Following our attempt to comprehend the challenges posed by political tribalism last week, we turn our attention to the electoral contest in the USA that commands attention worldwide. In contrast to the usual boisterous spectacles of delegates for such events, the Democratic National Convention was an entirely virtual affair. In the case of the Republican National Convention our glimpses of three out of four nights at the time of writing, revealed that although scaled down, the display of audience participation — the roll call nominating the President and Vice President in Charlotte, to First Lady Melania Trump's address in the Rose Garden and President Trump’s engagement War room of the White House; to Vice President's Mike Pence's address at Fort McHenry in Baltimore — seem to disregard the strict protocols required in this COVID-19 era in favour of a spectacle of sorts.
Many studies show that political conventions have sometimes created large enough swings to allow a trailing candidate — like President Trump this year — to make a comeback. The Convention season for example was important to George Bush’s win in 1988, Bill Clinton’s in 1992 and George W. Bush’s in 2004. By the time the Republican Convention ends, Donald Trump may yet get a bounce in the polls. Yet in a book, The Timeline of Presidential Elections by Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien , they show that it is through campaigns that voters are made aware of—or not made aware of—fundamental factors like candidates’ policy positions. Except for the tribalized factions of political parties, fundamental factors and issues in the final analysis determine which ticket will get votes. In other words, fundamentals matter, but only because of campaigns. See This short book.
Two Visions of America
The question: How important are these fundamental factors in this COVID-19 era and the unprecedented structure of political campaigns?. The traditional reasons why and how people vote in a democracy are twofold. They are normally based on socioeconomic background: income occupation, education, gender, religion ethnic background and family and on psychological factors: party identification, specific candidates and key issues. The contrast with a Dictatorship as we have seen in Belarus, is that people vote but they don’t have choice about who wins. Protests in Belarus have shown the extraordinary courage of ordinary people, their willingness to draw a line in the sand when they feel overlooked or dismissed. Like the Black Lives Matter Movement in US and around the World, many of the recent demonstrations in Belarus have been led by women who have been driven to the protests by the security forces’ savage beatings of their male relatives. Their bravery, in particular, has been a vivid example of what nonviolent resistance can do. In the space of a fortnight, it substantially created "good trouble" that has unsettled and possibly can bring to an end a quarter-century of undemocratic government. Yet in Democracies like the USA, people have a choice, but don’t vote and this many studies ascribed to one of the main reasons why Hilary Clinton lost the 2016 Presidential elections. Can these Party Conventions in the USA in their different bubbles make a difference?
GOFAD has therefore turned to the political polls to see what they are saying:
The Economists Elections Forecast (August 25) that combines state and national polls with economic indicators to predict a range of outcomes, gives a 98% chance to Joe Biden winning the majority of the popular vote by 54%-46% and the 90% chance of his winning more than 270 electoral college votes. Its model expresses a 95% confidence level even taking into consideration that the unfinished Republic Convention could give Donald Trump a bounce and the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates are yet to take place. This prediction is confirmed by the Five Thirty Eight polling averages which are more modest in their predictions of a 75%-80% Biden victory. This latter exercise and its trends before the first national conventions between 1968 and 2020, show that Biden’s pre convention lead at 8% is the biggest for two decades and the second-biggest lead for any Democratic candidate since 1996, when Bill Clinton's was 15 points. It is the kind of margin according to most pollsters from which it is difficult for an incumbent President to overcome.
A different view is presented by Helmut Norpoth, Professor, Department of Political Science SUNY, known as maverick modeler. He predicts another win for Trump. His Primary Mathematical Model has correctly predicted five of the past six presidential elections, and when applied to previous elections, has correctly predicted an impressive 25 of the last 27, missing only the 2000 election in which George W. Bush defeated Al Gore and the 1960 election in which John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon. These were two extremely close and contested votes marred by allegations of voting inaccuracies. Donald Trump in particular, is reinforcing this projection when he makes statements to reporters like “we have a silent majority the likes of which nobody has seen.”
