The World after Corona

By Subhra Arabinda Mohanty*

1997, saw the release of a book “The Perfect Storm” authored by Sebastian Junger which
recounted the real story of a commercial fishing expedition which gets caught in a gale and
the difficult decisions the crew (mostly unprepared for such an incident) had to make in order
to survive. Immensely popular, the book was also made into a movie of the same name in
2000.

It was not long before management theorists & economists started using “The perfect storm”
as a metaphor for the disruptions brought in by the new economy – primary digital driven
ones. However, using the term “Perfect storm” for a well strategized move of digitalisation
(well anticipated after advent of web 2.0) was a classic case of hyperbole. Little did we know
that mother nature was conspiring to provide us with a better example, one that generations
shall remember and recount.

In December 2019, when the first murmurs of the deadly contagiousness of COVID-19
(popularly novel Coronavirus) spread across, it was discussed leisurely as one of those disasters which
affect “others”. Much otherwise as we may claim to, most pandemics, famines that
occured in history, existed in research numbers but for most of the living population, they
were lores.

Also much given to the natural human instinct of wishful thinking during a community
disaster, that it only happens to “others”, most of us let life run as it is without anticipating the
real “Perfect Storm” that we would soon be facing.
Since it was gradual and added to the convenience of our daily lives, we were quite oblivious
to the extent to which globalisation had engulfed us. Be it our jobs, livelihoods, daily items of
consumption or even governance, the effects of globalisation had either transformed or at
least touched each and every aspect of our lives.
Nearly every family today has a person who works outside his hometown because it is a job
that provides better remuneration and better matches her skills. Starting from the largest and
biggest industries (where the effect of globalisation is quite obvious), to the small town
factories and warehouses, none escape the effects of global supply chain and pricing
factors. And in the midst of all of this, we suddenly have the spectre of the wheel coming to a
grinding halt and threatening to disrupt our lives as we knew it to be. No wonder, our
reactions have been extreme and emotionally charged.
– “Ban all Chinese goods”
– “Put an economic embargo on China and push to the brink of extinction”
– “One more nail in the coffin of globalisation” – are some of the messages going
forward on social media.

In short, most intellectuals today are foretelling the death of globalisation and there is an
emergence of hyper-nationalism and resentment to any global sharing of/ resources knowhow.
They are not without reasons too. We see countries banning export of essential medicines
and equipment. For example, we have the USA creating a blanket ban on export of PPE and
ventilators and India facing political hesitation in exporting Hydroxychloroquine to the USA (till a
few weeks ago), though the entire export consignment had been ordered and paid for long
before the export ban fell into place, and us also having the wherewithal to produce and
stock to last for few months to say the least.
However, we also see that it is the forces of globalisation that empowers governments,
NGOs and individuals to sustain their pushback to the corona pandemic with all their might.
Most of us are aware that almost 70 percent of the Hydroxychloroquine drug is
manufactured in India, but fewer are aware that a majority of the key Active Pharmaceutical
Agent (API) of the drug is imported from China. One of the essential factors for Indian
pharma companies being able to produce the drug at such cheap prices and bulk is because
of the geographical proximity to China thus making its import faster and cheaper. In fact, some
major pharma manufacturers have written to the Indian government to airlift the key API as
an essential ingredient from China, failing which it would become difficult for them to sustain
the production of the drug at such cheap prices.
Refer –
https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/healthcare/biotech/pharmaceuticals/drug-coswant-govt-to-airlift-apis-from-china/articleshow/74956938.cms?from=mdr

And as we read this article now, hundreds of labs are working round the clock to find the
wonder molecule(s) that could save the life of those grappling with the deadly virus and also
the vaccine that could save the lives of many more in the times to come. And these labs are
collaborating with each other (thanks to an active social media and advanced
communication technology – a co-traveller of globalisation), notwithstanding the concerns of
borders and time zones with one mission in mind, to save the world. Few decades back,
such information would have taken some costly time to reach the other end of the world.
These are some instances only of the humongous amount of collaboration that occurs daily
to fight the virus which has been made seamless due to globalisation enforcing them earlier
in the day. Anywhere in the near future, no country, region or even a continent can bring
about self sufficiency in terms of resources, technical knowhow, employment or livelihood.
And since each of the four form the basis for human sustenance and the modern socioeconomic system, it is imperative for them to flourish.
And as we have seen since the advent of globalisation, it is the trans-global movement of
resources, knowhow and expertise and hence livelihoods that enables more meaningful
utilization of each of them and encourages research and innovation.

Nations entering into a period of artificial socio-economic cocooning is not unprecedented in
history. Post the world-wars or even BREXIT – one of more nations did enter into this phase
only to be yanked back into the fold of globalisation due to practical realisation of its futility.
Thus, globalisation is very much here to stay, alive and kicking. But what will be its form and
equation?

For sure, globalisation will not be the same as before. Competing self-interest amongst
nations, scarce jobs and an impending economic gloom will be presenting difficult choices
for a globalised world economy. One hand, we shall have the immense advantages accruing
due to collaboration and on the other hand we will be facing stiff resistance to sharing of
resources and cross movement of employment opportunities (mostly arising out of fear than
ground realities).

There is a newer discipline called design thinking which is now an essential element in the modern
business management handbook. And the process of design thinking starts with empathy.
Empathy refers to a skill that allows us to understand and share the same feelings that others feel.
During the fight with Corona, it is empathy which was demonstrated in ample measure by
government servants, private labs and corporations and their employees alike.
Was it a future incentive that propelled a civil servant to spend her nights in office? Was it a
future raise that made an IT professional make 24X7 efforts to keep mission critical
applications running ? Was it any foreseeable profit that made private organisations pour out
their war chests for the public good?
Definitely not. It was that sheer and desperate feeling that we are in this soup together. It
was the realization that for us as a whole to survive and carry on this spiel, we have to
ensure that the smallest part of us survives as well. And that is empathy. It is this empathy that has to be the basis of the globalisation that will emerge from this crisis we are facing today. Empathy that will drive technological innovation for better and cheaper
healthcare. Empathy that shall goad the principles for more equitable economic growth (be it
for private organisations or national economies) and also cooperation between nations for
ensuring better life and livelihood conditions for its citizens.

If not, then we risk slipping to the phase of economic ghettoes as seen during the aftermath
of the world wars, only this time the consequences shall be more lethal.

 

The author is a management professional and a doctoral student of management science. He can be reached through e-mail at s[email protected]

 

 

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of  Sambad English.

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