PAUSE AND REBOOT
Geography and You|Issue 146, 2020
REFLECTIONS ON ECONOMY, SOCIETY AND POLITY DURING COVID-19 GLOBAL PANDEMIC AND LESSONS FOR INDIA
Sachidanand Sinha

The current global crisis arising out of Covid-19 pandemic that has already consumed hundred of lives worldwide, has once again exposed glaring weaknesses of the economic, social and political order presided over globally by the neoliberal architecture. this article attempts to understand not just the current global and national/regional crises from the perspective of the Covid-19 pandemic, but to take a look at the historical processes of widening inequalities in the context of the overarching phenomenon of neoliberal socio-economic and political programmes. I propose that world capitalism, especially after the growth of sea-based trades, which eventually translated into creation of worldwide imperialism that captured and controlled natural and productive resources in more than half of the world geographical area, has been continuously reinventing itself to remain in the privileged position of power. the ever rising scope and intensity of global capitalism and its current avatar—neoliberalism, is closely associated and responsible for widening economic inequality, socio-spatial concentration of wealth, extensive and irreversible environmental degradation, climate change, political disenfranchisement, accumulation by dispossession and deepening of social class and ethnic divisions and conflicts within national boundaries as well as between and among countries. the current crisis is a culmination of greed based trade and unnecessary competition. It is imperative now to redefine global priorities and in the light of insightful recent innovations in the field.

The current global crisis arising out of Covid-19 pandemic has once again exposed the glaring weaknesses of the global economic, social and political order presided over by the neoliberal architecture. It is not just about morbidity and mortality due to the novel coronavirus—equally significant is the severity arising out of loss of livelihoods for close to a billion populations. The ensuing migrant crisis in India consequent to the sudden lockdown would perhaps be recorded as one of the darkest phases in human history. Their tales of hunger, thirst, destitution, deaths, exposure to involuntary infections, police atrocities and that at the hands of the ‘omnipresent’ ‘self-styled vigilante thugs’ have been heart-wrenching, to say the least. While the tragedy goes on, the political establishments and governments in a number of countries (among whom India and the USA are the most notable), chose to look the other way; their partners in the media making it look sectarian, politically motivated and the product of sinister religio-cultural-political design—the ground reality remaining sequestered.

In a backdrop of environmental catastrophe and climate change the current pandemic sees the proponents and propagators of the ‘neoliberal tragedy’ busy with furthering and deepening of the neoliberal agenda of privatisation and deregulation, protecting the interests of the wealthy and the distinguished at the cost of the unwanted and ill-deserving poor. Our obsession with growth and only growth as a panacea for all the ills is proving to be suicidal.

This article attempts to understand not just the current global and national/regional crises from the singular perspective of the Covid-19 pandemic, but to take a look at the historical processes of widening inequalities globally and most particularly in the so-called developing countries and regional/local and ethnic communities in what is referred to as the global south in the context of the overarching phenomenon of neoliberal socio-economic and political programme. I propose, along with many other economists, political sociologists and geographers that world capitalism, especially after the growth of sea-based trades, which eventually translated into creation of imperialism that captured and controlled natural and productive resources in more than half of the world geographical area, has been continuously reinventing itself to remain in the privileged position of power. The ever rising scope and intensity of global capitalism and its current avatar neoliberalism is closely associated and responsible for widening economic inequality, socio-spatial concentration of wealth, political disenfranchisement, environmental degradation and accumulation by dispossession and deepening of social class and ethnic divisions and conflicts. It is also important to note that globalisation and neoliberalism have moved together, although they do not mean the same things. In simple terms, globalisation in the current context refers to the operation of neoliberal economic, political and social framework on a global scale, which is deeply entrenched through the mechanisms of supranational institutional setups such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organisation (WTO) and other such organisations within the United Nations.

Neoliberalism and its Previous Avatars

Let us deliberate about the previous incarnations of neoliberalism before we attempt to define neoliberalism as the latest avatar of capitalism. The stage for suction of accumulated global surplus was already set during the heydays of west European imperialism. The productive resources in the colonies were systematically destroyed by the colonial rulers, which eventually turned the colonies as exporters of primary products and not manufactured goods. The autonomous communities that lived in and around the areas of primary resources were ambushed and evicted and their sources of livelihoods systematically appropriated by the ruling classes that also included the traditional indigenous propertied classes. Agriculture was transformed and enclaves of plantation and other agricultural crops introduced to feed the factories and labour in the west (Chattopadhyay and Raza 1975). The entire geo-ecological framework that depended on weather cycles and ecological services were replaced by exotic varieties of seeds and plants that were out of sync with the local ecosystems. Land, water and forest rights (which were not equitable or free from exploitation) were curtailed by the colonial and local ruling classes. The consequences of such interventions by force were ominous for the native populations. Various kinds of tariffs and protectionisms were enforced as world imperialism began to wane. By then, just before World War I, sufficient flight of capital and productive resources had taken place from the colonies rendering people destitute and hungry (Kumar and Desai 1983; Dutt 1940). The negative consequences on the environmental resources and ecologies began to surface, free falling to culminate into World War II. The wealth of nations, measured in terms of GDP and its rate of growth, were deeply established in the minds of the policy makers.

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