The Campaign messages so far from the Republican Convention focus on how dystopian a presidency will be under Biden against its leadership standing for law and order. They sound warnings of a “vengeful mob” that would lay waste to suburban communities and turn quiet neighborhoods into war zones. This claim is occurring amid the visual images of protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin sparked by a white policeman shooting Jacob Blake, a black man, now reportedly paralyzed from the waist down. The messages are also crafting an alternative reality of COVID-19 with speakers and audiences at the various venues without masks as if chronicling death foretold. Then there are the revisionist history of an economic recovery despite high levels of unemployment, the highest death tolls from the coronavirus worldwide and continuing revelations of dysfunctions in the government, hiding the ugly truths about voter suppression aimed at reviving the slippage in various of its stronghold constituents. Yet it cannot be discounted that these messages according to the polls are gaining traction among blocks of the electorate inspired by conspiracy theorists and bigots like the QAnons and white supremacists with their growing foothold in Trump's GOP. These tentacles of political tribalism are not to be underestimated, particularly when people want to believe the false narrative. One commentator characterizes the Republican Convention as 'a festival of lies' and this is confirmed by the NY Times Fact Checker on the three installments of the 2020 RNC so far.
The Democratic Convention too, according to the same fact check. had its share of over representation of its virtues rather than outright falsehoods. The DNC seemed to recognize that the history of its success is achieved when because the Party's platforms and programmes attract a wide coalition; that translating ideals into action requires building a coalition and incorporating diverse constituencies while building ideological diverse factions and a mixture of ideological biases. Hence it appears that Reagan Republicans may be finding more common ground with Biden than with Trump. In the next 67 days to the elections, this configuration of a democratic coalition may just be what is needed as a contrast with the demonization of toxic tribalism by the Republicans with labels that berate the other group as being “stupid,” “nasty” “evil,” “racist,” “demons,” “scum”.
The buildup of a broad coalition that cuts across race , class, gender and other demographics for leaving no one behind was clearly on display during the weeks of worldwide demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement following George Floyd's murder. Now, during the RNC, another shooting of a young Black man in the back by a White policeman in Kenosha, Wisconsin has triggered sustained protests attracting the unprecedented support from sports persons that has brought a temporary halt to basketball and baseball games and withdrawals of tennis players from some scheduled tournaments. In the meantime, both President Trump's address to the RNC on Thursday evening (27th) and 2020 Black Live Matter March on Washington for Social Justice on Friday (28th), will take place after this blog is posted. GOFAD is hopeful that out of this electoral drama in the USA, the lesson that would emerge is that fundamental issues matter and will ‘trump’ tribalism.
After last week’s blog, Kamala Harris arises amid the COVID-19 Election Scenarios, my friend, Carlos Hee Houng, mostly with respect to elections in the Caribbean, queried whether too much emphasis was being placed on race in politics and too little on the role of tribalism. His observation provided the impetus for this week's blog. It caused me to roam the literature and commentaries resulting in these preliminary thoughts which must be more fully explored.
Early Attachments to Race, Class and the Plural Society
The analysis of race in plural societies is not new to me. My earliest venture into this field include my first book, Race vs Politics in Guyana (1974) and another with Selwyn Ryan, The Confused Electorate: A Study of Political Attitudes and Opinion in Trinidad and Tobago (1981), both based on survey methodologies. Those earlier studies and others that touched on race, class and gender and mass movements by a wide range of scholars over the past 40 odd years, have only marginally looked beyond the impact of the traditional concepts on social and political mobilization. Our generation of scholars were mainly concerned with the notions of the plural society in which different cultural groups while forced to relate to the same national political unit, practiced very different systems of compulsory or basic institutions. We noted that what held the culturally defined entities together was the force of the dominant minority group. What emerged in the transition from colonialism to independence status was the overlap between race and class with various classes more or less color coded by labels such as Afro Saxon, Euro-Creole and regarded as a buffer class. The stricter analysis of class focused on social stratification, and political organization shaped by social class in relation to peoples location in the economic class structure. Later the cold war era created a polarization in scholarly approaches. Hence a series of studies emerged with a full range of commitments to liberal and socialist ideals. These class differentials have become far more important in the era of globalization with inequities compounded by the rapid explosion of technological advances. However, it is mainly due to journalists and columnists that in more recent times the role of tribalism in politics is being highlighted. Yet the notion of tribalism is neither novel nor new.
