Saturday, May 21

A roadmap for the covid era | Opinion

Several people wait their turn to receive food, this Thursday, in the Plaza de San Amaro in Madrid.
Several people wait their turn to receive food, this Thursday, in the Plaza de San Amaro in Madrid.Marshal / EFE

The pandemic is severely hitting millions of people around the world. But it also impacts with equal vehemence the forces that shape contemporary societies. The processes of digitization of the economy and social life are accelerating; globalization and its supply lines are disrupted; the role of the state is redefined; The fight against climate change is reconfigured, for example, with the unexpected funds available in the EU as part of the response to the crisis, inequality risks skyrocketing. Naturally, these circumstances take a back seat to the absolute priority: the protection of people’s health. And in this sense, vaccines unfold as a promise of salvation. But immunization to the virus will not by itself stop all alterations in socioeconomic processes, which also have a serious impact. The effects of the pandemic will survive the health crisis.

The most disturbing element of all these developments is the risk of a serious increase in inequality. This condition above all others – the sensation of broad layers of Western societies of having lost out in recent decades, subjugated by the elites and abandoned by politics – is what has caused the great destabilizations of the last five years, since Brexit. to Trumpism. Now, different factors threaten to exacerbate that inequality. The underprivileged classes are the most exposed to the virus, as they are generally employed in face-to-face activities or have worse housing conditions; They are also more exposed to labor market turbulence or disruption of educational services; in parallel, they are the least able to adapt to the digitization of work.

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Liberal democracies must understand and assume that neglecting this scourge would represent not only an unacceptable injustice from a moral point of view, but also the feeding of a potentially destabilizing time bomb. It is both just and pragmatic a vigorous intervention to compensate for these imbalances, to dissolve this malaise, to make that concerned and disaffected part of society feel that it is not a victim of change, but part of it – and that in it there is a promise to each one-. A promise of opportunity, a social lift, an award for effort, merit, and honesty.

Social cohesion is not only morally desirable; it is the mainstay of liberal democracies animated by decent capitalism. For this reason, this newspaper has supported initiatives such as the minimum vital income or solid ERTE schemes. As soon as the worst of the economic storm has subsided, therefore, it will be appropriate to resume the upward path of the minimum wage and moderately raise tax collection to bring Spain closer to the European average. It is necessary to support better public services that defend this social cohesion, with education in a prominent place.

The role of the State is of extraordinary importance at this stage. In addition to supporting the disadvantaged, it must support the private sector in a crisis of exogenous causes. The latter is the great generator of prosperity and the conditions must be created for this to happen. But something has gone wrong on the side of redistribution and guaranteeing opportunities for all. It is in the interest of the private sector to facilitate the reduction of precariousness. The commitment to the construction of the welfare state in the last century can inspire the way. In Europe, some built it out of conviction; others, for fear of the advance of communism. In any case, it generated a virtuous cycle of prosperity and adherence. That path must be resumed, to tune it to modern time. To adapt it to the covid era, which will not end with the injection of the last dose of vaccine. The opposite is to sow the ground for political cataclysms worse than Trump or Brexit.

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