Major crises, like the current Covid-19 pandemic, force us to change and compel us out of our comfortable routines. For this reason, crises are crucial moments to trigger deliberate change; change that would be hardly feasible in the midst of comfortable stability.
Crises highlight the worst and the best in humanity. The effort to develop a Covid-19 vaccine in record time has prompted unprecedented cooperation among the world’s best minds. Biotech companies, governments, universities and pharmaceutical companies are about to achieve something unthinkable. Let’s remember that the fastest vaccine ever achieved (against mumps) took four years to develop in the 1960s. However, crises are also times where ignorance, conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, religious fanatics, unscrupulous politicians and populists –who have downplayed the pandemic to muster power at the expense of human lives- show their ugly heads.
If we seize this moment of change, what world can we aspire to? What kind of society? What kind of country? This crisis reminds us that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. No matter how rich the rich are, if we fail to protect and inoculate the poorest among us, they will spread a virus that will prevent the former from normalizing their lives. This pandemic can become the biggest driver of inequality between countries and among individuals. Governance and social stability will be at risk if we do not design effective public policies to soften the blow.
We now understand that the destruction of natural areas is one of the causes why humans live close to animal species capable of unleashing terrible infections. Caring for the environment is an urgent priority. Today, we confirm that investing in science is not an elitist luxury, but a priority for all. We understand that developing efficient and inclusive public health systems is crucial, and impossible to achieve overnight, when facing an urgent threat.
Mexico will face the colossal challenge of bringing more than 33 million unemployed or underemployed people back to the labor force. Mexico faces a potentially devastating risk if our response to this crisis – which has perhaps cost 200,000 lives – is to return to a past that was never what we are being told it was, instead of embracing the future with determination, to adopt change that can enable us to become a more equal, more prosperous, fairer, more secure country, capable of offering the opportunities that our young people deserve.
Let’s turn our backs to any narrative -left or right, conservative or liberal- that seeks to emphasize our differences, the narrative that wants to convince us that anyone who thinks differently is our enemy and deserves our hatred. Let us respect our differences to better seek common purpose, to find realistic solutions to the colossal challenges we face.
This crisis has confirmed that bringing together our best minds in search for concrete solutions yields splendid results, that tele medicine and remote learning are possible, that we can redirect resources and efforts to solve urgent problems, and that governments and central banks have tools that can be used responsibly in emergencies to spark urgent change.
It is urgent for the López Obrador administration to realize that rescuing the Mexican state-owned oil company (Pemex) is suicidal. We need those resources to insert ourselves into a world that has changed. Today, It is urgent that we invest in clean energy, for which in fact we have important advantages. It is urgent that we reset Mexico’s deplorable public education system. Today, it should be obvious that it is a huge mistake to spend the scarce resources that we used for scientific research on political campaigns. As a country, Mexico cannot waste time shifting the blame to past mistakes, instead of embracing a potentially promising future. Mexico needs to be part of the new world that that will emerge once the Covid-19 pandemic is finally crushed.
* Jorge Suárez-Vélez is an economic and political analyst He is the author of The Coming Downturn of the World Economy (Random House 2011). A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @jorgesuarezv