The obvious lack of systemic lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, lamented in the FT’s Covid has no grand lesson for the world (FT.com, December 29, 2020) challenges our thinking on economic systems and betrays a broad fallacy of our times.
As 2020 comes to a close there is hardly a socio-economic model swaying any superiority in battling the pandemic. Larger economies with generous public spending are facing similar pandemic-induced emergencies just as the smaller nations (some recovering from recent wars) where constrained fiscal space or weak healthcare infrastructure intensify the force of the crisis. In this world, as Leo Tolstoy reminds us, “[a]ll happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
But the recent intellectual effort to reduce these experiences to a generic institutional blueprint hides the strategic fallacy of our collective longing for a conceptually standardized policy toolkit.
Such one-size-fits-all approach is reminiscent of the early 1990s macroeconomic shock therapy prescriptions in the former Soviet economies. Abruptly dismantling the state’s social safety nets at the time to conform with a high-level liberalization model devastated all and the smallest economies most severely. Curiously, some of those earlier guarantees are now resurrected in the advanced economies as necessary policies in healthcare, employment, education, and other sectors.
The true lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic is the acceptance of the complex plurality of the nuanced workable tactics. Pragmatism of survival requires sober appreciation for the local context specific mix of operational discipline, gradual change, and a responsible economic role of the state as a guarantor of social stability. This is coupled with a critical ability to learn from the past, one’s own and that of the others.
The post-pandemic world is often described as the one of greater international cooperation driven by emerging technologies. Perhaps, the future will be such. But there is no time to wait, for the global cooperative frameworks rooted in diversity of successful policy and institutional approaches are needed today to avert the growing common economic and social disasters. That would be prudent, if we are to learn from this uniquely global crisis.