Look at the bright side of the Coronavirus II – By Garba Diallo, Director of Crossing Borders

Another way of looking at the bright side of the corona pandemic is to enact new laws to enforce corporate social responsibility (CSR) to contribute with their fair share in the fight against the coronavirus. This in tun, could help reduce the pandemic culture of inequality which has gripped the world in the past three decades. Enforcing corporate contribution and curbing the greed induced inequality could generate sufficient resources and at the same time inspire renewed culture of compassion, equality and solidarity in society.  

The problem  

According to Oxfam report of 2019, “three African billionaires today have more wealth than the poorest 50%- or 650 million people across the continent”. Titled “A Tale of Two Continents”, the report was released in the eve of the World Economic Forum Africa Meeting in Cape Town in September last year. Therefore, the report reveals that chorus of Africa Rising has an ugly back side, which is the rapid rising of inequality across the continent, in spite of the rising GDP.    

The same goes for the US where the gap between the top super richest and poorest bottom in the USA has grown from 6 times in the 1970s to currently 60 times. According to the economist Jeffey Sachs, “The richest 10 percent of Americans in 2018 represented 70 percent of all wealth in the nation” 

Even in the traditionally equal welfare Nordic countries inequality has exploded exponentially in recent years. We have more billionaires today and many poorer citizens than 30 years ago, when most people found themselves in the middle of the economic ladder. This what the Danish philosopher, poet and father of the popular education Grundtvig meant in the 19th century when he stated that “Society would be good when we have few rich people and even fewer poor ones”  

The combination of these pro-business policies in favour of the rich have their roots in Reagan-Teacher era of the 1980s. Ever since, politicians of nearly all colours have relentlessly and aggressively introduced tax-cuts for the rich, deregulations (laissez-fair) and public subsidies for the giant corporations. The result is what is rightly called corporate welfare at the expense of public welfare. Hence, nearly in every country, social services, education, health and public safety have been gradually starved of resources. Perhaps, this is why even supposedly advanced countries of the West and the US are badly prepared for the Coronavirus. Instead, most countries have been foolishly investing in useless weapons of mass destruction while neglecting putting their hands where their mouths are. Ignorance and arrogance seem to prevent the Western countries from learning from countries like Taiwan, Singapore, South and China which have responded much more effectively in limiting the impact of the coronavirus. A former Norwegian Erik Solheim lamented over the weekend, that the Western countries are not prepared to test citizens in spite of the fact that the pandemic occurred in China already more than three months ago 🙂 

Armed with a huge arsenal of funds, the businessmen (the merchant has defeated the prince) have captured pillars of power from the judiciary to the executive as exemplified by Trump and other populists, including clowns around the world. Super modern telecommunications and transportation systems have not only enabled the super-rich to take over political and economic aspects of life and push for financial globalisation while building barriers between people. It has also given them the tools to create and control the society of consumers we have today. This state of affairs has furthermore made it possible for the corporations to turn the world into an open duty-free like market for members of the consumer society to shop 24/7 around the year. This shopping rites are being done in near total disregard of the well-being of the planet’s ecosystems. The fact that the in the final analysis, everything is connected and mutually interdependent was ignored in the pursuit of building and sustaining a pyramid-based society, in which few have too much and many have too little.  

The consequences 

The inevitably consequences of this economic house of cards is the recurrent offshoots and collapse almost every decade. The founding fathers of the current world disorder seem to have forgotten that in a limited planet with limited resources, there must be a limit to growth. Malaise of this unsustainable politico-economic system has been documented many times over both by experience and experts and caused huge amount of suffering and destructions including two world wars. Please, a video by journalist and climate campaigner Naomi Klein on link 1 below. 

How not to repeat history again 

Our authorities must learn from history in order to avoid repeating the same fatal mistakes as in the past. Instead of enabling the giant corporations again to cash from the tragedy and get away with it, the public authorities must be vigilant and act differently this time.  

