Is this the end of globalisation (as we know it)?
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A reflection of the COVID-19 Pandemic Crisis and its effects on Developing Countries
The health, economic, social and political crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic will reconfigure the geopolitics of international relations and globalization. We are only at the beginning of this crisis, particularly on the economic and social fronts. Many sectors, such as tourism, transportation and entertainment, will only recover over a very long time; many jobs will be destroyed. In contrast, other sectors are insufficiently developed and cruelly lacking in production. Therefore, we must act now to give the economy a new direction and to harness new engines of development.
French Economist Patrick Artus (2020) argued that the current pandemic and its consequences could precipitate a slowdown in ‘’Globalization’’ or even result in a process of ‘’Deglobalization’’. We can expect to see an acceleration in the structural changes that we have already been seeing in the process of globalization. Indeed, COVID-19 and the way of addressing it is slowing physical globalization down. At the same time, it is also promoting an important digital, online form of globalization.
UN SG António Guterres (UN Economic Commission for Africa Report, 2020, p.iv) wrote:
This is not a financial crisis. This is a human crisis. This is not a question of just bringing liquidity to the financial systems, which, of course, is necessary. We need to support directly those that lose their jobs, those that lose their salaries, the small companies that cannot operate anymore, all those that are the fabrics of our societies, and we need to make sure that we keep thousands afloat, we keep small companies afloat, we keep all societies afloat.
Former Director General of UNESCO Professor Federico Mayor Zaragoza (2020a) argued that:
In the face of the current outbreak of coronavirus –COVID-19– we cannot further tolerate an economy based on speculation, relocation of production and war. We must replace it by an economy based on knowledge and the promotion of a global sustainable development, allowing a dignified life for everyone and no longer excluding 80% of mankind, as it is currently the case.
The public understanding of Coronavirus can be categorized into three main discourses: one is scientific, the second is interpretive of certain incidents and the third is related to the effects on the global economy. World opinion in the era of internet and social medias has consumed a variety of virus misinformation and disinformation and internalized deep fear and anxiety. Indeed, there have been allegations about the existence of ‘secret labs’, ‘government plots’, and implicit ‘manipulation’ of the virus in the U.S.-China geo-economic competition. The overall panic has helped sell alarmist information. So far, two dominant narratives have circulated the globe: China ‘manufactured’ the virus, and the United States ‘started’ the outbreak deliberately.
Harvard distinguished Professor Joseph Nye (2020) observed that:
Global threats such as COVID-19 and climate change, however, do not discriminate by nationality. In a globalized world, most people belong to a number of overlapping imagined communities – local, regional, national, ethnic, religious, professional – and leaders do not have to appeal to the narrowest identities in order to mobilize support or solidarity.
The coronavirus crisis is primarily a public health issue, demanding containment policies that inevitably lead to shocks to economic activity. A major reason for containment is the widespread perception that, given the dynamics of infection—and corresponding numbers of people in need of clinical care—local clinical care capacities risk being swamped, with higher death tolls, in a ‘do-nothing’ scenario. Therefore, policies to flatten the pandemic curve and gain time – such as “social distancing” and “stay-at-home” recommendations or orders – become vital, regardless of whether they reduce the absolute number of infected cases.
The UN Report (2020, p. 1) observed that:
We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations — one that is killing people, spreading human suffering, and upending people’s lives. But this is much more than a health crisis. It is a human crisis. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is attacking societies at their core. The IMF has just reassessed the prospect for growth for 2020 and 2021, declaring that we have entered a recession – as bad as or worse than in 2009. The IMF projects recovery in 2021 only if the world succeeds in containing the virus and take the necessary economic measures.
The UN report is an alarming call to take immediate action to provide urgent support to developing countries with weaker health systems. It also addresses the need for an immediate health response to suppress transmission of the virus to end the pandemic and to tackle the many social and economic dimensions of this crisis. It is, above all, a call to focus on people – women, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and on vulnerable groups who are already at risk.
