Health crises, like the COVID-19 crisis, are often the cause and effect of economic changes worldwide.
The sixth century’s Plague of Justinian was followed by the essential collapse of the Roman Empire. The 14th century’s Black Death, imported from Asia to Italy via maritime trade, marked the collapse of the feudal system in Europe and the death of 85 million inhabitants. The Spanish flu of 1918 marked the beginning of a new global economic order (neoliberalism), which crystallized during World War II (1939-1945) with the Bretton Woods agreement, and in turn was driven by the Great Depression of 1929.
Historically, the cycle of financial crisis-trade war-health crisis heralds the end of an economic era and the emergence of a new world order. Yesterday’s announcement by the Chinese government that it is abandoning the dollar as the standard for its trade, and instead is putting in place a digital currency (e-RMB), is part of the chain of changes to come.
Even though it is still too early to determine what the new post-COVID-19 world order will be, what is certain is that the paradigmatic economic model founded at Bretton Woods and reinforced with the neoliberalism of the Reagan-Thatcher era will not continue to exist as it did in the last half-century.
We will most likely see the resurgence of economic policies that bet on domestic markets over global markets, and greater state intrusion into the economy and investment spending without completely abandoning the globalization process. And we will witness the shift of economic hegemony and world politics from North America and Central Europe to Asia and China. At least the unipolar world hegemony will now be distributed among various regions of the planet.
However, there will be aspects and elements of the current world order that must be rescued, maintained and strengthened. One of them is technological innovation and the development of information and communication technologies that have proven effective and useful not only in economic, cultural and educational life, but in controlling the pandemic itself.
The countries that have managed to tame the massive and harmful effects of COVID-19 have as a common denominator their intensive use of information and communication technology, from the registration of the first cases to the monitoring, tracking, confinement and care of disease victims in the field.
From personal use in early diagnosis to the operation of contact centers; from real-time monitoring of individual mobility and transport to the use of epidemiological surveillance drones; from the preparation of critical preventive medicine resources to the projection of mathematical models of containment; it all involves big data, the “internet of things”* and artificial intelligence that have come to revolutionize information and communication technology. Plus, there is the network of information networks, the control of which is in dispute between the United States and China: 5G.
In the new post-coronavirus world order, our country can move forward, if — starting today — it invests in information and communication technology innovation and development, guaranteeing internet access to the greatest number of inhabitants as a fundamental human right and encouraging public and private investment toward that end.
*Editor’s note: The “internet of things’ refers to a system of interrelated computing devices and other objects that can transmit data over a network without human interaction.