Tribalism refers to the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one's own social group or 'tribe'. Politics in any kind of democracy is about building coalitions to secure a majority. It requires appealing to much more than tribalism. Political scientists have put forward a very in-depth contextual definition of the term, political tribalism. They refer to it as a type of politics known to the ancient Greeks and Romans that was hierarchical. Over time, it has evolved in an identification of a grouping that is not necessarily based on ethnicity, but on rules and rituals of the group for which disobedience and/or dissent lead to marginalization. Tribalism is the anthesis of constitutional democracy. George Orwell, in an essay compares tribalism to “narrow or negative nationalism” such as Zionism, Anti-semitism, Trotskyism. In this sense, it does not mean loyalty to a government or a country but to ideals like Islam, Christendom, the Proletariat and the White race which engender passionate nationalistic feelings. Among the interesting characteristics of this version of tribalism are:
Some applications of Tribalism
These characteristics are currently dramatically accelerated and intensified in the USA under President Trump, where it appears that everything in American politics today entrenches tribalism. This is illustrated by extreme gerrymandering and attempted voter suppression in Republican controlled states, and more recently in the 2018 midterms; the Republican stonewalling of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court Judge in 2016; Republican leaders’ refusal to acknowledge Russian interference in the 2018 and 2020 Presidential elections; and the final takeover of the Republican Party by Trump. But it is important to note that both Republicans and Democrats contribute to hyper partisanship displayed in both the House of Representatives and Senate. A December 2019 Georgetown University Battleground Poll found that the average American believes that the nation is two-thirds of the way to the edge of civil war.
In Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, according to many empirical studies, race is identified as a critical component of political alignment. In both countries, the compounding factor is tribalism which is central to intensifying suspicions and tensions and increasing bad blood and lasting rancor. In his book, Tarron Khemraj Politics and Underdevelopment: The Case of Guyana (2019) focused on unmasking the state. He wrote, “Pro-ethnic voting by the two dominant groups is jointly determined by external factors rooted in history, geography, production structure, and foreign price shocks.” What is said about Guyana is equally true for Trinidad and Tobago. Tribalism is perpetuated because even when there is a third force (and in Guyana there were 12 parties contesting the 2020 elections) when considering voting for a ‘third force’, the members of the two dominant ethnic groups tend to vote to break the tribal hegemony. The fact of the matter is the winner generally emerges from the party which maintains more of its traditional supporters. There is also the overall perception that economic interests would be harmed if the other side were to win the elections. There was no better illustration than in Guyana where the prospects of an oil economy with projected exponential economic growth propelled the worst excesses of tribalism during and after the 2020 elections.
The University of Guyana and UWI in the respective countries should coordinate fora to brain storm on electoral and constitutional reform intended to circumvent the persistence of racial cleavages and reduce tribalism in the political mobilization, election outcomes and sustaining democracy.
Power sharing has been mooted in Guyana for over 30 years with little buy in from the major political parties. But inherent problems require concerted action. Herein lies the opportunity for special interests, the Diaspora, voices of youth and civil society. Their interventions must be constructive, nonpartisan, based on research findings and best practices and geared toward mobilizing/refashioning public opinion. A formidable accompanying media strategy is also essential. All this requires the political will and magnanimity of the political leadership.
In Jamaica, Ambassador Curtis Ward in a blog, Ending Jamaica’s Tribal Politics (January 2017) makes us aware that political tribalism must not be confused with fervent party support. Then the Report of the National Committee on Political Tribalism in Jamaica chaired by Justice James Kerr (1997) states that tribalism is manifested in political garrison states, a virtual fortress led by 'Dons' or gang leaders which were institutionalized factions of political parties. The most dominant consequential effect was the hyper-polarization of party support that heightened in the 1970s when two distinctive ideologies -- democratic socialism and capitalism, were the overlay of the People National Party led by Michael Manley and the Jamaica Labour Party led by Edward Seaga, respectively. The causes of political tribalism identified by Justice Kerr included high levels of patronage and poverty, scarce benefits, management and awards of contract. Among the consequential costs are reflected high levels of violence and persistent fear pervading the society which in recent times have significantly reduced. But the social scars of divisiveness remain.
Tribalism like sectarianism destroys a nation and demeans its people. Tribalism does not unite but splits a country into factions. This is more so the case when tribes are competing for power over the state, and the media and public opinion become a verbal battleground. When politics becomes a perpetual tribal war, ends justify almost any means and individuals are absolved from the constraints of normal decency. It is therefore incumbent on power centers like bar associations, chambers of commerce and Christian and Evangelic Councils and interest groups not to allow the articulation for civil liberties, equality, economic advancement to be compromised by tribalism. They must support transparency systems with vigilance in preventing awards of contracts to friends of government; marginalizing talented academics, professionals and entrepreneurs. They must create a culture of Trust. All these are aspirational goals that should lead to replacing tribalism with meritocracy.
