Index > Briefing
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
Changes Brought by COVID-19 to the World

COVID-19 was once thought to be like SARS in that it would disappear within a short period of time, however nothing is further from the truth. Now it appears that the coronavirus will undoubtedly accompany the world into the next year, and it may coexist with humans for a long time. Plagued by the outbreak, people began to wonder what the world's largest pandemic in modern society would bring and how the world will change. Recently, the Financial Times published an article by Martin Wolf, the chief economic commentator, analyzing how the pandemic would change the world from various aspects. Regardless of the point of view of the article, it did turn our attentions from focusing on the coronavirus itself to the future, which in turn triggered in-depth thinking about the pandemic from us.

First of all, the extent to which the pandemic affects the world depends on how long this catastrophe will haunt us. Wolf believes that, from a global perspective, it depends on when the vaccine can be put into use on a large scale. Judging from the current progress and the perspectives of authoritative institutions and experts, it will not be easy for the COVID-19 vaccine to be put on the market even in 2021. This means that it may be difficult for us to expect that COVID-19 would slow down its paceof ravaging the world in the winter of 2021. This process may be long and arduous. The impact of the COVID-19 is for long-term; such is the starting point of Wolf's analysis and is also a general consensus in the current world.

The economic loss caused by the outbreak depends on how quickly the pandemic can be brought under control, but it also depends on how deep the scars will be, particularly the impact of unemployment, bad debt, increased poverty, disrupted education, and so forth. Based on this, Wolf believes that if the pandemic continues for a long time, some people will be poorer than they would have otherwise been, and individual economies are likely to shrink permanently. Many political and economic experts have previously pointed out that countries will find it difficult to recover from this crisis, and that poor and failed countries will become more common in the world. In addition to the countries' own factors, the COVID-19 crisis has prompted most countries to "look inward", i.e. paying more attention to domestic affairs rather than foreign affairs, as it is difficult for countries in trouble to get external assistance. However, this does not mean that these countries have "failed" but rather, a considerable part of their development would be stagnant for long-term, which may become a universal reality.

Will people's inherent behavior patterns change? Will they stop travelling or commuting to work? Obviously not. Travelling and commuting will resume, but they may not be able to return to their pre-pandemic state. In particular, Wolf believes that we have "leapt into a new world of virtual engagement", and modern technology will play an extremely important role. What is currently happening has proven this. While it is hard to predict whether people's lives will resume to normalcy, the development of science and technology does provide an opportunity for the choice of change. The centrality of tech giants has become more prominent, but pressure to regulate monopolies and increase competition is likely to escalate as well. The current situations of several U.S. global tech giants in Europe, as well as the antitrust challenges facing the United States, demonstrates this point exactly.

What impact will the pandemic have on government and politics? Wolf believes that the pandemic will expand the role of the government, as major crises often lead to a major change in the role of the government. He also asked the question: are governments likely "to be permanently more intervening than before the pandemic?" Stephen M. Walt, professor of John F. Kennedy School of Government, suggested that under the situation of the pandemic, all types of governments will take emergency measures to control the crisis, but when this crisis is over, many of them will be reluctant to hand over these newly acquired powers; this is likely to be the accurate answer to the question Wolf asked.

What caused significant differences between countries in responding to COVID-19? From a realistic point of view, some countries have taken effective measures in response to the pandemic crisis, while others have not. Wolf believes that whether a country is democratic or not is not the factor that determines this difference so far. The entire society, including liberals, relies on the power of the government to manage the current public health crisis. In Wolf's view, part of the factor that determines this difference is whether the government cares about its effectiveness. Proving to citizens that they can deal with the crisis has enabled some leaders to obtain more political capital, while those who are unable to control the pandemic can only shirk their responsibilities. It will eventually be shown that under the impact of the pandemic, demagogues such as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Donald Trump will suffer, which may force them to change their performance politics, and some may even lose their position.

John R. Allen, President of the Brookings Institution, pointed out that, as always, the history of the COVID-19 crisis will be written by the winner. More and more individuals in every country are feeling the social tensions brought about by the pandemic in various unprecedented and shocking ways. Inevitably, countries that have persevered through their unique political and economic systems or public health policy views will declare victory over the rest of the countries that have experienced devastating blows. Allen believes that this will be a great victory for democracy, multilateralism and universal health care, while for other countries it will clearly demonstrate the benefits of a decisive authoritarian rule. According to Francis Fukuyama, the success factorsofresponding to the pandemic include national capabilities, social trust, and leadership. Countries that have all of these three (competent state machinery, governments that are trusted and obeyed by citizens, and highly efficient leaders) will perform well and have limited losses. Some countries with governmental dysfunction, social polarization, or lack of leadership will not fare well, leaving their people and economies at risk in the face of the coronavirus. Allen even expected that this crisis will reshuffle the international power structure in an unprecedented way. Kori Schake, Deputy Director-General of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), pointed out that the global impact of the pandemic could have been greatly weakened; this is what the United States should have organized, but due to the narrow, selfish and powerless American government, the United States will no longer be regarded as an international leader.

For Wolf, the pandemic is a double-edged sword for the international order: on the one hand, it makes people want to perform better, not only at the domestic but also on the global level; on the other hand, there is the reduced legitimacy of international agreements. As some scholars have pointed out, if the pandemic can make us alert and realize the real benefits of multilateral cooperation in dealing with major global events, this crisis can also be considered to have a positive impact. The COVID-19 pandemic is truly a global crisis, and only through global cooperation can effective responses be made.

What needs to be vigilant about is that the pandemic will strengthen the power of the state, encourage nationalism, and intensify the trend of unilateralism and international conflict. Wolf believes that this situation is likely to worsen now, especially between the United States and China. Related to this, globalization has slowed down after the 2008 financial crisis, and he judged that this will further slow down after the pandemic. The multilateral system, especially the World Trade Organization (WTO), may erode further, the trade dispute between the West and China will not be resolved. Robin Niblett, Director and Chief Executive of Chatham House, even pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic may be the finishing blow to economic globalization. The pandemic is forcing governments, companies and societies to strengthen their long-term ability to deal with economic isolation. In this context, it is almost impossible for the world to return to the state of globalization that was mutually beneficial and provided for a win-win situation at the beginning of the 21st century.

Final analysis conclusion:

The COVID-19 pandemic has unprecedentedly caused a serious impact on the world's economy, society and politics, and this impact is still ongoing; the world will surely change as a result. Some of the damages may be permanent, while some may be reversed or partially offset by people's choices. After all, people have more rational judgments about what is a better future.

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