It is not only the elderly and those with pre-existing illnesses who are among the potential victims of the Corona pandemic. The end of globalization itself, too, is seen as a possible long-term effect. Crises are indeed moments of historical recalibration. However, not everything changes after a crisis.
It is indeed questionable that the pandemic will lead to the end of globalization, at least economically. Undoubtedly, there are alternatives to the global production chains, and a partial renationalization of economic cycles is possible. That, though, comes at high costs and welfare losses. Upon the return of normalcy, public and private debt will have skyrocketed. This kind of environment does not make further globalization less likely.
The situation looks a bit different with regards to political globalization. Many view the current crisis as the hour of the executive, while others point to the fact that we are witnessing a renaissance of political regulation rather than the return of the sovereign nation-state.
Until an accurate assessment can be made, many things will happen. The outcome of the crisis will be determined not only by objective facts, but to a large extent also by battles over their interpretation.
The coronavirus forced an unprecedented emergency brake on liberal democracies in recent weeks. Governments enacted sweeping social distancing measures to buy time in learning to control the virus and prevent health systems from collapsing. This new normal under an external threat appears to have changed politics. Governments rally support everywhere, even where populists govern badly. In contrast, even populist opposition actors lose support and acquiesce to the national emergency, as citizen priorities have shifted starkly. Does the Corona crisis thus mark an abrupt ending to the oft-lamented divisive politics of recent decades? Does it rein in a phase of historical unity or even herald the beginning of the end of populism?
In contrast, the emerging political economy of social distancing suggests otherwise. The standard ingredients for populist political conflict are already visible. Existing challenges to material inequalities and privileged social status within constrained democracies which feed populists are likely to exacerbate over social distancing, particularly at the international level. The momentary lull of national unity is thus more likely to give way to the forceful return of familiar distributive and constitutional conflicts of the last decades, but at even higher stakes.
As more and more people are voluntarily or forcefully retreating to their homes and isolating themselves from public life and social contact due to the ongoing global health crisis, it might be a good time to reflect on the circumstance that, according to estimates by WHO and UNICEF, in 2018 globally every five seconds a child or young person under 15 died of preventable infectious diseases, such as measles, or of complications in childbirth – many of them a consequence of unsafe births, lacking personnel, equipment, hygiene, infrastructure, and poor maternal health. A few days ago, I met an acquaintance, whose school-aged children have not been vaccinated against measles, carrying a stack of toilet paper packages in preparation for what was bound to come, the German-wide COVID-19 lockdown. The encounter made me aware of the imbalance between our plausible and humane concern for the safety and well-being of ourselves and those close to us on the one hand and a lack of awareness of our own role in preserving public health beyond COVID-19 on the other.
I tend to avoid the word liberal as much as possible in conversation. My reticence does not come from any ideological aversion (although that could be forgiven), but from an abundance of caution. What exactly do my peers mean by liberal? ‘Does it include respect for the rule of law, freedom of expression and other unenumerated rights?’ Yes, they nod. ‘What of free markets and a rules-based international order.’ Their enthusiasm is now palpable. Here, I cannot help but goad them. ‘Or does it merely guarantee that my rent increases without end and that I’ll never actually own anything?’ A dose of cynicism and the conversation stalls. ‘That’s not the point,’ they usually reply! ‘It’s dishonest to confuse neo-liberalism with classical liberalism, and besides, it’s certainly better than the alternatives.’ Ah yes, the perfunctory defense: it could be worse. ‘Is that the best we can do?’ I ask. ‘That it could be worse?’ On cue, the coffee machine growls, and the conversation ends. The comment is barbed, but not without making a point. What are the liberal values worth defending? And why does it matter now?
Germany’s current debate about the ‘schwarze Null’ is heating up. Last month, SPD-frontwoman Saskia Esken threw her weight behind existing calls to let go of Germany’s unwritten rule that bans government deficits and has yielded eight consecutive years of budget balance for the federal government. Even Jens Weidmann, notorious throughout Europe for his hawkish stance as president of the Bundesbank, has said Germany should not fetishize the black zero. The debate is a welcome development not only for Germany but for the EU as a whole.
The past three decades have seen a considerable rise of political authority enjoyed by international organizations (IOs). At the same time, however, IO authority practically remains highly constrained. In everyday politics, disagreement among powerful states, legal hurdles, and general sovereignty concerns not only hinder discreet expansions of IO authority, but also impede its effective exercise more generally.
Yet, in times of global or regional crisis, windows of necessity and opportunity sometimes create conditions in which “leaps of authority” occur, as IOs intervene assertively in circumvention of legal or political constraints of normal times. Justified by exceptional circumstances, IOs may do something structurally very similar to what we know of national governments in the state of exception: they adopt emergency powers by expanding their executive discretion and interfering with the rights of their rule-addressees. This, at least, is what I argue in my new book Emergency Powers of International Organizations (EPIO).
According to Omid Nouripour, foreign policy spokesman of the Green Party in the Bundestag, just a small time window remains to save the Nucelar Deal with Iran. A failure to do so could result in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. After the killing of general Qasem Soleimani and the Iranian announcement to resume uranium enrichment without restrictions, Europe has triggered the dispute settlement mechanism, allowing for possible negotiations until February 14th. But with Donald Trump pushing for a completely new agreement and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson siding with the U.S. president, cracks become visible in the European front. Read more in the whole interview in German here.
Austria has a new government. While the country is still grappling with the legacies of the previous administration, Sebastian Kurz and Werner Kogler, the leaders of the conservative ÖVP and the Green Party, respectively, sealed the deal on their unequal marriage to guide the nation into a new decade. Their coalition agreement going by the name of “Out of Responsibility for Austria” reads like a 326-page appraisal of the lowest common denominators between the two parties, much like the joint statement of chancellor and vice-chancellor in front of the press after the conclusion of negotiations. Last Tuesday, the new government was sworn into office. The functioning of this experimental partnership will prove decisive in reestablishing trust in Austria’s scandal-ridden political system.
In the past weeks, Tunisia elected a new parliament and a new president. Nine years after the so-called Arab Spring, the country has achieved considerable progress in terms of democratic institutions and processes. Yet, severe challenges call for the right balance between consensus and political dispute. A fragmented political landscape and public mistrust of elites are paralleled by grim economic prospects and high unemployment rates, which will demand serious reform efforts by newly elected president Kais Saied. Furthermore, structural issues like the lack of a constitutional court and the overdue dismantling of power structures established under former dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali still linger over the country. Mariam Salehi and Ilyas Saliba shed light on the problems faced by post-election Tunisia. Read the full article in German here.
There is an old rock station back in Boston which had a special knack for playing those lesser-known B side tracks. I am reminded of one, a late 70s pop song by Warren Zevon with the quirky title: Lawyers, Guns and Money. It chronicles the exploits of an English expat who finds himself ensnared by a Russian Mafioso after a late night gambling. Half way through the second stanza he sings ‘send lawyers, guns, and money!’ Partially for its whimsy refrain and partially because I happen to like obscure 70s pop, the track strikes me as the perfect namesake for a piece on the rise of crony capitalism.