Ex machina: The patroness of Athens, goddess Athena, ready to defend Greece’s capital city, even in those strange and awkward first days of the lockdown.
Do not let a crisis go to waste (But Don’t Expect The Whole Thing From It)
by Nikos Christodoulakis*
Whenever a major crisis occurs – especially if it has a serious impact on the economy – a long discussion begins about how, how much and what things will change in human societies. We see such a phenomenon today with the pandemic and scenarios are already circulating ranging from nightmares about the Great Depression, fears of universal citizen policing, pleasurable teleworking from home without the stress of going, to ideological defeat of neoliberalism and the rapid transition to ecological standards.
Before we get into deep analysis, it is good to keep in mind that pandemics not only do not always lead to radical change, but are rather quickly forgotten because no one wants to remember illness and death. Pandemics are inciting big changes only if the previous social organisation is overthrown on such a scale that it can no longer be reorganised or if they affect many societies at the same time and impose a similar adaptation on all. For this reason, let’s start with a few historical remarks and then describe the areas where the need for change and adjustment is more likely to manifest due to the current pandemic.
A major pandemic was the Black Death in the 14th century that wiped out half of Europe’s population and caused mass migration of villagers to the cities and construction sites of the time. At the same time, however, climate change was triggered by the arrival of ice in Scandinavia, forcing northern peoples to emigrate en masse to central Europe to find new crops. This resulted in a radically new social composition, which was combined with the search for more efficient methods of production and now required a different model of work and wealth accumulation. When this began to strengthen, he overthrew feudalism and laid the foundations of capitalism. In other pandemics, however, no such transitions were observed, except perhaps for the shock of each shift in power or the pressure on medicine and biology to find drugs and vaccines. For example, the much more deadly “Spanish flu” of the 20th century was digested by the rapid developments of the interwar period and no social or economic change is mentioned because of it.
1. We need changes, not just benefits
Today’s pandemic, despite its spread, has fortunately not reached a single fraction of the losses of the 14th century. But it has several other similarities because it coincides with rapid reorganisations in international trade, immigration, technology and government. Each country is obliged to take them into account and adapt accordingly either because it needs it or because other countries will do it, friendly or competitive. The more interconnected the economies, the wider the inductive changes that will be made to them to ensure a similar technology (e.g. in transport) and to continue trading with those who are in partnership or not to lag behind. against opponents.
So far, the public debate in Greece about the effects of the pandemic on the economy is flooded with depressing predictions of the impending recession, the threatened bankruptcy of many businesses and the new wave of unemployment that will hit the youngest and most vulnerable again. Although the extreme scenarios may not be verified in the end, the blow will still be significant and unprecedented. It is clear that there must be direct national and European initiatives to strengthen the threatened sectors, workers and businesses – and even to implement them before the crisis manages to provoke accomplishments that are then difficult to rectify.
However, it is equally obvious that the front of cover and compensation cannot be the only policy framework, neither in Greece nor, for sure, in the European Union. The resources are neither inexhaustible at the national level, nor will they be unlimited at European level, even if the ambitious plans of the Euro-bonds, which we analysed in a previous article, are approved. Also because the consequences of the pandemic in the various sectors of the economy will not be of the same magnitude and intensity in all countries, so soon there will be disagreements about where to go European funds and how to use them.
For all these reasons we need to open another front for the adjustment and rearrangement of businesses, labor, the state and institutions in general with two goals: First, to limit the threat of the current recession as much as possible and immediately, and secondly, in the future. to be able to better deal with similar unrest. Developments and new data in technology, communications, production, education, product distribution are just some of the changes we will soon see flooding all countries and we urgently need to become participants.
These changes will be made easier if we realise in time the changes that will take place in the geopolitical sphere, and if also the state is upgraded in time to face similar crises in the future. It should be emphasised that the following statement is neither complete, nor prioritised, nor confident in the appropriate answers. However, it is necessary to start a discussion and continue with similar interventions in order to form a dense agenda of mature changes and improvements in infrastructure, institutions and even geopolitics in general. We start with the last ones, which will be the most invulnerable because they come from external factors.
2. New correlations and trade alliances
At this stage of globalization, all countries are anxiously watching the shifts in power at the four peaks – the United States, China, Europe and Russia – to see what they will do next. China’s international influence will be strongly challenged by the United States and Europe, which will find it responsible for the birth and spread of the epidemic. In this way (or under the pretext) they will try to limit its further dominance in world markets and reduce its growing influence, both investmently and geopolitically. Russia will offer cover to China, but it does not have the vital depth of the markets that would allow a full compensation to Chinese trade.