The crisis has hit at a time in which part of the international community is questioning the pillars of the world order put in place after the Second World War, especially multilateral governance. All this means that a health crisis that is undeniably global in nature is occurring in a context in which national identities are being reasserted. While it is still too early to predict the macroeconomic impact, some analysts argue that the economic, political and social consequences will be more devastating and deeper than those of the 2008 crisis (Artus, 2020; Chomsky, 2020a, 2020b; Krugman, 2020; Mayor, 2020; Nye, 2020; Prodi, 2020c, Strauss-Khan, 2020; Stiglitz, 2020). One of the greatest impacts of the outbreak of COVID-19 has been on the crude oil market, as two-thirds of oil is used for transport. The large production cut by OPEC and other oil producers failed to lift prices in April. The combination of external shocks – financial, remittances, tourism, and commodity prices –and domestic hardships to flatten coronavirus curves of infection and recession has configured what one may call a ‘perfect storm’.
We are already seeing some of the consequences of the crisis, such as interruptions in production, consumption and trade. It is also possible to anticipate some of the effects from the dramatic reduction in the international flows of people. Multilateral organizations, the media and research institutes are trying to identify and study many of these short-, medium- and long-term effects.
The paper presents an examination of the current Covid-19 crisis and analyses the potential impact on the globalization process and the global economy. Afterward, we assess the impact of Covid-19 on the African economy. The paper ends with a conclusion and key policy recommendations.
- Understanding the Complexity of the Covid-19
The COVID-19 crisis has become more predictable in a sense. Mayor (2020b) noted that what was widely viewed as a ‘Chinese problem,’ and then an ‘Italian problem’ has become an ‘everybody problem’. China has been able to contain and the same seems true for South Korea. Former President of the European Commission Professor Romano Prodi (2020a) observed that Italy was unlucky to be the first country to be infected in Europe. However, he argued that:
As soon as the real dimensions were understood, we reacted swiftly. But think how difficult it is to take the decision to change life of millions of people. Some countries might believe that the problem would have been confined to Italy. But soon all got the same measures. Spain, France and the UK.
Indeed, as Prodi puts it, the virus spreads and as it does the epicenter of the pandemic shifts toward Europe, then the US and now to Africa. The European Union is not yet equal to these new challenges. And it is normal: health is not a Community policy as defined by Member States; and the Union’s budget is limited to one percent of GDP. And yet, with these meagre resources, and though taken by surprise, the current leaders of the Union, in particular the Commission and the Central Bank, are performing miracles. National governments are also doing a lot, in a more fragmented manner. Prodi (2020b) argued that the European Union is “confronted with an existential crisis” with “unhappiness among populations and distrust of politicians.” Furthermore, Prodi (2020c) argued that:
The EU will end badly if European countries do not face the pandemic together.
Europe is divided and has trouble making decisions is not a new problem. All the European institutions have seen their role reduced in recent years while that of the countries has increased. The only strong body is precisely the one that is not democratic, the European Central Bank.
When we created the euro, it was very clear that the single currency could not exist without Eurobonds. The economic problem requires quick action. It is essential that aid reaches companies as soon as possible. It is better to go into debt now than to do it later, when it may be too late.
The financial crisis of 2008 revealed the considerable fragility of the monetary union. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the need for designing a new European debt instrument that would guarantee coordinated and transparent fiscal strategies and would then make the common monetary policy once more fully effective. The creation of the Eurobond will obviously not be free of difficulty. The risks likely to surface at the time of its introduction are numerous. The federalists have rightly come up with an old idea, Eurobonds, which would enable the European Union to support Member States that have difficulty obtaining low-interest financing. This proposal has led to, once again, deep division between the countries of the South (this time, France rightly lined up beside them), and the others, not at all determined to finance the less prosperous states. Among the most vehement, we find the Germans and the Dutch; either because they do not want to give their populist oppositions an opening; or because populist parties are already members of the ruling coalition. If the EU countries do not step up together now, then the situation will only get worse with serious and costly human and political consequences.
2.2 Why is there a Coronavirus Crisis?
COVID-19 is proving to be a grave threat to humanity. But this is not a one-off, there will be future crises, and we can be better prepared to mitigate them. In reality few governments were fully prepared or willing to take strong action early.
