Quando não se sabe bem como analisar, o que dizer de um fenômeno novo no cenário mundial, buscam-se analogias históricas com eventos ou processos passados, que geralmente são enganosos ou equivocados, e não servem para muita coisa, a não ser para encher páginas de um artigo para uma revista prestigiosa como a Foreign Affairs (que fará 100 anos em 2022).
Não partilho muito dessa análise de Fukuyama, a não ser a constatação óbvia de que os países que fizeram melhor no enfrentamento da pandemia foram aqueles que dispunham, ou dispõem de Estados melhor organizados, dotados de convergência de propósitos e de lideranças eficientes e sobretudo inteligentes.
Nas palavras de Fukuyama (e ele desenvolve depois essas ideias tanto para democracias, quanto oara Estados autoritários), estes são os dois casos “ideal-típicos”, se ouso dizer, de sucesso ou fracasso no enfrentamento da pandemia, embora os desenvolvimentos ulteriores, em termos de fascismo ou reforço da democracia sejam muito confusos:
The factors responsible for successful pandemic responses have been state capacity, social trust, and leadership. Countries with all three—a competent state apparatus, a government that citizens trust and listen to, and effective leaders—have performed impressively, limiting the damage they have suffered. Countries with dysfunctional states, polarized societies, or poor leadership have done badly, leaving their citizens and economies exposed and vulnerable.
O Brasil, infelzmente, assim como os EUA, estão do “lado errado”, mas não acredito que as coisas se desenvolvam desse modo maniqueísta.
Paulo Roberto de Almeida
PS: Grato, uma vez mais, a meu colega e amigo Pedro Luiz Rodrigues pelo constante aprovisionamento em material de qualidade, para minha leitura diária.
The Pandemic and Political Order
It Takes a State
Foreign Affairs, July-August 2020
Major crises have major consequences, usually unforeseen. The Great Depression spurred isolationism, nationalism, fascism, and World War II—but also led to the New Deal, the rise of the United States as a global superpower, and eventually decolonization. The 9/11attacks produced two failed American interventions, the rise of Iran, and new forms of Islamic radicalism. The 2008 financial crisis generated a surge in antiestablishment populism that replaced leaders across the globe. Future historians will trace comparably large effects to the current coronavirus pandemic; the challenge is figuring them out ahead of time.
It is already clear why some countries have done better than others in dealing with the crisis so far, and there is every reason to think those trends will continue. It is not a matter of regime type. Some democracies have performed well, but others have not, and the same is true for autocracies. The factors responsible for successful pandemic responses have been state capacity, social trust, and leadership. Countries with all three—a competent state apparatus, a government that citizens trust and listen to, and effective leaders—have performed impressively, limiting the damage they have suffered. Countries with dysfunctional states, polarized societies, or poor leadership have done badly, leaving their citizens and economies exposed and vulnerable.
The more that is learned about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the more it seems the crisis will be protracted, measured in years rather than quarters. The virus appears less deadly than feared, but very contagious and often transmitted asymptomatically. Ebola is highly lethal but hard to catch; victims die quickly, before they can pass it on.COVID-19 is the opposite, which means that people tend not to take it as seriously as they should, and so it has, and will continue to, spread widely across the globe, causing vast numbers of deaths. There will be no moment when countries will be able to declare victory over the disease; rather, economies will open up slowly and tentatively, with progress slowed by subsequent waves of infections. Hopes for a V-shaped recovery appear wildly optimistic. More likely is an L with a long tail curving upward or a series of Ws. The world economy will not go back to anything like its pre-COVID state anytime soon.
Economically, a protracted crisis will mean more business failures and devastation for industries such as shopping malls, retail chains, and travel. Levels of market concentration in the U.S. economy had been rising steadily for decades, and the pandemic will push the trend still further. Only large companies with deep pockets will be able to ride out the storm, with the technology giants gaining most of all, as digital interactions become ever more important.
The political consequences could be even more significant. Populations can be summoned to heroic acts of collective self-sacrifice for a while, but not forever. A lingering epidemic combined with deep job losses, a prolonged recession, and an unprecedented debt burden will inevitably create tensions that turn into a political backlash—but against whom is as yet unclear.
The global distribution of power will continue to shift eastward, since East Asia has done better at managing the situation than Europe or the United States. Even though the pandemic originated in China and Beijing initially covered it up and allowed it to spread, China will benefit from the crisis, at least in relative terms. As it happened, other governments at first performed poorly and tried to cover it up, too, more visibly and with even deadlier consequences for their citizens. And at least Beijing has been able to regain control of the situation and is moving on to the next challenge, getting its economy back up to speed quickly and sustainably.
The United States, in contrast, has bungled its response badly and seen its prestige slip enormously. The country has vast potential state capacity and had built an impressive track record over previous epidemiological crises, but its current highly polarized society and incompetent leader blocked the state from functioning effectively. The president stoked division rather than promoting unity, politicized the distribution of aid, pushed responsibility onto governors for making key decisions while encouraging protests against them for protecting public health, and attacked international institutions rather than galvanizing them. The world can watch TV, too, and has stood by in amazement, with China quick to make the comparison clear.
Over the years to come, the pandemic could lead to the United States’ relative decline, the continued erosion of the liberal international order, and a resurgence of fascism around the globe. It could also lead to a rebirth of liberal democracy, a system that has confounded skeptics many times, showing remarkable powers of resilience and renewal. Elements of both visions will emerge, in different places. Unfortunately, unless current trends change dramatically, the general forecast is gloomy.
Pessimistic outcomes are easy to imagine. Nationalism, isolationism, xenophobia, and attacks on the liberal world order have been increasing for years, and that trend will only be accelerated by the pandemic. Governments in Hungary and the Philippines have used the crisis to give themselves emergency powers, moving them still further away from democracy. Many other countries, including China, El Salvador, and Uganda, have taken similar measures. Barriers to the movement of people have appeared everywhere, including within the heart of Europe; rather than cooperate constructively for their common benefit, countries have turned inward, bickered with one another, and made their rivals political scapegoats for their own failures.
The rise of nationalism will increase the possibility of international conflict. Leaders may see fights with foreigners as useful domestic political distractions, or they may be tempted by the weakness or preoccupation of their opponents and take advantage of the pandemic to destabilize favorite targets or create new facts on the ground. Still, given the continued stabilizing force of nuclear weapons and the common challenges facing all major players, international turbulence is less likely than domestic turbulence.
Poor countries with crowded cities and weak public health systems will be hit hard. Not just social distancing but even simple hygiene such as hand washing is extremely difficult in countries where many citizens have no regular access to clean water. And governments have often made matters worse rather than better—whether by design, by inciting communal tensions and undermining social cohesion, or by simple incompetence. India, for example, increased its vulnerability by declaring a sudden nationwide shutdown without thinking through the consequences for the tens of millions of migrant laborers who crowd into every large city. Many went to their rural homes, spreading the disease throughout the country; once the government reversed its position and began to restrict movement, a large number found themselves trapped in cities without work, shelter, or care.
Displacement caused by climate change was already a slow-moving crisis brewing in the global South. The pandemic will compound its effects, bringing large populations in developing countries ever closer to the edge of subsistence. And the crisis has crushed the hopes of hundreds of millions of people in poor countries who have been the beneficiaries of two decades of sustained economic growth. Popular outrage will grow, and dashing citizens’ rising expectations is ultimately a classic recipe for revolution. The desperate will seek to migrate, demagogic leaders will exploit the situation to seize power, corrupt politicians will take the opportunity to steal what they can, and many governments will clamp down or collapse. A new wave of attempted migration from the global South to the North, meanwhile, would be met with even less sympathy and more resistance this time around, since migrants could be accused more credibly now of bringing disease and chaos.
Finally, the appearances of so-called black swans are by definition unpredictable but increasingly likely the further out one looks. Past pandemics have fostered apocalyptic visions, cults, and new religions growing up around the extreme anxieties caused by prolonged hardship. Fascism, in fact, could be seen as one such cult, emerging from the violence and dislocation engendered by World War I and its aftermath. Conspiracy theories used to flourish in places such as the Middle East, where ordinary people were disempowered and felt they lacked agency. Today, they have spread widely throughout rich countries, as well, thanks in part to a fractured media environment caused by the Internet and social media, and sustained suffering is likely to provide rich material for populist demagogues to exploit.
OR RESILIENT DEMOCRACY?
Nevertheless, just as the Great Depression not only produced fascism but also reinvigorated liberal democracy, so the pandemic may produce some positive political outcomes, too. It has often taken just such a huge external shock to break sclerotic political systems out of their stasis and create the conditions for long-overdue structural reform, and that pattern is likely to play out again, at least in some places.
The practical realities of handling the pandemic favor professionalism and expertise; demagoguery and incompetence are readily exposed.This should ultimately create a beneficial selection effect, rewarding politicians and governments that do well and penalizing those that do poorly. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who has steadily hollowed out his country’s democratic institutions in recent years, tried to bluff his way through the crisis and is now floundering and presiding over a health disaster. Russia’s Vladimir Putin tried to play down the importance of the pandemic at first, then claimed that Russia had it under control, and will have to change his tune yet again as COVID-19 spreads throughout the country. Putin’s legitimacy was already weakening before the crisis, and that process may have accelerated.
The pandemic has shone a bright light on existing institutions everywhere, revealing their inadequacies and weaknesses. The gap between the rich and the poor, both people and countries, has been deepened by the crisis and will increase further during a prolonged economic stagnation. But along with the problems, the crisis has also revealed government’s ability to provide solutions, drawing on collective resources in the process. A lingering sense of “alone together” could boost social solidarity and drive the development of more generous social protections down the road, just as the common national sufferings of World War I and the Depression stimulated the growth of welfare states in the 1920s and 1930s.
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA is Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University and the author of Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment.
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