Let’s take the chance the coronavirus had offered 

The coronavirus quarantine has given us back the time and space we lost in pursuit of materials goods and “bads”. Before the coronavirus took away the freedoms, we took for granted like hugging, handshaking, visiting each other, walking close to one another, going to work, gather together, to shop in shopping in the malls, party in bars, pubs, night clubs, cafés, restaurants, cultural events, the mantra in everyone’s lips was: I don’t time. Now we have plenty of time to think and learn to hopefully understand ourselves and life around us better to act for common goods.  This applies to individuals, public, private and civil society sectors.  So, let’s seize the chance the corona offered. 

A new social contract for public good  

To effectively confront and hopefully tackle the extra ordinary situation the COVID-19 has caused, we need a creative and far sighted vision of a new society in which there is a legal limit in the gap between the super-rich and super poor. Such a social contract will also require the private sector to contribute with a fair % of the wealth they generate from the society and the planet. Towards this new social contract, I propose the seven points below: 

  1. As a first step, other countries should consider replicating the measures the Danish government has introduced to deal with the crisis. Thus, the Danish government has offered to pay 75% salaries of all public and private employees for the next months. It has also introduced various measures aimed at helping public and private enterprises cope with the crises. To fund these measures, the government is borrowing a lot of money on behalf of the public in order to keep society functioning under these special circumstances. In the short term, these measures are very wise, but in the long run they risk sinking the public into deep debts while the giant corporations get a free ride.  
  2. For the sake of fairness and also to avoid a huge burden on the society when the time comes to pay back the borrowed money, the private corporations must be brought onboard to contribute to tacking the coronavirus. Although legally private, these companies are part of society from which they make their massive wealth. As governments pass hasty laws to protect society from collapsing, parliaments should have the gut and duty to enact new laws demanding that private business contribute with a binding % in proportion of their wealth to fight the coronavirus. To prevent the companies from escaping with and hiding their wealth away in tax havens, this measure can be enforced in coordination and collaboration between national governments, regional and inter-governmental organisations. Individual governments which rule overseas tax haven hideouts likeUS, UK and France must make sure to clear their overseas colonies from stolen wealth. 
  3. Public authorities should force the corporations to contribute with a fair share to fight the coronavirus and similar threats. This will help prevent the public authorities avoid sinking into debts due to the massive amounts of money they are now borrowing to handle the crisis. 
  4. Some of the money that could be generated from the CSR should be used for research to develop new vaccine, medical equipment, testing kits, building adequate medical facilities. The CSR corporate contribution should also be used to enable the public authorities to educate more medical personnel, doctors, nurses, social workers etc for ready response to future pandemics. The CSR generated resources could also give the authorities sufficient resources to educate and prepare the public much better than we arewitnessingnow.  
  5. Making thesuper-richshare the burden will also help provide more resources to keep people working from home and thereby keep the economy running. This in turn will help keep the economic wheel turning which at the end of the day is good for businesses, instead of risking their stocks and bonds disappear on the screen.  
  6. Civil Society andcommunity-basedorganisations should be provided with sufficient recognition and resources to contribute to better public education about pressing local and global issues like climate change, intercultural meeting and exchange. 
  7. A new monitoring and peer review unit on public health should be set up under the World Health Organisation. The unit should oversee that countries report annually about their capacity to help prevent, respond and tackle pandemics like the COVID-19.   

The pandemic is too serious coronavirus washing 

Finally, it is ok that some billionaires like Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Facebook’s Zuckerberg and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos have donated some equipment and money to the fight against the coronavirus. However, the pandemic is too serious for token stunts or hidden PR. What the world needs a strong joint concerted effort by the public, private and civil society sectors combined with joint global coordination and collaboration to tackle this common challenge. 

Links: 

  1. My first article on the Bright side of the coronavirus
  2. Naomie Klien
  3. A tale of twocontinents: fighting inequality in Africa
  4. The wealth gap in the USA
  5. Tolkens
  6. NYTimes article compiling what is working across the world to stop the spread of the virus

Garba Diallo

Director of Crossing Borders

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