The Covid-19 pandemic has created a wonderful opportunity for politicians and pundits. Local politicians—state and city in the US and city and barangay in the Philippines—have earned a fortune, power, and fame. Pundits have had something to write about.
The key to the deal, though, is that the pandemic has changed the world at least in the foreseeable future.
Much of the focus on the changes that we are facing has been on the workplace and business in general. Many jobs in the developed nations will not be coming back after the crisis ends. Already, millions of small businesses have been destroyed, decimated by Fed policies that favor huge companies. Further, there had been a surge in automation prior to the pandemic that will continue into the future.
A year ago, low-income workers were demanding and going on strike for a higher US minimum wage. Now they are jobless and especially in the fast-food business, robots are the future.
The fact is that the push for globalization has often put the interests of the big corporations above that of a nation’s economy. However, also a fact is that the only way to compete on the world scene is to lower production costs across the economy. So, either send manufacturing overseas to countries like Southeast Asia—and China—or automate.
But China’s largest private employer, Foxconn, which manufactures the iPhone, has installed over a million robots. Eventually, “you run out of places to chase the [cheap] labor,” says Rodney Brooks, an Australian roboticist. This is where automation and robots enter the picture.”
However, the changes in labor are only one part of the situation. American Professor of Political Science Andrew Latham teaches in his course Plagues, Pandemics and Politics. “Pandemics tend to shape human affairs in three ways. First, they can profoundly alter a society’s fundamental worldview. Second, they can upend core economic structures. And, finally, they can sway power struggles among nations.”
He cites that the Antonine plague, which wiped out at least 25 percent of the Roman Empire’s population, triggered a transformation in the religious culture. Christianity had only 40,000 adherents in the Empire. Within a generation of the end of the Cyprian plague, Christianity had become the dominant religion in the empire.
Motivated by Christian charity and an ethic of care for the sick, the empire’s Christian communities were willing and able to provide care. Pagan Romans opted to flee outbreaks of the plague or to self-isolate in the hope of being spared infection. The Black Death broke out in Europe in 1347 and by the time the pandemic ended, a labor shortage created a free market for workers, breaking the serfdom and slavery of previous centuries.
Until the plague of Justinian from A.D. 542 until A.D. 755, the Mediterranean area had been relatively unified by commerce, politics, religion, and culture. Rome was crippled by the plague but also was its rival Sassanid Persia. Neither could take advantage of the other. But the Islamic Rashidun Caliphate in Arabia was largely unaffected by the plague. Caliph Abu Bakr quickly conquered the entire Sasanian Empire and kicked Rome out of the Levant, the Caucasus, Egypt, and North Africa.
Latham leaves us with this thought: “But just as past plagues made the world we currently inhabit, so too will this plague likely remake the one populated by our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
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