COVID-19: Humanity and Human Well-Being beyond GDP
The world is witnessing one of the worst pandemic of last one hundred years. In one or the other way all citizens of the world are affected by this catastrophic occurrence causing huge losses of human lives viz-a-viz conditions of living. The so called first world is the worst hit so far. On March 22, 2020, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi announced 21-day lockdown to be effective from midnight. He was able to read the signals and looking at the size of the population and the kind of health infrastructure that is required to deal with such a menace, this declaration was timely and needed. On March 26, 2020, the King of Saudi Arabia convened an extraordinary virtual session of G20 nations where all the leaders expressed their concern over this grave global pandemic and agreed to develop a concrete action plan to fight together. The Prime Minister of India, emphasized on putting the human beings at the centre of such planning for global prosperity and cooperation in the wake of COVID-19. He called on all the leaders ‘for the collective well-being of humankind’ and develop platforms and institutions to ‘focus on promoting the shared interests of humanity’. This calling is a reflection of the writings of Kautilya:
Prajasukhe sukham ragyaha prajaanam tu hite hitam,
Naatmapriyyam hitam ragyaha prajaanam tu hitam priyam.
[In the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness; in their welfare his welfare; whatever pleases himself he shall not consider as good, but whatever pleases his subjects he shall consider as good.] The Arthashastra (1.19.34)
Former RBI governor has also expressed that in these difficult times we need to focus on saving human lives more than anything else. The President of the US, (it has highest number of cases reported thus far, accounting for around 25 percent cases in the world — 2.5 lac), Donald Trump, whose grand father, died as a victim of Spanish flu in 1918, at the age of 49, says that if the US is able to contain death toll of Americans under one lac, they would have done a fairly good job as it is expected that there could be something like 2.5 lac deaths due to COVID-19 in the US. The figures are horrifying keeping in mind excellent health infrastructure available in the US. It is important to note that in the US, there is no country-wide lockdown as yet. May be their priorities are different. The conditions across Europe are worst, the numbers are so disturbing that one finds it very difficult to believe that with the spread of the virus, so many lives can be taken or can fall under immense threat. Dr David Nabarro, special envoy of WHO on COVID-19 says that though India’s decision of lockdown was early, yet it is farsighted and courageous. It is indeed a very courageous act on part of the leadership to have taken such a step looking beyond economic gains. Though it had problems related to labor migration and their livelihood, yet it was worth the salt.
One of the founders of cognitive science and an American scholar, critic, a nonagenarian, Noam Chomsky goes on record saying that if in this given conditions we do not have sufficient number of ventilators, it is shameful and displays cruelty of neoliberal capitalism. He goes on to quote some old leaked memos from JP Morgan Chase where it was mentioned — the survival of humanity is at risk on our current course. There have been many such examples where health of citizens have been sidelined at the cost of maximising profit.
As of today it is observed that the effect of the pandemic is mostly on the developed countries of the world and somehow it is negligence and arrogance of their leaders that is causing them these unprecedented death and related problems. When institutions or nations do not respond to the signals — weak or strong, they land up paying the price. Much of this arrogance is the result of the belief that with money one can buy anything and with consistent economic growth one can be assured of good life, better standards of living and sustained quality of life. This very thought which stems from capitalist mindset leading towards leaving everything to be determined and decided by the market forces puts human being at the back burner and economic growth at the front. I get reminded of the book authored by Jim Collins — How the Mighty Fall which provides an excellent account of reasons of failing organizations which majorly is caused by leaders’ arrogance and rigid behaviour.
Paul Mason brilliantly argues for saving the human being and ditching free market economics in his recently published book entitled — Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being (2019). There is no doubt that for a country like India it is going to cost huge and it might hurt its economy in the worst possible way, yet if at all it is able to contain the death toll and convince its citizens of the committed concern of the leadership, it would rebuild its glory in future. After all humanity is more important than economy. Money is just a mean to assure human well-being and in its absence, money shall loose its sheen.
The experience of witnessing the havoc created by the spread of coronavirus provides some of the following lessons:
- look at the extreme possibilities and prepare accordingly
- saving human lives should be the priority over all other things
- plan for the best, prepare for the worst
- develop alternative for measuring progress
- relook at the free-market economics and explore alternative systems of economic development
- public expenditure on health and education needs big push
- one needs to think beyond given conditions
I can only wish that as expressed by Kautilya and the Prime Minister of India, future planning efforts should centre around human being so that Human Well-Being is not compromised. Sometime small nations like Bhutan can also provide thinking on our priorities on planning for better future for all countrymen. That’s what Kautilya commanded for a ruler (King) — Prajasukhe sukham ragyaha prajaanam tu hite hitam.