and we have to admit a successful globalization saw not the investment in the institutions that bring us together but the formation of networks of interest. The West decries now that in spite of being the biggest donor globally, it does not get the best PR, in the development world and even inside its clubs. One reason for this situation is because it downplays political investment, which China has been doing extensively, and overplays disinformation, where Russia excels. The truth is the West needs to shape up amid massive global challenges and changes.
The health and economic crises are, in fact, only the triggers for the real changes to come, and change is coming, at home. Like a CFR President’s book points out in its title, foreign policy begins at home. The West, and the part of the world inspired by it, needs a new social contract, an actionable one. In 2030, if we are still complaining of the effects of the Covid19 virus the way we are complaining about the 2008 financial crisis, it will be our fault. This is not just a population shattering event. This will be a world-system shattering event like the one that brought about the Cold War. Amid two social-fiber shaking crisis in a decade, the house of cards will be unravelling. Like the subprime crash, everything in our modern world is built upon certain premises and values. Some are economic; most aren’t. The rise of competing and alternative world regimes is not unnatural — it is what we preached through the neoliberal doctrine. We just believed in Western superiority as model, now for the second time in a decade under strain, and our citizens under stress.
In the West, and Australia and Japan for example are the “West”, despite of being geographically in the South respectively East, our mutual security guarantee stems from investing economic, human, and political capital into maintaining the smooth functioning of our global community. Keeping everything in balance is a matter of mutually reinforcing mechanisms, sets of rules designed around keeping us safe. Somewhere between “wild capitalism” and “laissez faire”, on one side, and universal basic income on the other, our world of ideas will become more polarized. Others are counting on national rejuvenation or imperial comebacks. At home, for democracies, it isn’t just about populists or anti-system people. Most elections since 2008 were won by policy thin arguments with high rhetorical appeal. From ideas-thin, our elections became ideas-free. Now we need substance, sense and simplicity to propose a New Social Deal, before the alternative to the current system is No Deal.
The World Economic Forum has been championing over the past several years conversations about changing our mental structures and measuring more complex things, less tangible, such as the GDP. Transition concepts exist, such as the Green Deal or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with subsets centred on freeing people from hard labour (automation), and the energy transition to sustainability. By scope and breadth of the above, we can easily grasp how surprised we were In light of the Covid19 challenge. It is therefore time to revisit the kind of ‘deal’ we, the people, need to make with our governments in the new normal. A conversation we were supposed to have mid to late 2020s in the context of 4IR implementation and AI progress is being forced on our agenda now. Due to this strategic surprise and its “jamais-vu” impact, the New Deal has to be simple, sound and soul-reaching, to win hearts and minds amid health problems and job loss in corona times.
The Social Contract was initially theorised as the mutual bond and responsibility between state and citizens, in a fair balance between what the parties can provide and what they should. The degradation of that model resulted in citizens increasingly understanding that they are entitled to ask for more, while states increasingly felt in their right to be skimming from protections, in order to ensure social peace through welfare regimes. “Balancing the equation” is another way of saying the same thing. But will all due respect for global soundbites, the average citizen needs more clarity and simplicity, and FDR styled fireside e-chats, to be trusting and patient as the new deal is outlined and implemented. The 4IR debate would have raised job security concerns anyway, but covid19 is more dangerous due to the health and lockdown issues.
So while timing is tragic, as are the tens of thousands of corona deaths, this is a conversation we need to have, the talk on the New Deal or the New Social Contract can’t be postpomed. Some countries, like Morocco, thought about a committee om the new social contract even before this crisis started. Other should follow suit. The 2020 New Deal hould have a national and global scope, including a health duty / reaponsibility to protect. By elevating the social contract above social payouts to the compulsory planning around protecting society and human lives in public policies, we stand a better chance to avoid future economy-shattering pandemics, the collapse of governance and social peace. “Prudential governance” can start with a deal by humanity with itself to never again not hold each other responsible, at a global level, for the safety of all. But this needs global leadership and not just blame games, and an acknowledgment that humanity can’t live on soundbites and counternarratives alone, in global media or global governance formats like G7, G20 or others.
Radu Magdin is a global analyst, CEO of Bucharest based Smartlink Communications. Alexandru Fotescu is Head of Research with Smartlink. Both are Warsaw Security Leaders and think tankers.