25 April

What Happens after Covid-19?

The election of President Trump in the U.S.A., and the successful Brexit campaign here in the U.K., may be seen in retrospect as significant incisions in globalism’s death by a thousand cuts. Covid-19 might just be the last in a series. Globalism has, it is thought by many, played its role in the spreading of the virus and so it is hard to imagine business running entirely as usual once the pandemic is over. Complex supply-chains criss-crossing much of the world have exacerbated the spread of the virus – much as did the Venetian merchants who brought the Black Death to Europe. Like a global metastasis, the virus has leapt astonishing distances. China’s role in the crisis through silence and misinformation may be expected to change the relationship between the CCP and the West – but who knows? With end of globalism in the sights of many, could what comes next be a ‘localism’?

Globalism will not bow out without a fight. Incredibly wealthy forces have too much at stake simply to throw in the towel. Large corporations cut costs by having specialised work done elsewhere, often in Africa or the poorer parts of Asia. Apple, one tech giant which has benefitted greatly from globalism, illustrates the situation perfectly. The iPhone is assembledin China (mostly), but its parts are manufactured in Europe, Asia, North and South America. Four continents and, potentially, well over eighty countries are involved in manufacturing an iPhone. Apple is by no means an extreme example, and on countless occasions the exploitation of workers in poorer countries, at the hands of huge corporations, has been exposed. That is, of course, nothing new in the commercial-industrial modern world.

Rather than a return to the localisms of the past there may be a turn to some new form of localism. The current economic landscape is too large and complex simply to be dismantled all at once – and it must be allowed that there are real benefits all round in it. If globalism does diminish might a form of ‘social localism’ be possible? The number of global flights is predicted to plummet, and this might be expected bring greater attachment to local culture and national identity – in contrast to promoting rootless ‘citizens of the world’. An excellent article by Mary Harrington suggests that the bubble of the international London lifestyle may have burst due to current lockdown conditions. As many Londoners are confined to uncomfortable, and poorly-equipped, flats they may come to reflect that they have been sold a lie by vendors of smoke and mirrors. Such lifestyle conditions have been driven by huge international corporations offering membership to so-called metropolitan elites. If this does change, it will surely be interesting to observe how culture and society will change too.

Seven centuries ago, the genre of the danse macabre sprang from devastation wrought in Europe by the Black Death. Life’s ultimate equaliser reaped from among rich and poor, kings and paupers, masters and serfs, while it also stimulated a certain artistic development: the plague brought economic, political and social upheavals in the midst of which the Renaissance blossomed.

Covid-19 will likely bring great changes. Let us hope that some great goods will spring from it, too.

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