SA must ensure economics never again decide infection

The key issue is whether we have organised society in a manner that provides scope for each human being to enjoy a long, productive and fulfilling life, free from the threat of preventable and avoidable early death, the writer says.
The key issue is whether we have organised society in a manner that provides scope for each human being to enjoy a long, productive and fulfilling life, free from the threat of preventable and avoidable early death, the writer says.
Image: Pixabay

Although the coronavirus is primarily a biomedical concern, it has nonetheless unravelled many issues that demand attention in terms of economic philosophy and our public policy discourse.

The manner in which citizens and special interests in the economy have reacted to the government's management of the pandemic requires that we rethink the relationship between our political economy and prospects for human survival.

Initially, a broad sense prevailed that some form of collective action had to be taken in order to minimise the impact of the coronavirus on society.

This already brought to bear the long standing controversy whether human welfare and survival are better served by individual effort or by collectivist endeavours.

Accordingly, court applications eventually followed, challenging some of the regulations attached to the government lockdown.

Central to these has been the extent to which the state, as it coordinates responses to the virus, should limit the liberty of individuals.

Issues of jogging, walking a dog and buying tobacco products became the signposts of the ensuing liberty debate.

Nevertheless, the concern about the liberty to do as individuals want is not original to the coronavirus pandemic. It has been the controversy of social philosophy and political economy debates for centuries.

For its part, the coronavirus has simply wielded the spectre of imminent death in our face to remind us to engage once again that historic controversy: should humanity band together into collectivist life patterns or assert the individual liberty to live and die alone? To be sure, whether we band together or go it alone: all human beings must eventually die.

The key issue is whether we have organised society in a manner that provides scope for each human being to enjoy a long, productive and fulfilling life, free from the threat of preventable and avoidable early death.

Virologists and epidemiologists provided scientific insight on how to manage its spread: limit human contact, promote hygiene and get tested when you exhibit symptoms. This suggests that the coronavirus poses a threat of preventable and avoidable death.

Arising out of this scientific instruction is the question: does our current system of social organisation afford everyone the same liberty to escape the threat of this preventable and avoidable death?

The economic meltdown brought forth by the lockdown affected sections of society unequally. Those who enjoyed higher stakes in economic dividends such as employment and wealth before the outbreak of the pandemic have been able to survive at the back of their accumulated wealth and healthcare resources.

This dynamic of unequal impact was evidenced by the "panic buying" in affluent neighbourhoods and the volume of testing that took place in private facilities in comparison with public hospitals.

With their primary concerns for food and healthcare being secure, affluent South Africa began to insist on the right to jog, walk a dog and seal it off with tobacco puffs.

Meanwhile, those who occupied the lower rungs of our economy before the pandemic have been battling the threat of starvation as their precarious resources depleted.

Pressed between contracting the virus in the absence of a lockdown and succumbing to starvation amid lockdowns, they have very little liberty to debate which form of preventable and avoidable death works best for them.

*Godlimpi is a member of the ANCYL

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