Extracted from Rescue: From Global Crisis to a Better World, by Ian Goldin (Copyright © 2021 with permission by Hodder & Stoughton), drawing from the introduction and conclusion of the book.
The OECD Forum Network is a space for experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society— to discuss and develop solutions. It aims to foster exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us address critical challenges. Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
Covid-19 has created a pivotal moment. Everything hangs in the balance. The pandemic compressed into a year trends that would otherwise have taken decades to emerge. It has brought us to an inflection point in history. By seizing this historic moment, we can turn the tide to shape our individual and collective destiny, and in so doing we would rescue humanity from catastrophe and create a better world. […]
It is business as usual that led to our disastrous situation. To prevent future pandemics, which could be much more deadly than Covid-19, and to stop catastrophic climate change, we need a radical change in direction. The coronavirus crisis comes on top of escalating climate, inequality, geopolitical and other crises that are tearing our societies apart. The gradual return to normality as vaccines become available will come as an enormous relief. We all no doubt will celebrate the simple pleasures of being able to hug our families, socialise with friends and walk down busy streets. Economies will rebound as the combination of government stimulus and pent-up consumption leads to rapid growth. The pleasure of reclaiming our past lives should not, however, lull us into complacency. Unless our societies operate in a fundamentally different way, we cannot overcome pandemics or any of the other escalating crises we inevitably will face. […]
Whether we like it or not, Covid-19 has reshaped all of our lives. It has changed our priorities regarding jobs, education and careers. It forces us to rethink where we live and work and to understand how our incomes and prospects have altered. We have all been affected – young and old, wealthy and deprived, urban and rural, employed and retired, in rich countries and in poor countries. The trends that the pandemic has accelerated and revealed are not new. But the extent and scale of the global disruption has meant that the structural weaknesses in our societies and in international cooperation have become shockingly evident for all to see. […]
Read the report: "Risks that matter 2020: The long reach of COVID-19" and visit the OECD's COVID-19 Hub to browse hundreds of policy responses
Globalisation has caused this universal health and economic emergency. And yet, to address it we need more globalisation, not less. We cannot stop a global pandemic without more global politics. Nor can we stop climate change or any of the other great threats by political deglobalisation. Economic deglobalisation would condemn to continuing poverty the billions of people in the world who are yet to benefit from the jobs, ideas and opportunities that globalisation brings. It would mean that citizens of poor countries would not have access to the international vaccines, solar power panels, investment, exports, tourism and ideas that are urgently needed to rebuild countries and create a future of shared prosperity. […] It is in every country’s self-interest to cooperate to contain global threats. Similarly, it is in each of our own self-interest to contribute to the creation of more cohesive and stable societies. […] [D]ifferences should be acknowledged and discussed, without negating areas of disagreement. Nevertheless, the pandemic could lead to us reasserting our common values on key areas where interests are aligned.
The pandemic has taught us that to defeat a virus we need to act collectively, and has highlighted what Amartya Sen has explored in his many books: that for individuals to flourish they require key capabilities – nutrition, health, education, freedom of expression, and jobs and income. […] Re-evaluating our lives requires going beyond the unhealthy addiction to economic growth as the only or best measure of progress. No one can flourish without a livelihood, which is why creating meaningful work and incomes for all who seek it, and overcoming poverty, is a necessary foundation for a healthy society. But new holistic measures of well-being need to be found, to allow governments to be guided and compared on a dashboard that goes beyond narrow economic measures. […] The pandemic has highlighted the extent to which a blinkered economic approach to setting government priorities can lead to a neglect of physical and mental health, with tragic consequences. It has also led to a neglect of the climate emergency and the rising dangers posed by growing inequality, poverty and systemic risks. The pandemic has revealed what is most valuable in our lives. The task now is to ensure this is reflected in our personal priorities and in the actions of our governments. […] If this crisis finally creates the political will and necessary investments to stop future pandemics and other systemic crises, it will not have been in vain. […]
Read more on the Forum Network: "The Economics of Belonging: A Radical Plan to Win Back the Left Behind and Achieve Prosperity for All" by Martin Sandbu, European Economics Commentator, The Financial Times
By allocating a fifth of what has already been committed as part of the global stimulus, leaders around the world could turn the economic disaster into an opportunity not only to jump-start the transition to a green economy, but also to nurture a wide range of new business, reduce inequities and assist developing countries in their recovery while supplying energy to two billion people who have no reliable sources of cheap renewable power. To prevent a bounce back to the same old reality we need a decisive break. A rupture is required, one that will lead to radical reforms. If this sounds scary, it is less so than the pandemics, escalating climate change, growing inequality, joblessness and instability that would inevitably flow from business as usual. Radical reform would not only lead to a more predictable and stable world, but is also less disruptive than 2020, which saw a rift in every aspect of our lives. […]
During the pandemic there has been a rewriting of the social contract in many spheres. Our freedoms have been curtailed and personal expectations have changed. But so too have our expectations of each other and of governments. The appetite for change has grown everywhere. […] Public opinion surveys show that nine out of ten people around the world show ‘a profound and widespread desire for change rather than a return to how things were before the Covid-19 pandemic’. This needs to be acted on before the impact of the pandemic fades and we are lulled into complacency by the welcome return of the normalcy of our pre-pandemic world. It is no accident that the design of a new world happened during, not after, the horrors of the Second World War and long before the wounds had healed. Our greatest risk is that our yearning for our past life might dull our hunger for a better world. Unlike in the wars, during the pandemic the entire human race has fought a common unseen enemy. If this does not unite us in our determination to work together, nothing will. […]
We have been provided with a once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity to escape from the downward spiral of ever-worsening global crises. While we celebrate the return of a semblance of normalcy following the pandemic, it is imperative that we seize the opportunity and redouble our efforts to break what otherwise will be an inevitable escalation of risks. […] The time has come to prioritise people and our planet. The pandemic has shown that it is much less costly to stop a crisis than to respond to one that is raging. In just one day in 2020 governments spent more responding to the pandemic than they had in ten years of pandemic prevention. The fact that a pandemic was inevitable and we failed to prevent or prepare for it is surely as loud a wake-up call as could be sounded. If this is finally heard, Covid-19 could rescue humanity and provide a portal to a better future. Whether we now commit to a new and improved world or remain set in our dangerous ways is the historic choice confronting us.
The stakes have never been higher. It is our turn to answer the call that has been invoked over the generations: If not now, then when? If not us, then who?