MIT distinguished Professor Noam Chomsky (2020a) argued that:
It is a colossal market failure. It goes right back to the essence of markets exacerbated by the savage neoliberal intensification of deep social-economic problems.
Chomsky (2020b) tackles the questions of what lessons we can learn from this pandemic and how society may organize moving forward. He argued that:
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) caught the world unprepared, and the economic, social and political consequences of the pandemic are expected to be dramatic, in spite of recent pledges by leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies to inject $5 trillion into the global economy in order to spur economic recovery.
Pandemics have been predicted by scientists for a long time, particularly since the 2003 SARS pandemic, which was caused by a coronavirus similar to COVID-19. They also predict that there will be further and probably worse pandemics. If we hope to prevent the next ones, we should therefore ask how this happened, and change what went wrong. The lessons arise at many levels, from the roots of the catastrophe to issues specific to particular countries.
Furthermore, Chomsky (2020a) pointed out that:
The Obama administration had recognized the potential problem. It ordered high-quality low-cost ventilators from a small company that was then bought by a large corporation, Covidien, which shelved the project, apparently because the products might compete with its own high-cost ventilators. It then informed the government that it wanted to cancel the contract because it was not profitable enough.
So far normal capitalist logic. But as Nell (1984) argued three decades ago, at that point the neoliberal pathology delivered another hammer blow. The government could have stepped in, but that’s barred by the reigning doctrine pronounced by Ronald Reagan: Government is the problem, not the solution. So nothing could be done. We should pause for a moment to reconsider within Nell (1984)’s framework the meaning of the formula. In practice, it means that government is not the solution when the welfare of the population is at stake, but it very definitely is the solution for the problems of private wealth and corporate power. Nell (1984) argued that the record is ample under Reagan and since, and there should be no need to review it. The mantra “Government bad” is similar to the vaunted “free market” — easily skewed to accommodate exorbitant claims of capital.
- Deconstructing Globalization
French economist Jacques Attali (1998) draws a distinction between the French words ”globalization” and ”mundialization”. The first was made possible thanks to technology, and the second was made possible by the market. As a result all major issues will tend to become international and interdependent.
Nell, Errouaki and Mayor (2020) consider ‘globalization’ to have both senses. Usually the term ‘globalization’ refers to the opening and deregulating of economic activities – the removal of tariff barriers to trade, of restrictions on investment and capital flows. New technologies can also make communication and transportation faster and cheaper. Economic instability can develop, calling for controls and regulation and leading to political changes. With the rise of the Internet and the development of faster communication, there has also been a globalizing of culture – including the emergence of something like a world youth culture. And, of course, the issue of cultural imperialism has been raised.
In recent years Globalization has been widely considered a new development; but it is not. It has not only happened before, taking place on a grand scale prior to World War I, but it has, in fact, always been a feature of capitalist development, even if not appearing in such a dramatic guise. Essentially Globalization is nothing more or less than capitalist development, taking place on a world scale, in much the same way that it happens on the national or local scene. Globalization is capitalist development and capitalist development is ‘’Transformational Growth’’, to use Nell’s concept, in this case, on the world scale. Just as we must control and direct capitalist development on the national or local scene, so must we act when it appears on the global stage.
- Economic Deglobalization
Prodi (2020b) argued that the spectre of ‘’De-Globalisation” and a trade war between the United States and China are just two of the key challenges for 2019 and beyond. He notes that:
Our social models are under pressure – with a huge and as yet unsatisfied requirement to modernize and adapt to the needs of all our citizens, and the opportunities presented by a digitally-transformed world.
There is a clear and urgent need for the Europeans to create a genuine social Europe.
Artus (2020) argued that the coronavirus and the way of thinking about and controlling it, is bringing the world to a standstill with tremendous risks. It is not that coronavirus has put in train a process of Deglobalisation. This originated earlier, in the reactions to the 2008 crisis and what came in its wake. The widespread contagion from COVID-19, largely because of human hyper-interconnection, is dramatically accelerating the process. Combating the virus involves keeping people apart, the opposite of what we have experienced in recent decades and previously. Borders are staging a comeback, even in the EU.
