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When crisis is not enough to beget change

Climate-change-media-headlinesPHILIP FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - One would not expect there to be any apparent upsides to a devastating global pandemic, but strangely enough Covid-19 has provided one.

This has been in the form of revealing many of the structural, social and ideological shortcomings of our current systems of governance.

This is particularly so with regards to capitalism and its more recent and cruellest iteration known as neo-capitalism where individualism and the rights of the wealthy to plunder the lives of the poor has led to massive inequalities.

As we first reacted to Covid’s impact early this year, for a brief moment it seemed that the beam of pandemic light might illuminate reforms of some of the grossest aspects of these inequities but it seems the light is quickly dimming along with any prospects for change.

In Australia we have just been presented with a delayed federal budget that makes it abundantly clear that the government, after a brief dalliance with Keynesian economics, is reverting to an ideologically driven, rich get richer agenda just like the one we had before the pandemic struck.

In its wake, the opposition has offered a tepid and uninspiring rebuttal full of wishful thinking and not much else.

There is no sign that Australia’s politicians have a clue on how to create a fairer and more progressive society.

In Papua New Guinea the government seems wholly preoccupied with navel gazing and letting the pandemic run its course.

It is making contradictory statements about buying back the farm and charging provincial governors with sedition if they even so much as mention the word ‘independence’.

And, as Martyn Namorong comments, there are the usual rumours of a no-confidence motion floating through the chambers of government.

There is a hope that the pandemic may unseat the most revolting human being to have ever held the post of president of the USA – the election’s just three weeks away. .

But even if Trump gets tossed out on Tuesday 3 November there is no surety that he will actually leave – nor that his well-armed followers will accept the democratic will.

The United States is supposed to have been the birthplace of democracy but that has never been true. Instead, it has always been a corporate and business oligarchy, which is what the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the constitution.

Even if Americans can rid themselves of their insane president, the replacement will still be a representative of that oligarchy. At best he will only replace high octane chaos with excruciating boredom.

I suppose, like many other things, the pandemic has been a great let down. Which is really saying something.

If the deaths of over a million people can’t motivate necessary change we are indeed in a sorry state.

But, then again, perhaps we always have been, haven’t we?

And climate change has already got us in its grip.


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Bernard Corden

Our governments are only interested in creating opportunities from a crisis that benefit the powerful over the powerless.

Chris Overland

I think that Phil has made a good point but the tides of history do not always move in a linear or predictable fashion.

Take the Russian Revolution for example.

The first major convulsion within Tsarist Russia occurred in 1905. A combination of suppression and political concessions enable the Tsarist regime to remain in place but it was an ominous warning for the Tsarists that the status quo would not and could not last much longer.

Vladimir Lenin accurately described the events of 1905 as "The Great Dress Rehearsal" for the cataclysmic revolution of 1917 which saw the utter destruction of the old regime, the murder of the Tsar and his family, the rise of the Bolsheviks and the creation of the USSR..

In a similar way, I think that the events of 2020 may be understood as the first obvious signs that the great neo-liberal experiment of the last 40 years is unsustainable and bound to collapse under the weight of its increasingly obvious flaws and contradictions.

In many respects, Donald Trump is the harbinger of doom for the ruing elite in the USA, not a sign of the triumph of neo-liberalism. He is incapable of understanding let alone finding solutions for the tectonic socio-economic forces that are now heaving their way to the surface of US politics.

In a similar way, the conservatives in Australian politics are incapable of comprehending that the ground in shifting under their feet. This helps explain their fixation with things like coal and gas as energy sources, the importance of diminishing if not destroying the power of organised labour, the refusal to acknowledge that reducing the unemployed to abject poverty is both socially and economically stupid and, until recently at least, the importance of running budget surpluses in the face of obvious evidence that this has no inherent virtue in itself.

For PNG, the emergence of forces for change presents both opportunities and threats. It may give the country a chance to rebalance the resource development process which has frequently been against their national interests in many respects. The biggest recognisable threat is the wicked policy problem of how to effectively manage secessionist sentiment in various parts of the country without destroying the national unity that is desperately required to avoid fracturing into a collection of poverty stricken mini states.

So, while I think that it is probably right to see 2020 as a pivotal year in many respects I also think, like Phil, that it is an error to assume that the necessary changes to the status quo will occur either rapidly or painlessly.

That said, trying to predict the future is fraught with peril for anyone, including historians, so my prognostications could be wildly wrong, but the sheer number and scale of the problematic socio-economic and political issues now arising suggests that significant systemic change is now both necessary and inevitable.

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