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8 points for a global agenda of structural change in the COVID-19 pandemic

by Jens Martens
"We can have democracy or concentration of wealth, not both," said Justice Louis Brandeis, the longest-serving Supreme Court justice,
8 points for a global agenda of structural change in the COVID 19 pandemic
By Jens Martens
[This article published on Oct 27, 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, 8 Punkte für eine globale Agenda strukturellen Wandels - A&W-Blog.]

Governments around the world have responded with unprecedented intensity to the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, they have demonstrated that they are capable of action and need not leave the field to the private sector if the political will is there. What is needed now is a second wave of policy responses to the pandemic that is not just aimed at economic recovery, but rather at initiating the systemic changes that are needed globally.

Building back better?
In countless statements, most governments have reiterated that a return to business as usual after the crisis is not an option. Instead, the UN's call to "build back better" has become a leitmotif of international responses to the COVID-19 crisis. But does "building back" really lead to much-needed structural change?

In the first phase, many of the COVID-19 emergency programs included social components aimed (more or less specifically) at providing assistance to needy families, preventing unemployment, and keeping small businesses financially afloat. But apart from the fact that even these collectively huge sums of money have failed to prevent the global rise in unemployment, poverty and business bankruptcies, the impact of the ad hoc measures threatens to evaporate quickly when the support runs out. The social catastrophe is then merely delayed. Moreover, environmental objectives played little role in the first phase of COVID-19 responses. Most economic aid packages were ecologically blind and ignored the structural causes and interdependencies of health, economic, and climate crises.

This makes it all the more important that now, with the second wave of policy responses to COVID-19, longer-term stimulus packages do not focus solely on economic recovery, but rather promote needed systemic changes. Properly designed, such stimulus packages would offer the opportunity to become engines of the social-ecological transformation proclaimed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

An 8-point agenda for structural change.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the World Economic Forum launched the initiative of a "Great Reset" of capitalism. But hitting the reset button simply restarts the game without changing the rules - or even the game itself. The reset button clears the memory and restarts the (old) system, a system that has caused rather than prevented the current crises.

Our Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2020 report proposes an 8-point agenda for structural change as an alternative to the World Economic Forum's "Great Reset." The eight points do not represent a comprehensive reform program. Rather, they succinctly illustrate eight issues where not only policy and governance reforms, but also changes in underlying narratives are overdue:

1. valorize caring and care work.
The Corona pandemic dramatically demonstrated how important caring and nursing work is to societies. But until now, care workers have mostly suffered from poor working conditions and are often underpaid. In addition, it is predominantly women who take on the unpaid care work at home and thus have to cope with massive multiple burdens. The nursing professions must therefore be upgraded socially, strengthened in terms of labor law and paid better. In addition, the public care infrastructure must be expanded and adequately financed.

2 Strengthening public goods and services
For decades, public goods and services in many countries have been underfunded, outsourced and privatized. The Corona crisis has shown how important they are for the functioning of societies. This applies not only to the health sector, but also to areas such as water and energy supply, public transport and the provision of affordable housing.
Tax reforms and the reallocation of public spending must ensure that these areas are better financed in the future. Privatization and public-private partnerships (PPPs) have often proven to be expensive aberrations. The remarkable wave of re-municipalizations in more than 2,400 cities in 58 countries shows that it is feasible and popular to bring services back under public control.

3. Rebalancing value chains.
The disruption of global flows of goods as a result of the lockdown measures has once again exposed the dependence of many economies on commodity exports and global value chains. They are an expression of the prevailing model of global division of labor, which ignores the externalities associated with resource exploitation and the circulation of goods around the world.

The current crisis provides an opportunity to rethink these development strategies, which are one-sidedly focused on export growth. The core issue is to shift the center of gravity from the global economy to regional economic cycles. Three cornerstones of the associated transformation are the expansion of sustainable local food systems, increased regional (or subregional) cooperation to increase domestic demand, and reforms in the international trade and investment regime to expand the policy space for such action.

4. enforce climate justice.
The media presence of the Corona crisis should not obscure the fact that the other global crises did not disappear overnight. This also applies to the impacts of climate change, which disproportionately affect the poor, especially in the global South.