Recent Elections have been foremost amid the coronavirus pandemic to attract attention. The most recent buzz revolves around the announcement on August 11th of Senator Kamala Harris as the Vice Presidential candidate on the Biden-Harris Democratic ticket to challenge the Trump-Pence incumbent Republican team in the USA election on November 3, 2020. This event was an exciting climax to a week which involved a change in Government in the Republic of Guyana and the re-elections of the People’s National Congress in Trinidad and Tobago. In Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko in power since 1994 has claimed a landslide victory amid widespread protests and police violence against protesters. The common factors that prevail in these electoral scenarios are essentially responses to the constraints of COVID-19 era which require that special attention given to health security, economic stimuli to rescue flagging economies and focus on reducing rather than increasing inequalities which have been the concerns of our previous two blogs
In Guyana elections are over.. almost: but that’s the easy part (Griffith)
After 5 months of agonizing delays involving litigations in the national and regional courts, Dr. Irfaan Ali of the People’ Progressive Party/Civic with a narrow 33-31 victory over the APNU-AFC, celebrated his inauguration as President of the Republic of Guyana on August 9, 2020. In his inaugural address, he pledged to be ‘President of all the people’. This aspiration is most welcome especially in light of the festering disaffection as a result of a protracted electoral process, and the underlying social and racial cleavages that have underscored continuous acrimony following elections dating back to the early 1960s. These trends have been the subject of many books, commission reports, newspaper columns and contentious debates. They have led to “racial” violence in some instances. In a very perceptive article, Guyana’s elections are over.. almost: but that’s the easy part, Professor Ivelaw Griffith, former University of Guyana Vice Chancellor points out that the key values of good governance revolve around integrity rather than corruption, equity rather than racial triumphalism and transparency rather than kleptocracy, especially with the likely influx of petro-dollars. See link: https://menafn.com/1100605204/Guyanas-elections-are-over-almost-But-thats-the-easy-part
In Trinidad and Tobago where elections were held on August 10, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, Leader of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) has claimed victory with a 22-19 seat majority. However, up to the time of writing this blog the results have not been officially declared because the United National Congress (UNC) opposition leader Kamla Persad Bissessar has challenged the results in three (3) marginal constituencies, so we must await the official declaration. The voter turnout in 2020 at 58% is much lower that the 66% in 2015. This has been attributed to the fact that a relatively high percentage of older voters did not go to the polls, no doubt due to fear of being infected by the coronavirus. But there are also underlying factors that have to await further analysis. Like Guyana, they include the persistence of race as a factor of voting patterns. Unlike Guyana, which has a system of proportional representation, Trinidad and Tobago’s first past the post system can lead to a party winning the popular vote which may not translate into the majority of seats. Given the ethnic demographics of constituencies with either African/Mixed or Indian majorities, election results often revolve around which party can capture the majority of 7-9 marginal seats. In addition, consideration for electoral reform should be given to accommodating postal ballots, especially in circumstances of a pandemic. More immediate, is the need for monitoring and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in the aftermath of the elections where it was reported that social distancing was not always adhered to.
In Belarus authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko has cracked down on demonstrators with stun grenades, rubber and real bullets and tear gas after what domestic critics and other countries have called a fraudulent outcome in the August 10 elections. Lukanhesko, who has been in power since 1994, said he received more than 80 percent of the vote. It is interesting to note that Svetlana Tikhanovsky a vibrant opposition leader left Belarus for Lithuania as part of a deal for the release of her campaign manager, Maria Morez who was detained on the eve of the elections. In addition, the complicated and strained relations between Russia and Belarus which receives substantial financial subsidies from Moscow, is being sustained because Russia is wary of the prospects of a pro-Western Revolution in Belarus. Is this a manifestation of Putin’s expansionism in Europe See The Belarus Election and its Aftermath
Kamala Harris and the Biden-Harris Moment
The issues of COVID 19 , race , electoral fraud and Russia which have emerged as endangering the democratic process in varying degrees in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Belarus, resonate in the USA and will test the mettle of the new Democratic leadership.
