Contemporary history seemed to have taught us that the great economic and social disruptions that affect countries used to have their origin in natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes), man-made catastrophes (processes of contamination of resources, nuclear accidents), problems of a financial nature (which quickly moved to the real economy), or, in the extreme, in armed conflicts (civil wars or between countries). However, since the end of the 20th century, the spread of the globalization process has made it clear that major disruptions in the economy and in society, regardless of their geographical location and specific origin, have — increasingly — a global dimension.
This environment of a more interconnected and interrelated world led global society to modify its institutional arrangements at the local level, to advance in the construction of new international mechanisms that would allow it to deal more efficiently with this emerging phenomenon. Thus, global information and monitoring networks for natural phenomena have been created and, today, the trajectories of hurricanes throughout the world are analyzed and the effects of earthquakes are monitored not only in the place where they occur, but anticipating its impact in other latitudes (an earthquake in Chile triggers tsunami alarms off the coast of Japan). In the financial sphere, the globalization of these activities has also involved the creation of mechanisms for standardizing financial regulation, which allow reducing the risk that imbalances in a local market may have a global systemic impact.
Today, the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is showing us a new face of the risks associated with building a global society. It is, without a doubt, the first great health crisis of this new stage of the world; a crisis that, regardless of the lethality of the virus that carries it out, has managed to acquire the dimensions it has thanks to the interrelation and interdependence that characterizes the economic and social activity of today. It can be said that the Covid-19 crisis is conclusive proof that world society is already one.
This new crisis – still in development, but which already has implications at least equivalent to those of the greatest economic crises in the history of the world – will leave us with many lessons, but there is one that we can already record in the pending duties of global society. Unlike the risks associated with natural and human disasters, as well as the functioning of financial markets, global society has not been properly prepared to deal with pandemics, not only in terms of addressing health risks themselves, but also from the consequences derived from the containment measures. It is a matter of public policy whose discussion, at best, has been deferred and which, at least so far, presents two relevant edges.
The first is related to economic policy. The problems generated by the pandemic have created a scenario in which the traditional tools of monetary and fiscal policies are insufficient. Efforts by central banks through reducing the cost of money and liquidity, and by ministries of finance trying to design and implement fiscal stimulus programs, are likely to partly mitigate the effects of the dislocation of the productive chains and the employment structure, but they are already clearly insufficient to offer a satisfactory exit. In this area, the call is to rethink the instruments of economic policy, which —there seems to be no alternative— must move away from the national level and begin to position itself in the construction of instruments with global reach.
And the second edge has to do with health systems. Throughout the last decades, as the demographic transition process towards the aging of the global population has advanced, the deterioration in the effectiveness of health systems has been almost constant. The crisis we are experiencing has shown that one of the key elements in containing the pandemic lies precisely in the existence and effectiveness of health care systems in different countries. It seems clear that those nations with better structured and effective health systems will be able to reduce the pernicious effects – both social and economic – of the pandemic. And if this is true among the most advanced countries (from where, in general, the virus has been spreading and among which the quality of health systems is very uneven), it will also be true in the least developed nations, where the pandemic It has not yet reached critical levels and where, unfortunately, the reality of the deterioration of health systems is more evident. The issue is no longer a taxonomic issue that classifies countries into one or the other group; It is the whiting biting its tail, because the deficiencies of one, sooner or later, will end up hitting us all.
Albert Camus wrote that “the plague is not tailored to man, therefore man thinks that the plague is unreal, it is a bad dream that will go away. But it does not always happen, and from a bad dream to a bad dream it is men who go away …» There they are, not for the society of the future, but for the one that will emerge from this global crisis, some challenges whose attention should not be deferred, at risk that this pandemic becomes a lesson to be learned anew when the future reaches us again.