For weeks, newspapers have been full of Covid-19 analyses, talking about threats, risks, and measures to protect us from the virus. Few have talked about the long-needed opportunity to reflect on our political systems – here is one of them.
It does not matter whether we care about politics or not, even those that believe it to be the essence of or society should at least once consider its costs. Covid-19, the different approaches that governments around the globe took to contain its spread, and the relative ‘successes’ of these measures, deserve a closer look. More so, if we look at what is still to come, for example the economic consequences of hwo the ‘sanitary crisis’ was (mis-)managed. In that sense, Covid-19 reveals an opportunity that few people really wish for – not those at the bottom end of society, because they would definitely loose fate, nor those at the top, since it would reveal their true motivations.
Talking about the ridiculously strict measures we citizens in Spain have been suffered under for more than two months already, a friend of mine said: “what do you expect from a government composed among others of a health minister that studied philosophy and a minister of economy with a degree in history of arts?”. What sounds like a good joke, describes the reality in an overwhelming majority of nations worldwide including Spain: our governments are made of people that to a very large extend have no clue what they are talking about! Whereas in the private sector people are hired according to their competences, in politics what matters are party loyalty and capacity of adaptiveness to a rotten system.
In Spain, politics have been centred around questions of power, discrimination, and abuse for as long as historians can tell. Consequently, corruption and unjustified spending have been popular with left-wind and right-wing governments. It should thus not surprise that in handling the Covid-19 crisis, the key factor are not the citizens or measures to best protect them, but how to use a high mortality rate to make economic profit! Already struggling with high debts, Spain chose a different path from that of northern European countries: better lie flat and enjoy the promise of ‘free money for all’ than trying to cope with the situation. ‘Partying’ can never be more joyful than when someone else is paying. That is what President Sánchez must have thought as well when he addressed his EU colleagues, only getting more vocal than usual when some of them did not immediately show the expected excitement. However, the calculation may not pay off for everyone, if things go as they have historically gone.
Thinking a bit more along ‘responsibilities’ we may ask ourselves who should pay for the costs of Spanish politics? Some Chinese traders in Wuhan’s animal market that may have sparked Covid-19? Or is it the Germans who have nothing to do with how badly the Spanish government managed this (and others) crisis? Maybe it is a good time to think about political consequences and how to choose a competent government in the future. When you need some fixing in your bathroom, do you call the hair shop or the best plumber you know? I argue that the fact that Sánchez was the only one to represent PSOE in the past elections even though nobody wanted him does not justify asking Europe for economic support when dealing with the consequences – not even now that Covid-19 (fortunately) comes in as a welcome excuse.
Rather than finding a cheap way out, Spanish (and other citizens as well) should think about how they want their future to look like. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote how I was stopped trying to ride my bicycle on Easter day. I tried the same today, but following advice of friends from different countries, I switched to my MTB and intended to go to the hills. Only that I was stopped by the police 500m from home and send home after a ridiculous discussion about which way I had to choose when ‘intending to buy milk in the village’. While I had to turn around frustrated and angry, thousands of Spanish car drivers are enjoying a Sunday on the road whereas President Sanchez’ promise of an ecological transition remains deep down in his drawer. Is that the future we want? A sustainable development agenda in which governments invite ‘popular climate activists’ to an international climate forum due to its media attention while discriminating against cyclists when nobody watches?
Whatever we may or may not know about Covid-19, it tells us this much about political economy: if your government handled the crisis trying to strike a balance between mobility restrictions and economic development and using measures that are tailored according to scientific knowledge (e.g. Germany or Switzerland), then you are on the right way. If in contrast, your government has only counted the death, aligned their actions with political gains, applied random rules that ignore science, and constantly talked about economic compensation as has been the case in Spain, then you might want to consider how much longer you can afford to support your government. Latest when the tax department calls, you will remember that promises are just what they have historically been: complimentary talk.