Kalama on the verge of an historic moment but Challenges Loom
Kamala Harris is the first Asian American and the first Black woman in American history to be a general election candidate for president or vice president for either of the two major political parties. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris , born in India, received her PhD from the University of California, Berkley in nutrition and endocrinology and specialized in breast cancer research. Her father, Donald Harris a University of California Berkley trained Economist and Stanford University Professor was born in Jamaica. Kamala Harris is the second Black person (after Barack Obama) and the fourth woman (after Democrats Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008) to be on a presidential ticket for one of the two major parties. If she and Biden win the November election, she would be the first Asian American, the first woman of any race or ethnicity and the second Black person in U.S. history to be vice president or president. Does this portrait of success by one from immigrant roots inspire voting for the American Dream ?
Overcoming the COVID Factor
While the opinion polls have so far been stable in their projection of a Biden lead over Trump, Presidential debates and the party conventions are yet to occur. And while Biden just named Harris as his running mate, a significant revelation is that in the 24 hour hours after announcing her candidacy, the campaign raised the largest ever amount of US$ 26M in the first 24 hours. Yet there is need to recognize that the campaign is being conducted amid a pandemic the likes of which the United States has not seen in more than 100 years, which is resulting in an unprecedented and volatile economy. The issue is whether the Biden-Harris ticket can overcome the obvious Trump strategy to place impediments in the path of their support from the traditional marginalized groups who will be most affected. A recent study by the Hamilton Project which produces evidence based policy proposals and analysis provides some of the major social determinant which could prevent black and Hispanic voters from turning out to vote. They are most severely affected by weak safety nets, disproportionate health and economic disadvantages, high unemployment, food hardships and hunger, lack of health insurance and disparity in receiving unemployment benefits by nearly 6 weeks after the average unemployed person.
The Race plus Gender Factor
It is no doubt hoped that Kamala Harris on the ticket will catalyze a robust voting infrastructure in black and brown constituencies, motivate black nonvoters and maximize voter turn- out , thereby reversing Hilary Clinton’s dilemma in 2016. Electoral trend analyses show that in 2008 and 2012 when black voter turnout was 65% and 66 % respectively the Obama- Biden Democratic ticket won compared with 2004 and 2016 when black voter turnout was 60% and 58% respectively which resulted in Republican Presidencies. At the same time, Kamala Harris’ choice should not be portrayed as a manifestation of an affirmative action. Her political pedigree belies that perception. It is most amenable to attracting a rainbow-multiracial coalition of support. Within that coalition, however, it must be an explicit recognition that her ascendancy within the democratic party is as a result of the hard work of black female political leaders, political strategists, ardent campaigners and voters that form the backbone of the party. Indeed, a plethora of dynamic black females were considered as worthy candidates for the post of Vice Presidential candidate. According to statistics from the Hamilton Project more than 90% of Black women on average have cast their ballots for the Democratic Party. Frank Bruni’s op-ed in the NY Times August 11, 2020 ,Kamala Harris is the Future Mike Pence May Well be History aptly puts it: “the expected Vice Presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence is more than a clash of perspectives and philosophies , it is an extraordinary collision of life experiences with racism and sexism at its core”
The Hurdle of Electoral Fraud
It is clear from the statements made by Donald Trump that Republican fraud is focused not on the standard process of adding fake voters but subtracting real ones . Hence there is need to make it hard to cheat and easy for legitimate voters to vote. The most obvious ploy is the attempt to curtail postal vote by enfeebling the post office services so they cannot deliver the ballots. The current policies of Postmaster General De Joy to slow down the mail distribution services include classifying postal votes as bulk mail. This attempt to restrict postal votes runs counter to US Constitution. A 2017 Study by the Brennan Center for Justice shows that voter fraud in the USA is between 0.00004 - 0,00008%. The Voter Fraud Data Base at the Arizona State University found 491 postal frauds between 2000 and 2012. This is very important since 72% of Democrats intend to vote by mail compared with 22% Republicans.