Noam Chomsky (2020b) wrote:
There are all sorts of associations among people — and conflicts of interest among them — that do not coincide with colors on maps. The sordid spectacle of states competing when cooperation is needed to combat a global crisis highlights the need to dismantle profit-based globalization and to construct true internationalism, if we hope to avoid extinction. The crisis is offering many opportunities to liberate ourselves from ideological chains, to envision a very different world, and to move on to create it.
The coronavirus is likely to change the highly fragile international economy that has been constructed in recent years, profit-driven and dismissive of externalized costs such as the huge destruction of the environment caused by transactions within complex supply chains, not to speak of the destruction of lives and communities. It’s likely that all of this will be reshaped, but again we should ask, and answer, the question of whose will be the guiding hands.
Covid-19 has submitted the global economy to a Great Lockdown, as the IMF called it. In a short time, country after country has suffered outbreaks, with each facing a three-fold shock: epidemiologic, economic, and financial. In addition to dealing with their own local coronavirus outbreaks, emerging market and developing countries have faced additional shocks from abroad. Analysts agree that the crisis we are facing will have a major economic impact on all dimensions of international exchange (OECD, 2020a, 2020b) and that both its duration and the different responses will affect the rhythm and nature of globalization in different ways (IMF, 2020).
In the energy and commodities markets, the drop in oil prices and the conflict between Russia and Saudi Arabia have dragged down the prices of other primary goods. Also production and investment are highly transnational, with fragmented manufacturing processes distributed across global production chains. The crisis has highlighted the risk of geographic dependence on China, which could either result in strategies to diversify the location of suppliers, without negatively impacting aggregate trade, or trigger a wave of delocalization, with the associated drop in trade volumes.
Nell, Errouaki and Mayor (2020) argued that Deglobalization is conceptually set in contrast to the process of globalization. They argued that the incapacity of globalization to find solutions to some vital issues of the global economy (such as poverty, unemployment, decline and destructuring of entire economic sectors etc.), has created a profound degradation of several historically constituted economic and social structures, which, until then, seemed to be unwavering. Accordingly, economists swiftly proceeded to the definition and implementation of a new term which, for lack of other notions, was termed “Deglobalization”.
Similar to globalization, a set of indices can be taken into account in order to reveal the facets of the phenomenon of ‘’Deglobalization’’. Artus (2020) argued that the process of ‘’Deglobalization’’ can be best highlighted by watching at least three main economic flows, namely: i) Dynamics of imports and exports of goods and services at a global or regional level, as an expression of international commerce. ii) Dynamics of expats’ money remittances. iii) Inflows and outflows brought by foreign direct and portfolio investments. These three macroeconomic components do not give a clear enough picture of the globalization process. The analysis must rest on additional information, such as of changes in technology transfer, evolution of tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade, restrictions imposed by some states on the free movement of labour, elaboration of administrative acts meant to encourage the purchase and consumption of local goods, subsidies offered to protect the agricultural sector etc.. Many of these leverages are activated especially during periods of economic crisis. Furthermore, Nell, Errouaki and Mayor (2020) argued that conclusive evidence follows from the reaction of highly developed countries (Japan, USA, Germany, France, UK, etc.) to the negative effects of the 2008 economic-financial crisis. These have contributed in different ways to some pullback from the process of globalization. It would be wrong to attribute these changes only to economic crises. Other events, such as natural and economic disasters, major armed conflicts, coronavirus, etc., can also contribute to this development.
- What are the consequences for Developing Countries?
