This week's blog is the first of two parts. It reviews the stages in the emerging international system and the responsiveness of the international community to the challenges facing the world. It addresses the evolution of multilateralism and will be followed up next week with insights on the contemporary challenges and actions of multilateralism.
The international community begins its annual deliberations at the United Nations General Assembly next week, September 22 - 29, 2020. Its theme is The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism – confronting COVID-19 through effective multilateral action. The discussions will be the focus of several landmark events. Chief among which are:
• High Level deliberations to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations.
•High-Level Summit on Biodiversity and the 24th Anniversary of the 4th World Conference on Women.
• High-level meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total
Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
It is not surprising that this year’s UN General Assembly will be concerned with taking decisive actions to effectively deal with the coronavirus, which is inflicting tremendous harm on economies and societies, globally. In this 75th anniversary year, a multilateral approach to COVID-19 and the other issues comport with the main aspirational goals of the UN to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations and promote social progress, better living standards and human rights. In this COVID era, The UN like many other organizations has had to shift from in-person to virtual operations. The results from this new formula for international diplomacy are unpredictable.
Evolution of Multilateralism
The arrangements that define multilateralism are generally seen as a collection of sovereign states taking policy actions to coordinate their relations based on a common set of principles, often in line with the main goals of the UN. In this regard, winning the war against the COVID- 19 pandemic will challenge the state of multilateralism and the collective leadership it needs to do so.
At the end of World War II, the focus of attention was on the reconstruction of Western European economies devastated by war. This involved extensive policy dialogue between USA and Western Europe. These deliberations and follow-up actions offered a period of great optimism for the Western countries in building a power bloc through a range of institutional settings. They included the construction of the Marshall Plan in 1947 which helped the Western European countries to combat poverty, disease and malnutrition. This plan was instrumental in the establishment of the United Nations, the Bretton Woods institutions and later, several treaties, agreements and other important institutions. On the other hand, the USSR and many Eastern European countries were pursuing a different path to reconstruction and development. It has led to two different strands in the emergence of the “cold war” revolving around the ideological divergence of thinking between a centrally planned and a market economy.
Historians have pointed out that the cold war experience existed since the 1930s, when it was used to describe the fraught relationships among European countries. In 1945, after the United States used the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, George Orwell introduced the term and predicted decades of nuclear anxiety in international relations. https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/02/09/in-1945-george-orwell-coined-the-term-cold-war-and-predicted-decades-of-nuclear-anxiety/
The Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted from 1947-1991 led the two superpowers to the brink of nuclear disaster. It fizzled in August 1991 with the collapse of the USSR and Eastern European economies. The post-cold war experience has demonstrated that most successful economies are "mixed" relying on smart technologies and carefully scrutinized policy actions, leadership and public-private partnerships.
The Peace Dividend and multilateralism
The concept of the peace dividend emerged at the end of the Cold War. Many Western nations began making significant cuts in military spending. In the early 1990s, various US administrations initiated programmes involving moving talent and technologies from building military capability to economic development. The relative power of the US , the rise of Japan as one of the World's largest creditors and the economically united Europe as the world's largest market were prerequisites to the dawn of globalization and a justification for an upsurge in multilateralism. This development was referred to by Chatham House (Royal Institute of International affairs) as an investment in international stability by creating the socio-economic conditions of peace through political and economic interdependence . https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/field/field_document/20150619InvestingInStabilityBaileyFordBrownBradley.pdf
Decolonization and Development
Simultaneously, what emerged, was an upsurge in demand from the developing world for transformative change. During the period of postwar reconstruction, many people living in the developing countries were seeking their national independence from the colonial rulers. Many suffered from the worse forms of subjugation under colonialism. This was the period when colonial markets were extremely profitable with little attention given to human welfare. It was a trigger for developing countries seeking their independence at a time when the UK , other European countries and North America were industrializing, and the colonial arrangements were beginning to become less profitable.
Various circumstances evolved and different outcomes emerged in the developing world. Many Latin America countries participated in the League of Nations, an international diplomatic group developed after WW1 because they attained their independence from Spain much earlier than most African and Caribbean Countries. Notwithstanding, their status the US government in the 1930s made provisions for Latin American countries to participate in the New Deal and other arrangements to counter the communist influences in the region. On the other hand, before India attained independence, the European colonial powers used a number of measures to represent the colonies (the current developing countries) in multilateral institutions through various colonial arrangements.
Independence of India in 1947 signaled the advent of many new independent states in the international arena, revolutionizing the multilateral system and shifting the international system toward a development agenda . This orientation over time, influenced new ways of looking at a range of issues including security matters.
In 1994 the UN Human Development Report introduced the concept of human security, which equates security with people rather than territories and with development rather than arms. The creative will of the developing countries was now on display at the UN. Recognizing these trends, the industrialized countries developed new ways to subjugate the aspirations of the developing countries. This was best illustrated during the 1980s with the emergence of the international debt crisis and the significant roles that were given to the Bretton Woods Institutions. In contrast, to the experience of the support given to the European countries in the post war reconstruction, developing countries were treated under the familiar model of risk management where “one size fit all”, where agreements were operationalized, and countries were assumed to be consuming and often importing more than they were producing. As a result, policies were constructed that sought to constrain consumption, imports and significant cuts in public expenditures. These policies in many instances led to a number of economic and social pathologies in developing countries.
Globalization and Development
By the last quarter of the twentieth century, globalization ushered in the gradual spread of trade, the growing presence of international corporations operating as internationally integrated production systems, the expansion and mobility of capital along with increasing restrictions on labor mobility and mass real-time access to information. As a result, many developing countries faced consequences of globalization due to the erosion of their autonomy and sovereignty. This was compounded by an increase in the importance of non-state actors such as transnational corporations, private financial institutions and NGOs. With the sheer multitude of actors and the large sums of money which many of them command, the possibility for individual Governments to formulate and implement policies effectively — whether regarding exchange rates, interest rates, or wages — declined. Worse yet, many developing countries, were excluded from the globalization process. These countries are mainly exporters of primary commodities which have become less and less important in world trade.
Conclusion: Whither the future prospects of Multilateralism
In a world of ever greater globalization and inequality, developing countries risk increasing marginalization if due attention is not paid to their fragility. The UN and multilateralism can certainly play an important role in asserting itself to address the growing vulnerability of many developing countries. These conditions played a leading role in the evolution of the Millennium Development Goals (2015) and are again doing so in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Whither the future prospects of multilateralism will be explored in Part II of this Blog.
Development Economist, Senior Advisor UN Development Agenda,
former Director Sustainable Development, CARICOM
During the past two weeks, a series of books have been published on the Trump era by Joy-Ann Reid, The Man Who Sold America, Michal Cohen, Disloyal and Bob Woodward, Rage. They add to the many others that reveal the sinister nature of the man who holds the most powerful office in the world. These books, drawing on empirical evidence, investigative journalism and personal knowledge portray President Trump as narcissistic, a pathological liar, racist, and promoter of white supremacy, among others. They also surmise that the cumulative effect of his mismanagement on foreign relations has contrived to transform the image of the “great” America, into the "pity" of the world. In essence, the various narratives in these books confirm the revelatory authoritative portrait of Donald J Trump by his niece, Mary Trump, in her book, Too Much and never Enough: How My Family Created The World’s most Dangerous Man (July 2020). In it, she illustrates, based on her training as a psycho pathologist and a developmental psychologist how her wealthy grandfather, “Fred Trump both instilled and fortified his middle son’s worst qualities — Donald’s bullying, disrespect, lack of empathy, insecurity and relentless self-aggrandizement — while lavishing on him every opportunity and financing every mistake, to the point that both men came to believe the myths they had created.” See Review | The real villain of Mary Trump’s family tell-all isn’t Donald. It’s Fred.
What Mary Trump said of Fred Trump is essentially true of the President’s enablers, members of his cult and the prevailing Trump Tribalism effectively endorsed by Republicans in Congress and the Senate and what has been transformed into the Trump Republican Party. Nowhere is this more vividly demonstrated than in the way Mr. Trump and many of his supporters and political allies downplay the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and criticize public health measures deployed to prevent its spread. As a result, the coronavirus has spread faster and sickened or killed more people in the United States than in any of its peer nations. At the time of writing, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tracker for COVID-19 for the US (September 9) shows 6,310,663 total cases; 189,147 deaths and 262,971 cases in the last 7 days.
Drawing on evidence from Bob Woodward’s book, Rage, released yesterday, the New York Times editorial (September 10, 2020) aptly puts it: “Mr. Trump’s lack of leadership almost certainly made the nation’s suffering greater, its death toll higher and its economic costs more severe in the long term. When the President dithered on testing and contact tracing, when he failed to make or execute a clear and effective plan for securing personal protective equipment, when he repeatedly belittled and dismissed mask mandates and other social distancing edicts, Mr. Trump knew the virus was deadly and airborne. He knew that millions of people could get sick, and many would die”
Trump’s America at odds with the World
It is interesting to note that while the Trump administration has confirmed its withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN agency has established a Review Committee of the International Health Regulations with membership drawn from renowned scientists to recommend changes it believes are necessary to enhance the world’s capability for dealing with the next pandemic. In his press conference ahead of the UN General Assembly beginning September 15, 2020, where COVID-19 is high on the agenda, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General stated that the concerns will include establishing firm commitments from UN member states to build back better. But to do so means investments in public health for a healthier and safer future. He referred to the many examples of countries that have done well because they learned lessons from previous outbreaks of SARS, MERS, measles, polio, Ebola, flu and other diseases. Among them and in advance of other subregions of the world, the Caribbean Community(CARICOM) was the first to eliminate polio, measles, and rubella through functional cooperation under the umbrella of the Caribbean Cooperation in Health. At the same time, the Trump administration disregarded the scientific warning scenario on emerging pandemics provided by the Obama administration https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/16/trump-inauguration-warning-scenario-pandemic-132797
As the World prepares for the UN General Assembly next week, the emphasis on multilateralism is the hallmark of the United Nations’ 75th Anniversary Initiative (UN75). The data, gathered from hundreds of conversations, and an online survey involving some 186 countries launched in January 2020, is the largest exercise mounted by the Organization to gather public opinion and crowdsource solutions to global challenges. The results show that around 95 percent of respondents – across all age groups and education levels – agree that countries need to work together to manage global issues. According to the UN report this almost unanimous response saw a noticeable uptick from the end of February onwards, as the spread of COVID-19began to cause major upheaval to health systems, the economy, and social norms. Prof. Cecila Cannon, Academic Advisor to the UN75 Team offers a sanguine view: “COVID-19 is a preview of the global catastrophe we are marching headlong into if we don’t find better ways of working together”. It is clear that the Trump administration has a divergent view. It has opted out of the global coronavirus vaccine initiative coordinated by WHO in favour of its own device. Then, contrary to the collective statement by the pharmaceutical companies, Trump is advocating the possible release of a COVID-19 vaccine prior to the November elections, even without the required scientific phase 3 trial. That glaringly is playing politics with peoples' lives.
Conclusions: Variations in Elections Outcomes during COVID 19
Several elections continue to take place around the world. The goal has been to address both the practical and legal questions around holding elections while also decreasing the potential for spreading the virus in a pandemic. Examples from various sources show varying results. In the Republic of Korea that voted on April 15, where measures were implemented to ensure voter participation in the election without safety concerns, the turnout of more than 66% was the highest in the last three decades. France cancelled its second round of local elections which was due to be held on 29 March, after the turnout in the first round on March 22 was much lower than in previous elections. In Jamaica, which held elections on September 3, the voter turnout at 37.5 percent was the lowest ever. In Trinidad and Tobago, whose elections were on August 12, 2020, voter turnout at 58% was down from 66.8% in the 2015 elections and as with Jamaica, there were reports of a spike in the virus and a reversal of phased opening of businesses due to events related to the respective electoral campaigns. In the US, 14 states postponed their primaries: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wyoming, as well as Puerto Rico.
The Presidential Elections will take place in the US in 53 days. Seven (7) individual polls show Biden’s approval ratings over Trump’s ranging from 2-15 %. However Trump’s ratings on the accumulative 358 (September 8) poll is 53.1%disapprove to 42.7%approve. Even more important is the fact that 35.1% of voters are very worried about being infected; 32.9% somewhat worried; 18.6 % not very worried and 12.0% not worried. While Trump’s ratings for handling COVID-19 is at 56.5% disapprove and 39.2% approve - the partisan nature of political cleavages is fully illustrated by 81.1% Republicans, 34.1% Independents and 8.2% Democrats believing he is doing a good job.
Notwithstanding these polling trends, the Youtube presentation of Woodward’s book in the link, more than any analysis we could provide, illumines Mr. Trump’s contribution to the human tragedy in the USA and beyond.
Please see link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJkVOs0s3mw
"In effect America is increasingly resembling countries like Belarus" [from comment on last week's blog]
A very pertinent comment raised by one reader of last week’s blog referred to several issues that could distort the meaningful role of polling and predictions of the 2020 US Presidential elections. They include manipulation of the psychological dimensions of voting behaviour through the interrelated use and/or misuse of technology, in particular the social media; foreign interference; voter suppression; the conflation of protests and violence with law and order; and COVID-19. Consequently, I thought that this week I will reflect on the rationale and benefits of polling and on those aspects in the electoral process that could distort polling predictions.
The Essence of Polling
The most credible market research services rely on the design of a scientifically local or nationally representative sample of the population (electorate) on the basis of which they make projections to the entire population. Whether the sample design is with 1,000 persons or 4,000 as is the range among US pollsters, the most important factor is that it precisely mirrors the national profile within small margins (1-3%) of error. It is therefore within the margin of error for the most part, that distortions may mostly occur. With 60 days to the Presidential elections, a useful gauge to voting outcomes is the accumulated averages of credible polling establishments such as FiveThirtyEight. And while the prediction of the elections results is of most concern, very often the subsets of the national polls such as marginal (swing)states, trends among certain demographics like urban women or voting turnout of black/brown populations and psychological factors like views on violence, commitment to specific ideologies or to tribal affiliations are equally relevant in sounding the pulse of the electorate. Then there is the distinction between the popular vote and the vote allocations from the electoral college where different states are allocated a number of electoral college votes with these accumulated votes in the final analysis determining the winner.
Updates on Polling Trends
Interestingly, while President Trump received a slight bump following the Republican National Convention (RNC), the following average polling results up to September 3, 2020 are relatively mixed.
Just from a simple reading of these trends, if elections were held at the time of writing , Biden would be elected President. Why then are most pollsters indicating that election results are still in the balance. This is mainly due to the incalculable components revolving around manipulation of the psychological dimensions of voting behaviour, including discrediting and tampering with the electoral process. What follows are examples of how the psychological dimensions are being manipulated
Voter suppression and Creating Doubts about rigged elections
There are concerns about Mr. Trump’s capacity to affect the election by using the powers of his office to obstruct the voting process. Interference in the post office to slow down the outcomes of voting by mail is a glaring example. Trump has also set up the conditions to undercut confidence of the electoral process by declaring postal votes as a predilection for rigging the election. This claim is made despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The states like Colorado and Oregon, that have created a universal vote-by-mail system years ago, are examples of overwhelming success. Then there is a record for a Democratic primary in the Massachusetts on September 2, where more than 1.5 million people voted, wait times at polling places were mostly short, many people voted by mail, and the results were available on election night. It was a contrast to the recent messes in Georgia (June 2020) where voting times in white areas averaged 6 minutes per voter but 51 minutes in non-white areas where lines lasted for hours and in New York (July 2020) where some results were not available for a week. Whatever the results, The New York Times provides a poignant reminder that Trump has questioned the veracity of an election even when he won.
Trump’s Universe of Distractions
In reference to the RNC, Frank Bruni described as an “upside-down vision” of the world, the shameless display of loyalty to President Trump, a universe in which the coronavirus pandemic was largely in the rear view and where, radical Democrats were portrayed as threatening to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” In this a universe of distraction, the existential dangers of climate change find no place even as the West is ravaged by wildfires and the Gulf Coast is slammed by a devastating hurricane.
Trump has reverted to a formula used by Nixon in the 1980s to proclaim himself as the President for Law and Order, conflating protests with violence and condoning white supremacy disruptions on many otherwise peaceful demonstrations. That the President could make excuses for the white youth that murdered two other white men in the black lives matters (BLM) protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin as self-defense, stands in stark contrast to his lack of condemnation of the white police officer that shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Camouflaging the response to COVID19
COVID-19 has undoubtedly been one of the major factors contributing the President's under water favourability ratings. The RNC's downplaying its severity, including the largely unmasked gatherings and the popularizing of the unscientific 'herd immunity' thesis from the Whitehouse and Fox news are examples of camouflage. Most terrifying is the attempt of the Trump campaign to use the clout of the Presidency to influence the messages of CDC and create the illusion of a vaccine availability by November 1, and the role of plasma treatment to reduce spread, despite the overwhelming views of the scientific community to the contrary. But the evidence is overwhelming. At least 1,078 new coronavirus deaths and 45,600 new cases were reported in the USA on September 3 and an average over the past week of 40,530 cases per day, a decrease of 12% from the average two weeks ago. At the time of writing, more that 6,167,400 people are affected and at least 187,700 people have died from coronavirus. In addition, food insecurity and persistence of hunger and the economic crisis through high unemployment at 8.4 percent are some of the immediate deleterious effects that highlight the dramatic income disparity on many who may or may not vote.
Conclusion: Is America becoming like Belarus?
Voter suppression, undermining the credibility of the elections, Trump's universe of distraction, violence in Trump’s America converted into a Law and Order prescription, and camouflaging the effects of COVID-19 are among the major sources of manipulating the psychology of voting to which GOFAD's valued reader referred. There are several others including the discontinuation of face to face US Intelligence briefings of the Congressional National Security Committee, a glaring attempt at camouflaging Russian interference in the USA 2020 elections as it did in 2016. Amid all this is the number of books recently produced that fully underscores Trump’s combative and unyielding messages as a generator of the nation’s escalating polarization and violence. What is most terrifying is the quote in the subscript of this blog from a GOFAD's reader: "In effect, America is increasingly resembling countries like Belarus". This warning is aptly amplified by an insightful-must read blog by Peter Laurie former Barbados Ambassador to USA and Head of its Foreign Service. He highlighted that Trump summed all this up in the slogan "make America great again ... he tops it off by a classic fascist tactic used by Mussolini and Hitler I alone can fix it". TRUMPISM: The Last Gasp of White Supremacy - By: Peter Laurie | Barbados Today
The good news is that the higher the voter turnout according the polling trends, the greater the possibility that voters will " fix that" thereby saving America from becoming Belarus.
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.
GOFAD was in the process of composing this week’s blog when the sad news of the death of former Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur was received. We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, daughters and the rest of his family and also to the people of Barbados. Already, the many tributes to the former Prime Minister hail his inestimable contributions as a political leader, scholar, and an advocate for Caribbean Integration, among others. He is highly acclaimed as an Economist and for his vision of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy. Especially at this time, it is important to recall that he was one of the leading voices with Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St Kitts Nevis at the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting in July 2001, that promoted the Nassau Declaration, “The health of the Region is the Wealth of the Region”. Prior to this, Prime Minister Arthur convened the first international Conference on HIV/AIDS in Barbados, September, 2000 with the support of CARICOM, PAHO, UNAIDS and the World Bank. He called for a Pan Caribbean Cooperation to fight the HIV pandemic. By February 2001, while Chair of the Caribbean Community, he was among the six signatories to the charter establishing the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDs (PANCAP) at the PAHO Regional Office in Barbados. He included the Barbados Commission for HIV chaired by Dr Carol Jacobs into the office of the Prime Minister, demonstrating the importance he placed on the fight against HIV to the economy of the country. He also secured the agreement of Cabinet to contribute US$ 30,000 to the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and TB. This is arguably one of the few, if not the only developing country on record to do so. Perhaps, most significant, was the prominence he gave to the Study of the Health Economics Unit, then led by Prof Karl Theodore at the Barbados AIDS Conference in 2000. That study provided estimates of the economic losses associated with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and St. Lucia and quantified the level of resources needed to adequately respond to the HIV/AIDS. In addition, while holding the portfolio responsibility in the CARICOM Cabinet for the Single Market and Economy, Prime Minister Arthur as Chair of the Caribbean Community in July 2007, promoted the Needham Point Declaration of CARICOM Heads of Government, “Functional Cooperation: a Community for All.” His voice on behalf of the CARICOM Movement resonated and commanded respect at the UN, the EU, in Africa and in the global arena generally. He would have been pleased to learn of and promote the most recent work of the Health Economics Unit(HEU). it is also to be noted that HEU on the St Augustine campus , UWI is located in the Sir George Alleyne Building ,a Caribbean icon and a respected colleague and compatriot of Owen Arthur.
The Biannual Report in Context of HEU's Portfolio
GOFAD, highlights some issues in HEU's Biannual Report (July 2019). In a subsequent blog we will explore more fully the wider range of HEU's extensive scope of work which illustrates its valuable contribution to policy making and advocacy for the cause of Health and Development in the Caribbean. What is more intriguing is the HEU's costing tool with built in formulas for projecting from the available epidemiological data, the trends on the social determinants of health and economic costs and benefits . Hopefully these products will form the essence of webinars and other forms of dissemination to engage regional and international audiences and thereby shine a brighter light on this important work. To read or download a copy of HEU Biannual Report, please use the following link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zotei_mcc7vHMPvsqekbk9MiXgZlZLSy/view?usp=sharing
Macroeconomic Fall out in the Caribbean
The Report shows that as a result of COVID- 19, the economies of the Caribbean are expected to fall by an average of just over 6% in 2020; employment levels reduced in response to the curtailment in the supply and demand chains with labour intensive sectors — trade, transportation, restaurant and hotels—bearing the brunt. It also estimates contraction of tourism of between 8%-25% in 2020 depending on whether travel bans currently in place in most countries, are extended to 3-6 months or more. All this can result in increasing levels of poverty. Accordingly, the uncertainties about the length and depth of the “lockdown” on the economies are compounded by negative trends in the global economy. For starters, the general projections reveal a substantial decline in remittances from abroad which contribute 21% of Haiti's GDP , 16% in Jamaica 11% in Guyana.
While the Report refers to the fact that countries have embarked on stimulus packages to shore up sagging economies , it does not provide details. What is clear, is that with the lack of fiscal space for most Caribbean economies and relatively high debt-GDP ratios -- above 60% before COVID-19 in two-thirds of Caribbean Countries- government borrowing is not a feasible option. The most recent data from country reports (July 2020) provide a useful idea of the priorities adopted. There are plans for reopening the respective economies in five to six phases with the initial phase already in process including essential services, hurricane preparation, delivery and construction.
In The Bahamas, its support measures totaling US $38M accounts for 0.6% of GDP. Barbados is targeting 1% of GDP less than the 3% indicated in March and has placed emphasis on refurbishing hospitals and schools, provision of critical medications and capital spending, and social programs to support displaced workers and supplementing unemployment benefits through the national insurance scheme. Jamaica has announced tax cuts around 0.6% in GDP and up to 0.5% to counteract the effects of COVID 19. Trinidad and Tobago announced a six-phase reopening plan with phase 5 starting on June 22 to include sporting activities without spectators, cinemas, bars, gyms, beaches with schools remaining closed until September. It is currently preparing for a General Elections on August 10, 2020. Guyana in the height of an election stalemate has along with the Dominican Republic and Haiti received pre-manufactured housing from the UN High Commission on Refugees and PPE from UNICEF to contain the spread of COVID 19. It is currently at phase 3 of six phases for opening the economy. Its stimulus includes wavers on VAT and duties on COVID medical supplies, water and electricity. Small businesses and farmers affected by the virus are receiving assistance.
Social Conditions of Health
The HEU Report points to some of the implications of COVID 19 around mental health caused by an environment of emotional distress and "longing for the life we once had, even though filled with uncertainty". According to Dr. Varna Deyalsingh, President of TRT Psychiatric Board, these conditions are caused by anxiety, anger, panic attacks, thoughts of self-harm, exacerbation of pre-existing mental health conditions and in extreme cases, violence and suicide. Clinical Psychologists, Dr Peter Weller, helps us to understand adverse child experiences due to functioning in this new normal environment which highlight the inequities in access to technologies that facilitate online learning and living and other social conditions that militate against social distances, access to basic sanitation, nutrition and on time information.
Grasping Opportunities: Strengthening the Regional Movement in Honour of Owen Arthur
Former Prime Minster Owen Arthur would have been a foremost advocate for reimaging the role of the regional institutions and recognizing their value to stimulate functional cooperation and building economic resilience regionally in response to the coronavirus. The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Agency (CDEMA) the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), and UWI all institutions with which he was actively engaged , have already stepped up to the plate in various ways that have been described in previous blogs. The response to the preparedness prior to COVID 19 noted in the HEU Biannual Bulleting should be accelerated. These include PAHO's training health workers in Caribbean Member States in influenza surveillance and pandemic preparedness and response to strengthen the capacity to prepare for the recovery from an acute health event. Then there is the need for cooperation between CARPHA and PAHO to increase capacity for testing and increasing access appropriate health services. And now we are discovering the valuable role of HEU. In addition, the provisions of the Caribbean Cooperation in Health (CCH) coordinated by CARICOM,CARPHA and PAHO, facilitate the application of international health regulations (IHR,) pooled procurement of medicines and access to personal protective equipment (PPE), reagents, kits, swabs, aspects of functional cooperation that would restrict public health risks. These are all essential prerequisites of a more viable regional response for achieving Owen Arthur’s dream of a Caribbean Single Market and Economy. As he so aptly stated during the 30 year celebration of the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramus in 2003 "Great causes are not won by doubtful men [and women]. Now is not the time to doubt ourselves."