In 2016, the Russian interference in the electoral process in the USA was clearly exposed by the FBI as well as in the Mueller Report. Intelligence officials have reportedly found that Russia is again interfering in the 2020 election to try to support President Trump’s reelection and that they meddled in the Democratic primaries to help the Bernie Sanders campaign. The use of internet links to facilitate the Kremlin’s digital campaign has resulted in a Facebook announcement that it had taken down about 75,000 posts across 50 Internet Research Agency. The vigilance of the Democratic representatives in the House and their Senators is vital to the oversight and continued efforts to expose and remove these hurdles
A Dilemma in Branding Kamala
In the attempt to create a negative narrative around the imagery of Kamala Harris, President Trump and other detractors refer to her as ‘nasty’, ‘mean’, ‘disrespectful’ and more recently “a birther” whose American citizenship is being doubted. In fact all these are in deference to the reality that herein is the persona of a strong , proud, ambitious articulate, brilliant, beautiful, black lady: a potential President of the USA. The reference to her harsh policies against crime and criminals is correct but by itself it fails to capture the essence of her career profile. Her book, The Truths we Hold: An American Journey reveals that as California’s attorney general, she prosecuted transnational gangs, big banks, big oil, and for profit colleges. She battled the big corporations and mortgage companies and landed a deal of US18 Billion in 2012 as substantial relief for home owners following the 2008 economic crisis. She also supported the Affordable Care Act and fought to reduce elementary school truancy, pioneered the nation’s first national data initiative to expose racial discrimination in the justice system and implemented implicit bias training for police officers. She has been an advocate for increasing the minimum wage, making higher education tuition free for the majority of Americans and for protecting the rights of refugees and immigrants the protect.
At the beginning of the debates for the Democratic Presidential nomination, there was a notion that the Party maybe moving left ideologically. In the campaign, Kamala Harris’ positions did not clearly fit with any ideological classifications other than here was a pragmatist and a progressive. This makes the attempted stigmatization of her as leftist, far-fetched. What is more, even if Democrats control the House, Senate and the Presidency in 2021 the most important figures in Washington might be Biden, Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, all of whom have progressive inclinations and have kept some distance from, but with respect for the party’s left wing. Let the attached video shine its light on Senator Kamala Harris emerging..
The editorial in the LANCET Journal, July 2020, provides the paradox of why it may not be feasible to return to “normal” after COVID-19. It reminds us that globally, before the pandemic, 734 million people lived in extreme poverty, 690 million people went hungry, 79·5 million people were forcibly displaced and billions of people, were not working. These trends are generally reflected in various regions as we illustrated in last week's blog, in the case for the Caribbean. Yet some advocates tell us that before COVID 19, the world has never been in a better state. So why shouldn’t we want to return to normal, even if we could. The sanguine explanation in the Lancet editorial is: “While COVID-19 is a human catastrophe, …it gives the health community an opportunity to rethink the purpose of society in a fractured world and to redefine what we want normal to mean”. In a nutshell: is the answer- placing emphasis on Health Security?
Why Health Security as a Focus
First, is the need for building a resilient health system with surge capacity, a commitment to quality improvements and effective responses to health emergencies. According to the Lancet editorial “resilient health systems would not plan for an influenza pandemic and then follow that plan when a coronavirus outbreak occurs”.
Second, since pandemics impact economies almost instantaneously, emphasizing the interrelations between planning for health and economic resilience simultaneously is essential. The compounding factors of natural disasters and climate change make it necessary to reorder priorities for both health and economics. And when climate and other natural disasters are added to the mix, Jonathan Alfred writing in the London Guardian (July 20,2020), reflected the opinion by the 2019 Economic Laureates, Abhijit Banerjie and Esther Dufflo, Changing the Culture of Economics, that the focus of orthodox economics on efficiency needs to be reconsidered. The argument is that “pandemics, climate disasters, and financial meltdowns might feel exceptional, but they are not unexpected”.
