Fresh Takes

Can private initiative stop COVID-19 from swarming across the global village?

Do we need a virus to remember that our living standards depend so much on international trade? Supply chains all over the world are being crippled and factories are being shut down like dominos because as Chinese authorities initially tried to contain the spread of the Corona virus, workers were prevented from resuming their jobs. Unusual shortages will be felt soon all over the global village. Stock exchange corrections anticipate how this disruption will affect businesses. Hopefully, it will be contained physically or by antivirals before more drastic measures are implemented.

Otherwise, if we contemplate the closing of borders by the state to stop the contagion, we would end up with virtual autarky. Contrary to what some wishful thinkers would like to believe, autarky is not a happy place. Ask the populations suffering from blockades and living in war zones. Having to rely on ourselves to produce all the goods and services we currently enjoy would be a huge setback. All electronic devices and vehicles are partially produced abroad. Most food, medicine, and clothes are imported. Living conditions would deteriorate fast, and life expectancy would drop. This is why we should not take commerce for granted, nor the peace and prosperity it represents.

As countries struggle to monitor and slow epidemics through central health control, we should think about what decentralized private initiative would have to offer instead. Already, many of us can self-impose quarantine and work from home. Small communities can self-discipline better. Access to relevant information has never been easier. Logistics companies can deliver food and medicine to our doorsteps. Education and health care can be carried out through video conferencing, etc. These options weren’t available in 1918 and 1957 when the last world pandemics struck. They are now, thanks to the division of labour in the global village.

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