The Coronavirus has brought a perfect storm to developing countries. Africa is particularly susceptible because 56 per cent of the urban population is concentrated in overcrowded and poorly serviced slum dwellings (excluding North Africa) and only 34 per cent of the households have access to basic hand washing facilities. In all, 71 per cent of Africa’s workforce is informally employed, and most of those cannot work from home. Close to 40 per cent of children under 5 years of age in Africa are undernourished. Stiglitz (2020) argued that:
The impact of COVID-19 on developing and emerging economies has only begun to reveal itself. There are good reasons to believe that these countries will [be] ravaged far more by the pandemic than the advanced economies have been. After all, people in lower-income countries tend to live in closer proximity to one another. A higher share of the population suffers from pre-existing health problems that render them more vulnerable to the disease. And these countries’ health systems are even less prepared to manage an epidemic than those of the advanced economies (which have hardly functioned smoothly).
Many African countries have taken bold quarantine and lockdown measures to control the spread of COVID-19 although this has come at a cost such as the collapse of health systems and a painful economic crisis or recession.
The African Union Report (2020, p. 6) noted that:
The crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic is plunging the world economy to depths unknown since the Second World War, adding to the woes of an economy that was already struggling to recover from the pre-2008 crisis. Beyond its impact on human health (materialized by morbidity and mortality), COVID-19 is disrupting an interconnected world economy through global value chains, which account for nearly half of global trade, abrupt falls in commodity prices, fiscal revenues, foreign exchange receipts, foreign financial flows, travel restrictions, declining of tourism and hotels, frozen labor market, etc.
Developing countries have an urgent need for international support. Their ability to fund expansionary stimulus is already limited, and has been further limited in recent days by currency instability. Debt relief for many countries is required in order to create domestic fiscal space. It is also important to think about how to mobilize large injections of concessional finance – not only from multilateral development banks but also from private lenders such as pension funds. Furthermore, they must commit to do their utmost to protect the labour force, including workers who depend entirely on daily earnings and those in the informal sector, and support their employment and income. This must be the goal of all coordinated fiscal and monetary actions.
Several countries and economic regions have taken economic and financial measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic while also providing financial support to their economic activities. The Bretton Woods institutions have put in place fast-disbursing emergency credit and financing facilities to support their Member States. The IMF stands ready to mobilize $1 trillion lending capacity to help its members. These instruments could provide in the order of $50 billion to emerging and developing economies. Up to $10 billion could be made available to low-income members through concessional financing facilities at zero interest rates. A coordinated and bold response by African authorities is also badly needed. Firstly, it is urgent to provide public funds to improve the capacity of health systems in African countries. Secondly, it is important to help individuals, entrepreneurs and corporations by providing financial support. Thirdly, it is crucial to preserve employment through incentives to employers. Last but not least, the Central Banks in African countries should play a leading role by providing liquidity and credit support as well as asset purchase programs to prevent credit and liquidity crunch in domestic financial markets.
The African Union Report (2020, p.12) pointed out that:
The Covid-19 crisis is affecting the entire world economy and that of Africa. Some key sectors of the African economy are already experiencing a slowdown as a result of the pandemic. Tourism, air transport, and the oil sector are visibly impacted. However, invisible impacts of Covid-19 are expected in 2020 regardless of the duration of the pandemic. To assess, scenarios have been constructed on the basis of assumptions which takes account of economic, demographic and social constraints.
The pandemic curve generates a recession curve that also needs to be flattened. Former MD of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Khan (2020) argued that the new coronavirus pandemic has led to negative shocks to the economy in both demand and supply,. While this would have occurred in a do-nothing scenario, the impact tends to be exacerbated by social distancing policies. Notwithstanding its shorter duration, the disruptive nature of the economic lockdown may leave ‘scars’, impeding a return to the point the economy was at prior to the shock. Solvent but suddenly illiquid firms go bankrupt, unemployment rises rapidly, demand and revenues for small businesses rapidly vanish. In Europe, Spain lost 900,000 jobs.
Nell, Errouaki and Mayor (2020) emphasize the extraordinary role of the ‘’State’’ as a catastrophe insurer. The ‘’State’’ should provide fiscal support—additional resources for healthcare systems, income transfers to crisis-affected people, tax relief—and credit available at favorable conditions to vulnerable firms. These measures, with rising public debt as the form of finance, are designed to minimize the disruptive consequences of the temporary but deep sudden stop of the economy.