Third, Health Economics offers the prospects for placing priorities on resilience for coping with the exceptional consequences of a pandemic like coronavirus since its templates force a dual focus on both health and economic. Last week’s blog referred the costing tool of the UWI Health Economics Unit (HEU) with built in formulas for projecting from the available epidemiological data, the trends that go beyond cost-benefits to an examination of the social determinants of health. These determinants, more than quantification, help us to comprehend the basis for coping with inequality and poverty, the pervasive conditions in an uncertain future. Some readers expressed difficulty down loading the HEU Biannual Report (2020) last week. It is reposted here. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zotei_mcc7vHMPvsqekbk9MiXgZlZLSy/view?usp=sharing
Fourth, mainstream economics has taught us that the only rational way to deal with an uncertain future is to quantify it by assigning a probability to every possibility. At the same time, The WHO Commission on Macroeconomics on Health chaired by Prof Jeffrey Sacks as early as 2000, argued that the traditional yardstick to prevent costs outweighing benefits is the oldest excuse for not taking precautions. The persistent high rates of the COVID pandemic caused by a rush to reopen businesses in the USA, for example, is perhaps the clearest recipe for disaster when the benefits, or the costs of inaction, are vastly undervalued. Now we also see that even with the best expertise in the world, knowledge often falls far short of predicting futures like COVID-19 which was unimaginable.
Fifth, the COVID-19 pandemic has created awareness of resources required by individual small island developing states to improve their capacity to prepare for, and respond to, acute environmental and health emergencies. This has been illustrated by the Global Health Security Index , a standard for measuring the national capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to public health emergencies. It shows that the Caribbean with a score at 32 with averages ranging between 24–38, is lower than the global average of 40·2 and an average among high-income nations of 51·9. How to improve the ranking on the GHS index is a concern. Since 2000, 12 years of tracking climate change, averages in temperatures have been classified above normal, and in 2017 and 2019 hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Dorian devastated national infrastructures across ten Caribbean islands. Three of the 10 countries most affected by extreme weather events over the past 20 years are in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominica).
Some Positive Indications from the Caribbean for Coping with the Future
Major steps have been taken to strengthen health security in the Caribbean. From September 2016 through May 2017 a regional self-assessment adopting the GHSA was conducted in the Caribbean from which a Caribbean Health Security Assessment (CHSA) Roadmap was developed. This has led to reinvigorating the Regional Coordinating Mechanism for Health Security (RCM-HS). An important initiative is that of developing and endorsing the Roadmap into the current iteration of the Caribbean Cooperation in Health (CCH-IV) by focusing on improved communications, coordination and cooperation as a multi-sectoral, and collaborative process.
While The GHSA Roadmap now serves as a central tool for coordinating health policies and programs among countries and regional agencies, the baseline revolves around the international health regulations (IHR) established by WHO in 2005. These regulations represent an agreement between 196 countries to work together for global health security with specific measures at seaports, airports and ground crossings to limit the spread of health risks while keeping unwarranted trade and travel restrictions to a minimum. The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) now works more closely with the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) , the Caribbean Community Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) , and others to track passenger movements on cruise liners and flights. This is a key step to coordinated regional prevention and tracking the spread of disease. At the same time , PAHO/WHO plays a valuable role in guidance provision, capacity building, information sharing, and bilateral tracking, while CARPHA coordinates security and health actors and others in the CARICOM system.
In addition he RCM-HS, chaired by CARPHA, is the inclusive platform sharing information between CARICOM and the independent, UK, US, French and Dutch interests to improve response to health threats. Using the Roadmap as tangible evidence of the interconnected nature of health security, the national councils on security and law enforcement are now encouraged to take on more health issues such as vector control, chemical hazards, and surveillance. In addition, the RCM-HS has established standard operating procedures for the harmonized management of illness in tourism establishments and on cruise ships and airlines. It outlines roles and responsibilities under different circumstances.
Conclusion: redefining and reconfiguring 'normal'
The economic impact has been quite severe for the emerging market economies like those the Caribbean which have been buffeted by multiple shocks. The IMF Report ( August 2020) confirms the effects of domestic containment measures on the decline in external demand. Particularly hard hit are tourism-dependent countries in the Caribbean due to a decline in travel. With global trade and oil prices projected to drop by more than 10 percent and 40 percent respectively, the adverse effect on all Caribbean countries and in the case of the oil prices, Guyana and Surname, could be severe.
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened interest in creating separate institutions dedicated to health security as a way of both addressing the current crisis and preparing for the next outbreak. The Caribbean is in a fortunate position to have established RSM-HS - Chaired by CARPHA . However a critical component for ensuring resilience with the application of health economics requires that the UWI Health Economics Unit must feature prominently the RCM-HS It could help to establish the balance in health and economic resilience. It could make equity, resilience, and sustainability the priorities for our future. It could, in effect, help to redefine and reconfigure what we want ‘normal’ to mean.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.