A joint blog by Tracey Follows, Bronwyn Williams and ID Pearson
Will China be the global winner from COVID?
There have been many conspiracy theories about China suggesting that the virus was deliberately made. We may never know the whole truth.
Regardless of that, it is clear that, however unlikely, there is a greater than zero chance the virus could have been man-made. More importantly, a new virus could be man-made. Now that the West has shown its economically suicidal response to this one, there is a massive temptation for any rogue regime or terrorist group to produce a GM virus variant that is as or more lethal, as or more contagious. Death cults that want population reduction (such as environmental reasons) might well consider sponsoring such virus production in secret labs.
There is already one clear win for China: No-one is really debating democracy versus authoritarianism as it pertains to Hong Kong any more. But then no-one is really debating that choice anywhere because nation-states like the UK, France and USA, built on the core notions of freedom, have removed liberty and imposed a lockdown. Indeed, the few governments who have resisted – or even just delayed draconian encroachments on hard-won human rights to freedom of speech, movement and trade have found themselves cast as at best ignorant and at worst downright villainous by the popular press. This, despite the fact that the epidemiological and economic data and models projecting the socio-economic costs of the various paths of action (or inaction) available to authorities are questionable at best, downright misleading at worst. Perhaps Friedrich Hayek put it best when he said “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”. In other words, when faced with incomplete information, the first priority for any government should be to do no harm. When it comes to complex systems, seemingly simple solutions can have serious unintended consequences. This, however, is easier said than done in the face of an imminent threat when citizens, accustomed to having their every need met by their leaders are baying for someone to do something. This may well prove to be the biggest threat of all because populations can get awfully content being told what to do and relying on authorities to make all the tough decisions for them. Some may even be persuaded that this kind of big state, this kind of total state, isn’t really so bad after all.
The trouble is that authoritarian measures – such as state surveillance of health and cellular data and restrictions on freedom of movement or trade – adopted during times of crisis do not tend to simply disappear after the short term threat is passed.. As military men and women will tell you, it is much easier to get into wars than to get out of them. Likewise, it is much easier to lose civil liberties than it is to regain them. Have any governments who have removed or restricted citizen rights outlined any form of exit strategy for how to return those privileged post pandemic? No. The long-term normalisation of surveillance and authoritarianism driven by short-term fear threatens to create a global generation of Stockholm syndrome sufferers, grateful to the generosity of their gilded cage key keepers.
Result: China 1 – West 0
Perhaps what is most notable is that there have been several pandemics in recent memory: Zika, SARS, Ebola, swine flu, bird flu. None of these caused similar panic. The question is why. The answer lies in the way the current crisis has been handled by both mainstream and social media, both of which thrive on the spread of panic (a viral disease in and of itself), and panic, in turn creates an opportunity for authorities to capitalise on the crisis and consolidate both power and capital to their own ends. New deadly diseases emerge from nature frequently and next time the first news breaks on a future outbreak, the panic cycle we have witnessed in recent months is likely to repeat itself. Panic buying will follow, the media and the public will demand action, stock markets will fall, governments will be tempted to rush to close airports and print more money and take on more debt, and so on so as not to be the last man standing. That means that future outbreaks, however caused, will likely cause panic, confusion and likely major economic damage.
After spending tens or more likely hundreds of billions of pounds to get through COVID19, it may well be the case that the economy is only starting to recover before the next outbreak. The economy may not recover properly until we can end that cycle.
However, China, with its now proven technology to control its people, its centralised economy, and its much more compliant populace, conditioned over centuries of dictatorial rule to obey or face the consequences, would be more able to avoid such crashes.
The West will learn that the only way to avoid coming off second best in a crisis is to emulate its opponent, further eroding human rights and freedoms in the process.
That is, of course, the rub: liberty has proven to work for the West in the long run. However, in the short run, there are trade offs. Authoritarians can do things that free men and women will not. From current events and reactions, it does not appear that the West has the short term courage (or citizens with the personal responsibility) to pay the price of long term liberty.
China 2 – West 0
Even as it becomes clear that China covered up the initial outbreak, denying other nations the benefits of foresight, and manipulated mortality rates, skewing economic and epidemiological models that could have been used to make better policy decisions, we may never know the full extent of China’s responsibility for this one. However, we can be sure they won this round, and will be the long term winners too, if our response here in the West is anything to go on.
About Tracey Follows
Forbes contributor: tracey follows
About Bronwyn Williams
Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst, who consults to business and government leaders on how to understand the world we live in today and change the world’s trajectory for tomorrow. She is also a regular media commentator on African socio-economic affairs. For more, visit http://whatthefuturenow.com
About ID Pearson
Dr Pearson has been a full time futurologist for 29 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment and is a chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society and Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science