When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

CLARIN

Coronavirus And The Limits Of Free-Market Economics

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it's that no one is safe until everyone is safe.

Coronavirus has exposed economic equalities in Argentina and around the world.
Coronavirus has exposed economic equalities in Argentina and around the world.
Rubén Torres*

-OpEd-

BUENOS AIRES — Faced with perhaps the greatest global crisis of our generation, the question on all of ours minds is: How long will this last, and how much will it affect us in terms of deaths and the economy? For now, most people prefer caution to claims that "poverty kills more people than the virus."

It may be true. It's also worth pointing out that poverty has structural causes unrelated to the quarantine. We are perpetually angered by poverty, and yet, culturally, we accept the idea that wealth really doesn't come from work. It seems to come, rather, from illicit activities, corruption in office or through some magic "niche" in the market, and when that wealth is obscenely flaunted, we don't really condemn it.

If we believe living frugally is a better life, then let us renounce abundance and embrace limitations. We cannot permit an élite of officials — not to mention some of the two-bit revolutionaries we see here — to entrench themselves in the shadow of power.

In choosing alternatives, we must ask how to overcome the immediate challenge and think about what kind of world we shall be living in once the storm is past. For most survivors, it will be a different world.

The pandemic is a social leveler and proof of citizenship.

To extinguish this epidemic the reproduction rate (R0) must be low, and the only way to attain that is through physical distancing of the general population and isolation of the infected. Relaxing these measures could benefit the economy, but at the cost of many premature deaths.

The economic impact is bound to be harsh. Many emergency measures will become permanent elements and change life after the pandemic. But we also need to pay attention to what the virus has revealed: The half-collapsed public health services, paralyzed economies, and the deaths of the most vulnerable among us all speak of the world we have built.

The pandemic is a social leveler and proof of citizenship in the divided and unequal country that is Argentina. It is demanding of us unprecedented unity, if we are to face down its challenge. We are not suffering a haphazard event or tremendous bit of bad luck. It's the result, rather, of our way of life. The crisis came to tell us what a spoiled society refused until now to hear. We have discredited the institutions and resources that sustained our societies: trust in authority, credibility for public life, being able to count on a decent job, etc.

In Argentina, the armed forces feed the people abandoned by coronavirus. — Photo: Paula Acunzo/Zuma

The criticism of conservatives or sectors of the middle class is that universal medical attention necessarily means worse quality and government rationing, and in a free economy, people should be able to choose. But these arguments fall apart when thousands are rushing to hospitals that must then ration their ventilators and free beds, and when doctors have to decide who can access those and who must make do with palliative care.

With such heart-rending calculations, even countries with universal healthcare have had to make assignations of their limited resources. The state of public health care has become a matter of life and death, even for the privileged. When people lacking access to medical services, regular wages or proper accommodation fall ill and cannot confine themselves, the virus spreads faster to everyone. Those stuck in overcrowded housing cannot practice social distancing, and contagion happens through the people society has neglected.

The pandemic has updated the complex debate on the relations between economic cycles and public health care.

We have long tolerated a discriminating health care system, with fairly poor results for the many and good attention to those at the top.

For the fortunate few, the ugly, unfair part of the system was always someone else's problem. But now, Argentines of all classes are competing for the same, limited health care resources. Your premium health insurance is now unlikely to give you quicker access to the heaving emergency ward. Hospitals are being forced to postpone cancer and heart treatments. The richest can always find alternative solutions and celebrities access tests most easily, but nobody is safe from this virus until everyone is.

The pandemic has updated the complex debate on the relations between economic cycles and public health care. Economic elements may well influence health, but beyond a certain level, wealth will not better your health or life chances.

For some years now, the trend has been to prefer personal choice over the public interest. It is a consensual idea that must now be annihilated, amid a pandemic that has shown how some people's precarious conditions will threaten everyone.

The pandemic has also shown, fortunately, that social solidarity will stop a virus that thrives on socio-biological weaknesses, like selfishness. Britain's late prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, liked to say there is no such thing as society, just individuals. Is that true? Or could she become another Cassandra, the soothsayer whom Apollo punished by making her utterances incredible.​


*Torres is a physician and dean of the ISALUD technical university in Buenos Aires.

Keep reading...Show less
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

End Of Roe v. Wade: Will It Spark Anti-Abortion Momentum Around The World?

Pro-life activists celebrated the end of the U.S. right to abortion, hoping it will trigger a new debate on a topic that in some places had largely been settled: in favor a woman’s right to choose. But it could also boomerang.

Thousands of people demonstrate against abortion in Madrid

Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou and Shaun Lavelle

The Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a constitutional right to abortion put the United States at the forefront of abortion rights in the world.

Other countries would follow suit in the succeeding years, with France legalizing abortion in 1975, Italy in 1978, and Ireland finally joining most of the rest of Europe with a landslide 2018 referendum victory for women’s right to choose. Elsewhere, parts of Asia and Africa have made incremental steps toward legalizing abortion, while a growing number of Latin American countries have joined what has now been a decades-long worldwide shift toward more access to abortion rights.

But now, 49 years later, with last Friday’s landmark overturning of Roe v. Wade, will the U.S. once again prove to be ahead of the curve? Will American cultural and political influence carry across borders on the abortion issue, reversing the momentum of recent years?

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