An important factor in the reshaping of international relations will be the expected spread of the pandemic in Third World countries, the acidity it will have and who will help them cope more. China is already organising a generous counterattack of friendship and assistance in all countries, especially the small ones where the cost is small but the impact on UN votes is equivalent to other countries. The end result will be judged by whether the West is equally deprived of the resources it needs, especially in Latin America and Africa. The United States, which would otherwise have seized the opportunity for the Southern Hemisphere, does not seem willing to do so. Europe, which for years has been announcing the need for a new relationship with the Black Continent, has not yet considered it, and is hesitant about what to do in its own countries.
So it is likely that China’s intervention will not face competition and its influence will be further strengthened. But that will set the West on fire, and pressure to curb Chinese infiltration will increase. Smaller countries will be forced by the big Westerners to reconsider their business alliances with China.
Greece is also in this category, which during the previous period of investment drought welcomed – and did very well – with open arms the willing Chinese capital. But now it will accept many suggestions and pressures to limit their expansion and avoid interfering with Chinese interests in areas of strategic importance. In order not to be stunned, Greece needs to work out new business alliances, especially in Europe, but without undermining what it has agreed on in recent years with China and other emerging economies that have helped it survive. Rearrangement will not be easy at all, simply because there is no alternative investment tank (e.g. from Europe or the US) that could replace or even compete with what China has already launched.
3. Immigration and refugee flows
Consequences of the pandemic will be the tension in the movement of migratory and refugee flows. On the one hand, degraded health infrastructure in poor countries will push even more people to flee to be saved, while developed countries will deny them access not only to avoid a second wave of outbreaks but also because they have learned their own health. systems are at the limit after years of neglect.
The United States has already established draconian rules to prevent entry and obstruction of work, while making it more difficult to obtain citizenship even for those who go to the army. In the European Union, a ban has already been imposed on the general entry ban, which was initially announced for a month, but has been tacitly extended until further notice. This development directly affects Greece, but not unequivocally. On the one hand, it will impose a controlled management of migration flows by EU mechanisms. and at their own risk – just as Greece has been seeking for years. However, it will soon collide with the impasse that has arisen inside Turkey, because they have changed their strategy there as well. With the pandemic reaping and the economy sinking into crisis, Turkish public opinion is now urging President Erdogan to evict the large refugee populations he has invited and tried to exploit for economic and geopolitical rewards.
The question is whether the treatment of Turkish refugee refugees should be taken as it should be by the EU and Frontex or left alone in Greece. In the first case, we will have a major EU-Turkey crisis, which Germany is not at all ready to accept, much less to provoke itself. In the second, our country will enter a phase of constant and insidious confrontation with unpredictable consequences for which it must be prepared infinitely more harmoniously than for the pandemic. Because this time the so-called “flattening strategy” will no longer be about the Covid-19 mortality curve but the F-16 orbit that threatens our islands, the praise of the international community that so often will diminish. shows reckless tolerance in Turkey’s games. Greece needs to prepare for a long and rather solitary management of the coming escalation.
4. NHS upgrade as a comparative advantage
In addition to the international trends, each country will make its own report to see what needs to change. During the pandemic in Greece, the healthcare system managed to cope with the pressure of hospitalisation thanks to a combination of self-denial and staff compliance with the guidelines. As in other countries, the pandemic will leave a pandemic demand for upgrading the public health system with new staff, more incentives, beds and technical means.
All this is correct, but in order to have the best possible result in society, three other criteria need to be added: meritocracy, reliability and evaluation. For the following reasons: New crisis response requirements will always be pressing the health system must make the best choices for executives so that they can evolve constantly and be able to adequately meet the next and perhaps unknown test again.
Because the health system for many years was based mainly on the offer of its conscientious executives and more rarely on the ability of administrations, it is necessary to eliminate customer practices and replace them with modern management and personal responsibility. The choices of citizens in the administrations last fall still remind us that the road to change will be long.
Finally, because resources will never be sufficient, everyone needs to be evaluated to improve and be rewarded accordingly. If wages are flat, they will always be low, which will dry up the best-selling incentives or turn them into other pay practices that we all know exist but don’t want to talk about. However, if the experiment with the NHS succeeds, the way will be opened for a meritocratic reorganisation throughout the State.
Apart from the NHS, Greece has other means for the overall upgrade of the health, care and treatment sector. As in all countries, so in Greece a critical battle against the pandemic is called to give the Biology Research Centers with continuous analyses of the evolution of the virus and search for antibodies. Today there are eight Biology Research Centers (six of them are in Athens) with high-level staff, as well as a number of similar university institutes and laboratories.
Given the high level of scientists they have, the Greek research centers have significant firepower and will be able to participate with claims in the pan-European efforts to find and develop vaccines. If domestic pharmaceutical companies move in a similar direction, Greece will be able to stand out in the production of the vaccine, as many countries seek. This is how a country’s comparative advantages are built and its position in a highly competitive sector internationally is consolidated.
