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The Black Death emptied the countryside in the 14th century, forcing landowners to pay peasants for their labor. Six hundred years later, Spanish flu contributed directly to the birth of socialized medicine. And now, what good will you do for humanity following the Covid-19 disaster?

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has undermined the world economy, it has also made the unthinkable possible: the fiscal squeeze has lost its grip, the rules of the game are being challenged, the welfare state is making a comeback, and there has been a sharp drop in greenhouse gas emissions. We know, of course, that this is only transitory but could we collectively create the right conditions to ensure that the beneficial effects stand the test of time? Where should we start? Maybe quite simply by asking the right questions.

1 – Return to the old rules or start over?

Some people believe there’s an urgent need to kickstart the economy and stake everything on growth. The only reasonable approach, they claim, is to pretend that the crisis never happened and continue creating value without altering the rules of the game. A substantial majority, on the other hand, are calling for wholesale change, with some commentators taking up surprising positions, such as Patrick Artus, head economist at Natixis bank, who signaled “the end of neoliberal capitalism”1 without the slightest regret. Does this mean we should give up on the future as we had imagined it?

Well, why not, since it already seems obsolete and unsuited to the fragile world that will be ours in the years to come. Thinkers such as the environmentalist Deepa Pullanikkatil and researchers from the Closing Worlds2 initiative reject the idea of decay. Instead, they suggest decommissioning entire sections of the economy and redirecting the capital to sustainable activities. Pie in the sky? Not necessarily: Ford is already envisioning a car-free world, while Michelin is working on life after tires. The philosopher Bruno Latour3 has put forward the idea of a transition trajectory studded with major questions: what activities would you not like to see restarted and why? And, conversely, what activities do you consider priorities? How can the disappearance of the former foster the development of the latter? What must we do to facilitate the human and financial transition?

2 – Should everyone be recalled to the office or should distance-working be preferred?

 

 

1 “Le Covid-19 sonnera-t-il le glas du capitalisme?” by Pierre Rondeau (Slate, April 2020).
2 “Il faut renoncer aux futurs déjà obsoletes” by Alban Agnoux, Aurélien Fabre and Bastien Marchand (Usbek&Rica, May 2020).
3 “Imaginer les gestes-barrières contre le retour à la production d’avant-crise” by Bruno Latour (AOC, May 2020).

Excerpt from Business Digest N°307, June 2020

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