Strauss-Khan (2020) argues that flattening both the coronavirus infection and the recession curves will be harder in developing economies than in advanced countries. The numbers of clinical-care beds per capita are lower. It is harder to implement social distancing policies given the shares of population living in slums. The informal labour market is more significant, making it difficult to extend social protection policies such as unemployment insurance or income transfers. Fiscal space to counter the virus and the economic lockdown is smaller, particularly in the case of highly indebted developing countries. In addition, developing countries have been experiencing major shocks from overseas.
Mayor (2020a) argued that the COVID-19 crisis is likely to have a profound and negative effect on sustainable development efforts. A prolonged global economic slowdown will adversely impact the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The health and economic aspects of the coronavirus pandemic triggered shocks to financial markets in advanced countries. The prospects of deteriorating earnings and heightened uncertainty have led to a broad portfolio switch from risky assets to the safe haven of U.S. short-term Treasuries. The search for safety has led to capital outflows from developing economies and depreciation of their currencies. According to the Institute of International Finance (IIF), foreign investors took close to US$100 billion out of emerging markets in March 2020, the largest capital outflow ever recorded. Furthermore, commodity prices, tourism, and remittances have collapsed. According to the World Bank, the global economic lockdown is expected to lead to a 20% decline in remittance flows to low- and middle-income nations. Last year, remittances amounted to about 8.9% of GDP in poorer countries. Furthermore, international tourism receipts are also falling. According to World Bank data, low- and middle-income countries recorded over US$420 billion of international tourism receipts as exports last year.
Because of the halt in economic activities, most commodity prices have fallen and substantially lower prices are expected through 2020.. Commodity-dependent emerging market and developing economies will be among the most vulnerable to the economic impacts of the pandemic. The combination of external – financial, remittances, tourism, and commodity prices – shocks and domestic hardships to flatten coronavirus curves of infection and recession has configured what one may call a ‘perfect storm’ falling on the developing world, brought by COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic is bringing with it the prospect of severe financial and economic crises. With fears of a harsh credit crisis and a major collapse in economic activity, the spreading of the pandemic crashed financial markets all over the world.
At the geopolitical level, this crisis cries out for leadership, solidarity, transparency, trust and cooperation (Nye, 2020). This is no time for self-interest, recrimination, censorship, obfuscation or politicization. The tone set by leaders at the national and local level matters. While temporary border closures, travel bans or limits on the sale of critical supplies may be warranted in the short-term, such national-level measures must not impede a global coming together and global solution for all. (Mayor, 2020a)
We can only beat this virus through coming together as one. Developing countries must act to protect their people, and demand action from rich nations to support them. Rich country governments, led by the G20, must massively upscale their help–. Stigltiz (2020) notes that if the international community wants to avoid a wave of defaults, it must start developing a rescue plan immediately. Nell, Errouaki and Mayor (2020) argue that in the long run the international community must lay out a Marshall Economic Plan For Africa that meets the true economic and social challenges of the African continent.
What are some of the lessons that can be learned? The paper argues that public health and welfare systems are crucial alternatives to the market and universal public health is a key element of an egalitarian policy. Let’s leave the last word to former Director General of UNESCO Federico Mayor Zaragoza (2020a):
Health is the most important asset, and both its treatment and prevention aspects should be taken into account, always dealing with it with the highest professional expertise, and leaving aside any other consideration. Because health is a right everyone is entitled to. Great progress has been achieved in medical science, but just a small portion has been shared. The big challenge is being able to share and enlarge knowledge.
…..The time has come –and potential irreversibility makes it even more urgent– to redirect the current gloomy trends of the neoliberal drift, which have led us to ignore the appeals of the scientific community pressing us to take without delay all relevant steps against climate change and the implementation of SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals, 2030 Agenda) agreed by the UN General Assembly in November 2015 “to transform the world”.
The world is in urgent need of a common vision and plan of action for leveraging the latest advances in scientific research, emerging technologies and new data sources in the fight against COVID-19. Wisdom today involves promoting the evolution of governance so that revolution is no longer seen as the sole answer.
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From: pp.9-15 of WEA Commentaries 10(2), May 2020