2020년 7월 27일(월) ~ 8월 16일(일)
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the shaky foundations on which our current social system, i.e.
the global liberal order, is built. Its modus operandi, the so-called self-regulating market, not
only malfunctioned but also accelerated the social instability across the world. In the immediate
aftermath of the outbreak, the intricately interwoven global financial markets were sinking into
total chaos and panic. As the prices of most traded assets such as stocks, bonds, oil, and commodity
futures plunged, they were indeed teetering on the brink of collapse. Job markets also greatly
aggravated the chaotic situation. Amid growing uncertainty of the global economy, hundreds of
millions of people worldwide lost their jobs. In the US alone, the guardian of the liberal world
order, the unemployment insurance weekly claims at its peak in May soared to about 25 million. The
global trading market was no exception. The global supply chain, one of the main pillars of the
neoliberal globalization, virtually ground to a halt – for a short time period, though. Ironically,
many of the world’s largest economies suffered this disruption more than others did. Failing to
procure necessary medical equipment such as masks and ventilators on its own, they just stood
helpless to act against the virus.
Running counter to the neoliberal mantra, the recent disaster has shown that “free markets” could
not have managed to survive without heavy “government intervention” including zero interest rate,
unlimited quantitative easing, pandemic subsidy programs, and the central banks’ unlimited
bond-buying plans. What if another wave of severer “external shocks” is coming? It is said that the
COVID-19 pandemic is just the tip of the iceberg. Catastrophic ecological disasters, which may
exterminate human species on Earth, loom large. It seems highly doubtful that a society blindly
pursuing profits and economic growth can cope with them. It is not a cure for the problems but the
root cause of them.
Although the governments across the world have been playing a central role in dealing with the
pandemic, and preventing societal collapse, their actions are still designed to get back to
“normal,” that is, the growth-oriented market society; the so-called “new normal” mostly refers to
the “untact” industry-centered market society. Indeed, they succeeded in recovering their economies
but only partially. For instance, the US stock market indexes keep hitting record highs while its
real economy remains in a desperate situation like the Great Depression. Regardless of policymakers’
intention, the consequences of their actions on the virus and its negative social impacts have
widened the gap between the rich and the poor in terms of both wealth and health. Whereas the
wealthy have become richer with the governments’ unlimited supports for the financial sector, the
vulnerable populations, by losing jobs and incomes, have been disproportionately hit hard. As many
statistical analyses have shown, the latter in poor living conditions were far more exposed to the
virus than the former.
In order to prepare for future disasters and emergencies, we need fundamental social change - a
transition from a profit-oriented society to a “good-life-oriented” one. The former would exacerbate
social problems as well as environmental crises. Unless structural problems immanent in the liberal
order are addressed, “state interventionism” would fall short of what is required for the social
change we need. In other words, if atomized individualism, the sanctification of private property,
the myth of the invisible hand, and plutocracy remains intact, it is of no use for the state to be
in the driver’s seat. A new society needs a new philosophy, a new view of the world that enables
human beings to live in harmony with nature; that puts people before profits; that replaces the
unfair, unlevel playing field of the current society with fairer, level playing one; that lays the
foundation for organizing society collectively in a more democratic way.
As the slogan of the World Social Forum which was put forward in opposition to the neoliberal motto
of “TINA,” another world is possible. And it is high time to start building a new world. Considering
the urgency of the climate crisis, there may not be another chance.
In light of what was mentioned above, the Seoul Institute (SI) on behalf of the City of Seoul is to
launch a project to put our heads together, which is named the Seoul Platform for Initiating
Discourses on Equitable and Resilient Society (SPIDERS). SPIDERS would aim to be the web of wisdom
for a better future.