On Thursday 9 April, Dialogue of Civilizations held the first of a series of webinars titled Global Pandemic: The Way Forward. This first discussion focused on economics and the threat of global recession in light of the COVID-19 crisis and featured an international panel of expert speakers.
Jean-Christophe Bas, CEO of the DOC Research Institute, chaired the discussion. Joining him on the panel of experts were Vladimir Popov, former senior advisor at the UN department for Economic and Social Affairs, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and James K. Galbraith, economist and professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
Mr Popov, who is also a current research director at the DOC Research Institute, began the discussion with a short presentation on policies for mitigating the recession. The traditional Keynesian stimuli that many governments are adopting, he said, are insufficient. He suggested that governments must instead encourage the re-allocation of resources into the production of medical supplies. In illustrating this point, Mr Popov raised the question of which model is more effective in fighting recession: the ‘east Asian’ approach or the model associated with ‘western’ nations. He proposed that the efficacy of the ‘east Asian’ method in dealing with both the virus and its economic repercussions derives in part from an understanding of “how to reallocate resources from one area into another, how to convert the auto plants into the creation of ventilators. People say the ‘east Asian’ model has greater social solidarity, it has lower inequalities”, he added.
Mr Galbraith, expanding on the issue of ‘eastern’ vs ‘western’ models raised by Mr Popov, examined why the USA is so susceptible to the economic impact of the virus. What is needed, he explained, is “solidarity, compact supply chains, social organisation, and a national leadership with a very strong public purpose” – the exact opposite of the increasingly decentralised system characterised by market driven inequalities that the USA has been cultivating for the last 40 years. Looking ahead to the potential consequences of the virus, he pointed out that “social reorganisation is going to have to come” in recognition of the inappropriate hierarchy to which essential workers who are carrying economies through this crisis have been subordinated.
Mr Sundaram agreed that social reorganisation was of vital importance: “Return to business as usual is not an option.” He said, “the way we interact at an interpersonal level, in the workplace, in communities, and internationally will fundamentally change.” But he also raised the question of a larger restructuring: “I think we need to begin to think about how we improve the quality of life of those in poorer countries so that we come to this experience with social solidarity. The slogan of social distancing is very misleading, what we need is physical distancing and social solidarity.”
A live audience from around the world also got the chance to hear their own questions answered by the expert panel. Guests from the USA, Chile, Brazil, Belgium, Greece, and India all put their questions to the experts, bringing the conversation to topics like civil liberties, global foreign investment in India, and a comparison of governments’ reactions today with their reactions to the financial crisis of 2008. In response to this last question, Mr Galbraith pointed out that “many wrong lessons were learned after the 2008 financial crisis. It was followed by a pivot to austerity… If we follow the same playbook this time, then we’re going to face afterwards a terrible conflict between subsidiary units of governments that won’t have the revenues to provide the services that are absolutely essential. We have to overcome that… by making sure that things are reorganised so that we have a viable society.” Mr Sundaram echoed his call for a different response to this crisis: “How the world gets its act together after this will be defining for a generation to come, if not longer.” He said “That’s precisely why these types of dialogues are so important for us to develop some kind of consensus around what we the people really want.”
This need for dialogue in overcoming the coronavirus crisis was also stressed by Dr Vladimir Yakunin, Chairman of the DOC Research Institute, in his concluding remarks: “This is exactly the DOC methodology. We are trying to consider all the different events and developments inside human society through the prism of economic, political, social, civilisational, and cultural aspects.”
Throughout the month of April, the DOC will hold three webinars with speakers from around the world exploring the consequences of the coronavirus crisis and its potential transformational effects in the longer term. Join us for our next webinar on geopolitics, crisis management, and world-order reform on 21 April at 1pm CEST. Click here to find out more.
Below is the presentation by Prof. Vladimir Popov in full:
For out more about the webinar series: