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The pandemic exposes and worsens social inequalities on the planet

by ace
The pandemic exposes and worsens social inequalities on the planet

Since the world is a world, some have more and others have less, and the share of those who have less is infinitely greater. The gap is more or less exposed according to the wealth of each country and comes to the fore, with all its burden of injustice and suffering, whenever a disaster collapses in a population and the bulk of the bill falls precisely on its vulnerable share. The pandemic of today, planetary and simultaneous, opened an unprecedented window for social inequality, humanity's atavistic defect. The new coronavirus strikes without distinction, but the vast number of infected people will be those who cannot afford to escape crowds, receive wages working from home and provide the pantry with online purchases. A portion of those who became infected will die, but on the list of fatalities, most will be people who only arrived at an ICU, when they arrived, in some precarious public hospital. The paralysis of the activities reached the companies in general, but the enormous mass of unemployed is composed mainly of less qualified and less paid workers. "Inequality makes society even more unprepared to deal with both the pandemic and the recession it has unleashed," says Nobel economist Amartya Sen, a professor at Harvard University.

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The country's isolation from the world, the head of Bolsonaro's parallel information service and more. Read in this issue

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In addition to exposing and exacerbating inequality, the crisis that plunged 2020 into a new world has made it clearer than ever that the gap is also deep in rich countries. In the United States and the United Kingdom, four times as many blacks as whites die from Covid-19 not because of genetic factors, but because of the worse living conditions (see box below). Among the British population, fatalities in Asian immigrant communities are double the overall average. American black-majority municipalities account for 58% of deaths in the country. Two-thirds of Hispanics, as Latin American descendants are called, are either unemployed or have had their income drastically reduced. Part of California's 150,000 homeless people were accommodated on avenues with demarcated places on the ground. In Paris, the suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, where one in three residents live below the poverty line, registered 62% more deaths than normal for the month of March. The cause, of course, is the new coronavirus – there is the smallest number of doctors per capita in France.

In Latin America, where eight of the twenty most unequal countries in the world are located, and in this team, Brazil is always at the top, the spread of the virus occurs in an explosive situation: while 3% of the population is in the high range income, three quarters are in the lower or lower middle classes. The concentration of resources is reflected in the labor market, which has 60% of its strength in informality – a gigantic contingent that found itself without support when the pandemic stopped economies. The OECD, an organization of advanced countries, estimates that 22 million Latin Americans are plunged into poverty if the estimates of a 5% drop in the region's average income are confirmed. Deprivation, of course, extends to other corners of the globe plagued by inequality. In South Africa, 9 million children have been without regular food since the closure of schools – an issue that pervades the least developed countries, but which the pandemic has always brought to the United States. That's right: in the world's richest nation, 30 million children have stopped benefiting from a free or low-cost school lunch program.

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A UN study in partnership with King’s College, London, estimates that the recession brought about by the new coronavirus could cancel 30 years of continuous decline in poverty worldwide, by pushing 500 million people into poverty. "It is a tsunami of misery", warns economist Andy Sumner, co-author of the research. Another UN survey estimates the number of people who may be hungry in the near future at 265 million, more than double that of 2019, the late year in which it was still thought that having nothing to eat was going to be an obstacle overcome. Always due to the side effects of Covid-19, the World Bank predicts that the Gini index, used to measure social inequality, will rise by up to 1% worldwide, in an unprecedented synchronized movement capable of sinking between 40 million and 60 million people in extreme poverty. "The virus is dangerous for the rich and the poor, but the economic shock it produces is much worse at the bottom of the pyramid," says Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation, a public policy body based in London.

Most experts believe that there are resources at hand to reduce the social impacts of the pandemic and, by the way, inequality in general – a positive point that, they insist, cannot be wasted. “This crisis illustrates both the violence of inequality and the need for a different economic system,” says Frenchman Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century, who advocates a new tax system that taxes the wealthiest and uses resources to support a solid social protection network, capable of preventing chaos in adverse times. A joint growth plan between France and Germany has the spearhead of sustainable development, through a € 500 billion project financed by taxing greenhouse gas emissions to encourage green technologies.

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Another measure that is gaining strength in the world is the basic minimum income guaranteed by the government to each and every citizen. The distribution of money and food in this way is already being done in 108 countries, on a temporary basis. "In such adverse circumstances, basic income proved to be crucial," says Lauren Graham, from the University of Johannesburg. Bertrand Badie, professor of social policy at the Sciences Po University in Paris, recommends the urgent resumption of “market regulation, multilateralism and solidarity, three abandoned axes of development”. The ideas are there, ready to be linked in the effort to get out of rock bottom – and, if possible, emerge in a better and a little more just world.

Published in VEJA of June 3, 2020, edition nº 2689

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