Saulo José Casali Bahia
WAAS Fellow, Phd (Law), Federal Judge (Brazil), Law Professor (UFBA, Brazil)
Economics is the study of choices in the face of scarcity. In other words, it is the science of scarcity. Governments work for the common good precisely as collective entities capable of acting in situations of scarcity, alongside private individuals, as economic agents. Governments will regulate, induce or provide, directly or indirectly, activities related to the production, distribution and consumption of scarce goods.
Whenever scarcity is removed from the immediate horizon possessed by individuals in a society, or whenever individuals do not see the imminence or real possibility of being placed at undue disadvantage, due to scarcity, there are spaces for governments to promote the distribution of resources surpluses and address the needs of less favored social groups or even create situations of more social equality. We will call this posture as “a promoter of solidarity” or “solidaristic”. So, the governments will seek to act through social reforms, in favor of collective development.
When these surplus resources diminish, or when there is a marked risk to individual wealth, employment or access to scarce goods, governments are sought to ensure stability or the “status quo”. It is now important to preserve, maintain, protect. Governments usually fight or control immigration to guarantee domestic employment for nationals (even if creating physical walls) or to encourage the population's armament (with the facilitation for the acquisition of personal weapons to increase the feeling of individual, physical and patrimonial security) etc. After all, it is consistent with the idea that the role of the State is to guarantee by any means that individuals feel themselves more secure. Alongside this, there is the persistent belief that collective progress depends more than any other factor on individual progress, being a result of the efforts of each one. So, the government will seek to act through individual development, capable of producing collective development as a result We will call this posture “individualistic”.
Basically, this dichotomy defines left and right governments, although some so-called center-right governments are similar in many countries to left-wing governments (given the assumed platforms of action), and the reverse can occur with so-called center-left governments. Broadly speaking, left-wing governments tend to be linked to the ideas of reform, fraternity and solidarity. Right-wing governments are often attached to an emphasis on preservation against internal or external enemies, security and individual protection. It has always been this way, in general, in any time or place on the planet. And none of this has to do with the country's government regime (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, tyranny, oligarchy or demagogy).
There is no right or wrong with regard to these choices (between solidarism and individualism), which depend on the moment and circumstances experienced by each country, in addition to the feelings and fears possessed by the population (sometimes merely instilled or stimulated).
The Covid-19 Pandemic broke out in front of countries with left-wing or right-wing governments. And the posture of each country, that is, the policy adopted in each country, varied according to the internal political spectrum possessed.
Governments were forced to enact lockdowns, with the closure of commercial, industrial, cultural, educational and recreational establishments. These are unpopular measures, with high economic costs, potentially generating unemployment and loss of income. But they are based on the idea of solidarity or of common sacrifice for the common good of all. Under the same inspiration, there are initiatives from the left-wing parties even for the approval of taxes on large fortunes aiming to gather resources to fight the Covid-19 (Wealth Tax), as in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and some North American states where Democrats predominate. Compensatory measures (positive discrimination) were added, and also well received by the populations (emergency aid for low-income population, extension or exemption from taxes, etc.).
Governments with an “individualistic” bias anticipated the unpopularity of measures of social isolation and lockdown. By political calculation, they understood that they should defend the maintenance or reopening of businesses and activities. In the first weeks or months, they estimated that the restrictions could even be relatively well received and legitimized by the population, but the fear of loss of jobs and income would (by the political calculation of the governments with an “individualistic stance”) progressively bring down the percentage of support for restrictive measures. The government with an “individualistic” vision, by assuming the role of antagonist to restrictions from the beginning, would naturally win the support of that majority determined to end any harmful measure to the economy. Anticipating, in the end, this kind of government would guarantee the position of leader of the population, standing by the majority and finding the basis of his legitimacy on this. For the pro-economics speech to convince and succeed, minimizing the risks of Covid-19 is very useful. Ignore the severity of the epidemic, trumpet the ability to face it (even with the use of drugs of very controversial clinical efficacy, such as ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine), indicate that it is inevitable (everyone will contract, most will suffer, some will die), minimize the risks, even showing in public the deliberate absence of the use of protective masks (in addition to attending and participating in agglomerations) , all this usually corresponds to the governments of “individualistic posture” (or right wing, in the sense that we adopt). In fact, the use or not of the individual protection mask, in some countries, became an external identification sign of the ideological position of the politician (right or left - see the USA, when Democrats carried it, and Republicans did not, at least initially).
As seen, right-wing governments deal frequently with the fear and personal insecurity of individuals, where general well-being becomes a mere consequence of individual well-being. The behavior of "being against" any threat to individual well-being (like Covid-19) has already been explained by Freud, as a reaction of the "I" to contents that threaten the stability of one's own conscience. It is about repressing what causes discomfort or annoyance, something that has already been described by psychoanalysts as a way to "buy time" to face impotence in the face of bad sensations.
The political calculation would only become harmed in the case of the real need to extend restrictive measures for too long, because in this case the pro-economics discourse would be repetitive. It would become harmed if the seriousness of the health risk was perceived, or if feelings of solidarity were born in the population. The leader “with an individualistic outlook” could with disgust see the base of his legitimation crumble and watch his political calculation fail (and for this reason this leader has already been putting some initial attitudes into perspective: he started wearing a mask, for example).
The problem is brought by the emergence of vaccination, which has exposed some governments “with an individualistic posture”.
This occurs because the negationism assumed in relation to vaccination comes up against scientific evidence. The insistence on the use of alternative treatments without any accepted scientific value (ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine) isn´t very well received by the population's expectation of getting vaccinated, which is eager to overcome the difficult moment of the world pandemic. Negationism in relation to the vaccine is directly related to negationism in relation to the pandemic. That is why several individualistic governments are hesitant to adopt effective and quick measures and are criticized for that. While several countries were looking for solutions to acquire the largest possible number of doses of vaccine, some negationist governments insisted on speeches about the existence of unwanted side effects with vaccination. They also insisted on the need for drug regulatory agencies to demand rigorous tests on the effectiveness of the vaccine, even when agencies from several other countries (reputable in the scientific community) have already authorized the production and use in their populations. Finally, they denounce unfair terms in contracts offered by vaccine manufacturers, in order to justify the refusal or delay in concluding negotiations.
The negationist strategy persists in some right-wing leaders, creating some dismay in those who wanted more rapid vaccination and in greater numbers.
The Judiciary and the Legislative (who have no necessary commitment to the policy of “individualistic” bias), and also the press, came to be considered as opposing the individualistic leader, when forcing solutions to vaccination and do not assuming any negationist bias. National Congresses approved legislative measures to facilitate the importation of vaccines, to reduce deadlines and to simplify the process of analysis of authorizations within national health agencies. The problem is sometimes seem as a political party issue (the use of vaccines and medicines has been highly politicized, with different strategies of inter-party political game. The political game also includes the bad relationship between federal or regional entities and the national central entity). Judicial bodies, and even constitutional courts, began to enact decisions that demand a more effective posture by the Executive regarding vaccination and health care against Covid-19.
The Trump Era in the United States was a right-wing government. By the way, the Brazilian Executive can be considered very individualistic. Among others.
This short essay intended to interpret the actions, postures and attitudes of governments in the face of the pandemic, seeing a systemic political crisis involved.