Their obligation under the Framework Convention on Climate Change to protect the climate in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities. In particular, countries in the Global North should pursue subsidy reductions and shift investments away from fossil fuel exploration, extraction, and production. They should commit to moving to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2030. Finally, they should increase their public climate finance to at least $100 billion by the end of 2020 and steadily increase it through 2030.

5 Redistribute economic power and resources.
Aid and stimulus packages put together by governments and international institutions can be a critical tool to reduce income and wealth disparities. One key tool is tax policy, for example in the form of wealth taxes, solidarity taxes, or a tax on excessive profits ("excess profits"), especially from companies that benefited from the Corona crisis.

But redistribution after the fact alone is not enough; it must also be about redistributing power and resources in advance. Crucial "pre-distributive" policies in this regard are labor market and wage policies, as well as financial and corporate regulation.

6 Effectively regulating global financial flows
The global economic recession resulting from the Corona crisis will place a massive burden on public budgets. Government revenues are collapsing, and the problems of tax evasion and tax avoidance that remain unresolved in many countries are being exacerbated. In most cases, the only way to cover expenditures is to increase public borrowing, at the risk of creating new debt crises.

The fact that necessary regulations and reforms in the international financial architecture were neglected after the last global economic and financial crisis in 2008/09 is now taking its toll. Essential steps would be the introduction of a fair and transparent sovereign insolvency procedure and the institutional strengthening of global fiscal cooperation under the umbrella of the United Nations.

7 Promoting solidarity-based multilateralism
To deal with the Corona crisis, global cooperation and the strengthening of multilateralism are repeatedly invoked. Often, however, governments tend to pursue selective "multilateralism à la carte."

Multilateralism based on solidarity requires taking sides against unilateral go-it-alone actions and the supremacy of particular economic interests (even if they are one's own), and for cooperation between states with equal rights that focuses on the rights of the people at stake. To this end, those global institutions that have the greatest democratic legitimacy must be strengthened.

These are first and foremost the United Nations. But upgrading the United Nations also means providing it with sufficient financial resources in the form of binding contributions, instead of remaining dependent on the goodwill of voluntary contributors and the financial pressure of individual countries.

8 Re-measuring development and progress
In the 2030 Agenda, governments committed to developing measures of progress for sustainable development that complement gross domestic product (GDP) (SDG 17.19). This decision was based on the realization that GDP growth does not automatically increase population well-being to the same degree, nor does it reduce poverty. On the contrary, in many countries, economic growth has been accompanied by greater social inequality and the depletion of nature. GDP does not provide information about environmental sustainability and social justice.

However, there has been little progress at the policy level in implementing this SDG. The main message of the still dominant development paradigm is that countries need to become richer, not more sustainable, in order to climb the ladder and become "developed." This narrative must be overcome once and for all through alternative measures of prosperity.

This post is based on the executive summary of the 2020 Spotlight Report published by the Arab NGO Network for Development, the Center for Economic and Social Rights, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Global Policy Forum, Public Services International, Social Watch, Society for International Development, and the Third World Network - with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Jens Martens is executive director of the Global Policy Forum and coordinator of the global Civil Society Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

by Hans Krieger
[This poem published in Jan 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, Eigentümlich - 24 / 2020 - Ossietzky. Zweiwochenschrift für Politik / Kultur / Wirtschaft. - Verlag Ossietzky GmbH.]

Owned is the capital:
Who heaped it, did it by stealing.
That one forgets gladly; it is not praiseworthy.
But the capital remains. It is peculiar.

Capital has a peculiar effect:
Where it grows, morals fade.
Then it's proper that the rich own a lot,
because that only disturbs the have-nots.

Poverty is peculiar to the poor,
their existence is mural.
You are powerless if you don't have anything.
Free? Only from the burden of possession.

Capital is peculiar:
separates and divides our world socially.
What the powerful seize for themselves,
Who does it belong to? Actually, to all of us.

Property is sacred, if private.
Private property is protected by the state,
because the private owners control it,
no one can think about common property.

Some think that this is a scandal,
that it should not remain as it is.
The rules should be written differently.

But capital rules legally,
its rule seems totally normal,
because laws are written by capital.
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