5. Regional reconstruction of the country
In the comparisons between countries for the best reaction to the pandemic, the superiority of Greece over the neighboring countries of Italy, France and Spain still remains an enigma. Apparently, several factors and political figures played a role, but there is also a structural difference between them that may have influenced their decision-making ability and outcome. It is who is responsible for overseeing and coordinating the health care system in each region of the country. In the three other Mediterranean countries, the elected local self-government of the regions has important and / or exclusive competence, which not only does not coordinate quickly in emergencies, but may take on a completely different meaning, judging by its political affiliation or hostility to it. central government.
For example, imagine the dialogue that may have taken place between separatist Catalonia and Sanchez against secession, between the regional governor of the League in Lombardy and the center-left Health Minister, or finally between Macron and local lords who wear the weekends. vest. The consultation would take time and mutual suspicion would leave many gaps, during which the coronation continued unabated.
In a paradoxical – but nevertheless happy – situation, in Greece the transfer of health responsibilities from the ministry to the regions has not yet taken place and thus the elected officials had no involvement in the decisions or their implementation. Of course, this does not mean that if they had responsibilities, they would all be able to overcome obstacles. However, the sad example of the governor of the North Aegean, who a while ago sabotaged the central decisions on immigration, could be repeated and blow up the national coordination.
After the pandemic, it would be good to reconsider all the responsibilities and functions of the regional self-government, especially in relation to situations of readiness and crisis, which require central coordination. In combination with the lucrative risk of the aforementioned geopolitical tensions, it would be good to address these issues before other examples of local undermining emerge at a much higher national cost (e.g. one day in Thrace).
6. State reorganisation and preparedness plans
A key prerequisite for the proper response of the state apparatus to a crisis is to have a business plan of reaction and mobilization, which is modern, to adapt regularly to the available technologies and to be constantly on the alert. In Greece, these criteria are sometimes met, so the state reacts in a timely and correct manner, but others remain empty with dramatic results. State intervention in the 1999 Attica earthquake was effective, but not in the 2007 Ilia fires. The effects of the floods were severely reduced in Moschato, Athens in 2002, but not in Mandra, Attica in 2016. There has always been criticism of inadequate technical means. However, in 2018 the firefighting equipment was modern but could not prevent the disaster in Mati, Attice.
We thus come to the second basic condition which is the adequate staffing and training of the competent top units, otherwise even the best plan will remain inapplicable. There are key setbacks in this area and one hopes that the necessary recruitment will cover the most important areas. But as long as they have real qualifications and (stay strong) stay in the places where they were placed. And here begins another chapter of pathologies of the state mechanism.
Often some who have been hired are on the lookout for other positions, either to get lazy or to go to another service near their home, even if they are far from the job they were supposed to serve. Hospitals in the past have been abused in this way, and critical positions have remained vacant, especially in the region. In the last decade, however, they have been drastically reduced, and nursing staff have been in place, and this has made the NHS so effective in the epidemic. In other areas of the public sector, however, there is still extensive and selfish use of this strange Greek rule. Not a few detached people don’t even go to another public service, but they are housed in party or parliamentary offices and have become political executives with a salary from taxpayers.
It is imperative that this idiosyncratic privilege be abolished immediately so that all those on alert can return to their organic positions. Similarly, similar cases should be addressed in education, security forces and other top-level and social priority services. All the more so since most of the postings are made to serve customer relationships and not, of course, citizens. Who after the pandemic will need exactly these services of learning, support and security more than ever.
Crises have never been an automatic mechanism for correcting the bad things in a society and the unhindered prevalence of good – no matter how one interprets these concepts. The process of change is neither supernatural nor socially neutral, but the result of a design that prevails or fails depending on the outcome of the inevitable conflicts.
We have noticed such phenomena in the debt crisis of the last decade with the Memoranda, where the most burdensome adjustment was made by employees and private sector entities with large income cuts and heavier taxation compared to other sectors. In contrast, there have been several others who have been enriched by the crisis, taking their capital out and pretending to be the helpless to give them bank loans. This has led to an opaque redistribution of resources that has increased inequality to the detriment of the poorest and those who have fulfilled their obligations, benefiting those who have bypassed them.
In general, the greater the impact of a crisis, the harder it will be to divide costs between those who want a reversal of the previous situation and those who resist because their established interests are affected – locally, nationally or internationally. We will see similar reactions and behaviours regarding the pandemic. Preparations have already begun.
The country’s success in avoiding a mass catastrophe is being hailed as a positive step in pursuing a comprehensive recovery effort. But in order for Greece to have similar success in the next phase of the recovery, it must show a willingness to change and adapt, with study, plan and perseverance. If they are abandoned on autopilot, then those who push harder will strengthen their positions to the detriment of many more.