A couple of weeks ago Yuval Noah Harari wrote in the Financial Times what has been one of the clearest and most insightful articles I’ve read on the coronavirus pandemic and the longer term effects it will have on society. In this crisis decisions are being taken and policies enacted in a matter of hours that in normal times would take years of deliberation or would never even be considered possible. Harari shows how temporary emergency legislation has a habit of becoming entrenched and shaping long term policies. He identifies two key choices, one ‘between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.’ Harari powerfully advocates the benefits of citizen empowerment and global solidarity.
My belief in these principles of citizen empowerment and global solidarity are what underpin this blog. My concern for many decades has been about the climate and ecological emergency, and about inequality, poverty and human suffering. All these areas of concern, like the current pandemic, should be addressed in a spirit of global solidarity, with a globally empowered citizenship. So what might this mean in practice?
Pandemics, like climate change, terrorism or tax dodging require a degree of international coordination which in these weird days of Brexit and Trump has not been on the agenda. It is time to reverse that. Between 1966 and 1980 humanity cooperated and eradicated smallpox. Perhaps this has been humanity’s greatest achievement to date. Let us now cooperate with renewed vigour.
Perhaps now is the time to bring in a Global Health Service, free at point of use to all 7.7 billion of us alive today, and funded so as to provide excellent levels of care to all. We could also bring in excellent free education systems for all people of all ages in all countries. And of course we need a global green new deal providing renewable energy, good housing, clean safe water and sanitation, peace and prosperity as well as health and education. It’s all part of a package. It all goes together.
In a recent talk I presented these ideas and suggested how it all could be funded. Taxes on extreme wealth and internationally earned income, on carbon and other pollutants, on advertising, on resource extraction and on many other things could be levied globally. Business has long been globalized: it is time taxation, governance and service provision caught up. While there is a crying need for radically better global cooperation there is also a similar need for decentralisation. Local government needs massively more investment. We have for far too long concentrated power and resources at the level of the nation state.
Mark Z Jacobson and his team at Stanford have calculated the transition to a global zero carbon, 100% renewables based economy to be about $73 trillion, spread over 30 years. This may sound a lot but is cheap in comparison with dealing with the consequences of not taking action. My proposal here is for something bigger and more costly, adding generous health and education services to the global green new deal. With so many of the world’s big problems the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action.