As we examine lessons learned from the economic effects of COVID-19, there is need to be reminded of the recommendations from the seminal 2006 Report of the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development, chaired by Sir George Alleyne. That Report made the case for action to increase investment in health in the Caribbean Community and more poignantly according to its Chair “to make the region’s leaders converts to the cause of health”. The lynchpin of this conversion is the strategy for the consolidation of functional cooperation through the Caribbean Cooperation in Health. It is aptly branded in the 2000 Nassau Declaration, The Health of the Region is the Wealth of the Region. See full report here: Report of the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development By The Caribbean Commission on Health and Development
Key Messages - then: Persistence and Relevance - now
The Report is as relevant today as it was 14 years ago, if for no other reason than its key messages assert the role of health in development as follows:
The Report identified the tremendous progress that the Caribbean had made over the decades and the real possibility that if sustained, the region would have achieved or surpassed most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2000-2015, which it did. Most of the MDGs centered on reducing infant mortality and similar advancements in all the classic indicators of population health. These included reducing poverty which compared favorably with other countries of the world that were at similar levels of wealth and geographies. The Commission concluded that this was a result of government policies that emphasized water and sanitation, nutrition and the essentials of primary health care.
Yet the Report pointed to several challenges to be faced, including: the size and fragility of Caribbean Economies with limited resources for sustained health financing; increasing demands for maintaining a health sector more responsive to the legitimate demands for equity of access by a population exposed to information about the range of possibilities from other cultures and other realities; and continuous threats of national disasters that compound the pressures on the health system. None of these conditions has changed but they have been compounded by COVID 19 specific salutary lessons for which the messages of the Caribbean Commission 14 years ago prepared the Caribbean for actions required based on issues to be addressed.
Conclusions : Build Back Better
The Caribbean has lagged in social investment in recent years, with debt servicing diverting resources due to lack and inadequacy of resources that have constrained investments in such critical areas as education, sanitation, healthcare, housing, work programmes and skills development. This is according to ECLAC’s Special Report COVID-19 No. 5, entitled Addressing the growing impact of COVID-19 with a view to reactivation with equality: new projections. It is therefore heartening to note that functional cooperation through the Caribbean Cooperation in Health during the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in relatively low rates of spread and deaths in the Caribbean. As important, is that Caribbean youth are engaged in discussions on their role in averting the effects of COVID-19 and NCDs. It is a venture which even unwittingly, links the considerations of the Caribbean Commission 14 years ago, and the current preoccupation with the effects of COVID on the region's health and development. They articulate that their legacy is to “build back better”. GOFAD will follow up on this mission and feel optimistic that the youth will play a critical role in shaping the world where their generation and future generations thrive. In this case, they will make worthwhile our revisiting the Report of the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of health to economic growth. This realization is neither novel nor new. The Wealth of the Nations (1773) highlights Adam Smith's insight about the true engine of wealth creation as the division of labor, which itself is dependent on the size and extent of markets. This is relevant to understanding the underlying risks of the coronavirus pandemic due to negative labour shocks, caused by a rapidly declining working age population and its effects on the supply chain across borders. This, in essence, was the vision behind the CARICOM Heads of Government Declaration, the Health of the Region is the Wealth of the Region (July 200O) when HIV was literally a death sentence. The 1998 Nobel Laurette in Economics, Amartya Sen, had previously concluded that health, like education is among the basic capabilities that gives value to human life. Then, The Commission on Macroeconomics and Health established by World Health Organization (WHO) in 2000 and chaired by Professor Jeffrey Sacks, established that health is both a central outcome of development and an important investment to promote economic development and poverty reduction, especially in the world’s poorest countries. This was the period of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that committed the world to dramatic reductions in poverty and marked improvements in the health of the poor by 2015, requiring seriousness of purpose, political resolve and an adequate flow of resources from high to low income countries on a sustained and well targeted basis.
To what extent has this mission been achieved? There are several lessons from the coronavirus pandemic that illustrate the need for a healthier and more prosperous future.
First, coronavirus exposed the weakness of the World's infectious -diseases- surveillance response to pandemics. It included the slow start up in many countries: in public communications, testing , contact tracing, critical care capacity and other systems for containing infectious disease. As a result, the case for strengthening the world’s pandemic-response capacity at the global, national, and local levels is compelling. According Mc Kinsey's "Crushing coronavirus uncertainty: The Big unlock of our Economy" (May 2020), the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could cost between $9 trillion and $33 trillion—many times more than the projected cost of preventing future pandemics. Preventive investment estimated at $40 billion annually, could substantially reduce the likelihood of future pandemics.
Second, reports from the IMF research (July 2020) shows that health continues to stimulate growth, accounting for about one-third of the overall GDP-per-capita growth of developed economies in the past century.
Third, is the need to invest in health to build resilience. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit people with underlying health conditions hardest—for example, diabetes, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and obesity, which are common across most of the world’s economies. They have been associated with higher risk from COVID-19. Hence it is predicted that by using what we know today, can improve the health of the world’s population, and that would not only build resilience against future pandemics but also dramatically improve the quality of life of millions of people.
Fourth, is focusing on reducing economic and social inequalities. In many countries, the pandemic has disproportionally hurt minorities and low-income households. In the United States, for example, mortality rates have been much higher among Latinos and Black people than among the white population. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, ethnic-minority groups reported mortality rates 40 to 200 percent higher than those of white British people. Minorities and low-income households face a double whammy of health and economic risk. Black Americans are almost twice as likely to live in the counties at highest risk for health and economic disruption if the pandemic hits those counties. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers found a ten-year gap in life expectancy between the most and least disadvantaged groups in the United States. Disparities of this magnitude are observed in most countries and societies around the world. Poorer people tend to have worse health, which can limit their economic potential.
Fifth, is the building on COVID driven innovations. According to a WHO Report (July 2020) scientists around the world have shared more than 50,000 viral genome sequences, and around 180 vaccines were in the pipeline, many representing cross-sector and cross-country collaborations. In addition, the adoption of telemedicine has skyrocketed: in 2019, 11 percent of US consumers used telehealth services; now 46 percent use them to replace in-person consultations suspended during the crisis. The pandemic response has also demonstrated that when the situation demands it, the architecture of healthcare can be transformed rapidly.
Sixth, are the lessons learned from the accelerated response to HIV. In the final analysis, eliminating unnecessary deaths is at the core of global health efforts, from responses to COVID-19 to HIV, non-communicable diseases, and maternal mortality. However, experience with HIV shows that reducing mortality especially in the absence of a vaccine, requires a more robust approach to tracking and intervening than has been used in the COVID 19 response in many counties, especially the USA, to date. A UNAIDS presentation at the recently concluded virtual International AIDS Conference (July 6-12) shows that 38 million people are living with HIV, a consequence of a pandemic that spread worldwide. The multinational AIDS response grew out of a global concern for the catastrophic loss of life, as HIV devastated communities in highly burdened countries. From a time when it seemed impossible for interventions to reach people globally, today about 79% of all people living with HIV know their status, and more than half of all people living with HIV have achieved viral suppression using advanced antiretroviral therapy. This according to UNAIDS is an historic response that has saved more than 11 million lives in the past decade alone.
However, progress against mortality has slowed considerably. They are far off-track from the globally agreed goal of fewer than 500 000 HIV-related deaths by 2020. Nevertheless, the UNAIDS Report concludes "as global health efforts mature, the HIV experience can provide lessons for tackling mortality from other causes" .
We started this blog by referring to the mission of equity, inspired by placing health at the center of economic development. It is therefore fitting to refer to a new book, by Martin Sandbu, Economics of Belonging: a radical plan to win back the left behind and achieve prosperity for all, (Princeton 2020). Its premise is that behind today’s political liberalism and rejection of globalization is a widespread feeling that economic opportunities are reserved for an elite to which “normal people” do not belong. It sets out an agenda to create an economy where everyone feels they belong. Hence it is heartening to note from a report in the Washington Post (July 15) that leaders from Canada, Ethiopia, South Korea, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and Tunisia have issued a joint call for any coronavirus vaccine to be distributed equally and according to a “set of transparent, equitable and scientifically sound principles.” The statement comes as worries grow that protectionism may prevent poorer countries from receiving a vaccine at the same time as richer ones. That would be in contradiction to the primacy of health to economic development.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.