Countries around the world are trying to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, but this unexpected and large-scale catastrophe should not offset or hinder the deeper uneasiness and anxiety among different populations. There is tangible distress all over the world, ignited by more than one dynamic.
Firstly, the discrimination and unjust distribution within the economy have created a plebeian class that is unwanted in the employment market. In Europe, this chronic unemployment has become a constant in developed economies. This "unwanted" labor is made up chiefly of migrant-based communities, hardly integrated or sometimes plainly rejected by society.
In the U.S., this category is mainly made up of African Americans. This deep-seated social discrimination creates fertile ground for paroxysmal radical outbursts. Terrorism, police brutality and the alienation of entire dimensions of the society are the visible consequences.
But there is more, the proletarian class has evolved into a sub-layer of the middle class in developed societies. Becoming part of a middle class is no doubt a positive development for the working class. The wealth of societies has increased incredibly since 1945. These are all true, but the problem is that becoming part of a middle class does not guarantee a wealthy standard of living. There is a growing number of people who have trouble making ends meet, with precarious, part-time underpaid jobs, or with very long periods of unemployment.
Unemployment is assisted by a variety of social solidarity networks, but none provide long-term support and none can guarantee anything but survival in a consumer-based society. This unacknowledged sub-layer of the middle class has started to protest the system in which they feel like leftovers, with no tangible perspective. The Yellow Vest movement in France, totally unexpected and unpredicted, did not encompass the migrant-based suburban population, but instead France's profonde. This abandoned part of the middle class, obliged to live in precarity, is a new social layer whose discontent is now erupting.
Second, despite what a large number of politicians worldwide may think or say, the world is undergoing a swift climate change. Climatic systems are based on very fragile and delicate balances. Through pollution and the use of fossil fuels, societies, both capitalist and former socialist alike have created an unsustainable economic and production cycle. Profound change is required to reverse the damage, especially concerning the use of energy resources, but that is not all. Practically everything has to be revised, starting with production, distribution, urbanism and international relations.
Besides sporadic steps taken by large international platforms, countries and administrations are not interested in undertaking such drastic reforms, whose economic consequences might be detrimental in the short term. Even worse, leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump or Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro openly advocate abandoning all carbon-limiting measures. Public opinion is divided regarding the climate change issue but almost everyone agrees on the fact that migration – largely caused by global warming – is unacceptable.
Problems caused by transition, uncertainties and unsolved or unsolvable conflicts have defined the post-Cold War era. On top of that, we are fighting a pandemic that has awakened old fears and archaic tendencies toward isolationism and xenophobia.
Professor Ziya Öniş of Koç University has been writing extensively about the danger of right-wing populism in the aftermath of the pandemic. His analysis should be taken very seriously but already in several countries, conservative populism is in power. To be honest, left-wing revolutionary populism has little to envy from right-wing populism, as we have witnessed in the case of Venezuela. What is really dangerous with populism, right or left, is that this is a tendency to tell the public opinion, the voters only what they wish to hear.
Populism is to reject the reality, to describe a nonexisting perspective, to inundate the market with money, credits and loans to create a false sense of wealth and growth. In the short term, this may work. In the case of Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, this worked intermittently for 14 years. But in the end, unavoidably there is a big crisis and populist discourse will claim the barriers that led to the upheaval don't exist.
What could be then the long-term measures to establish a sustainable system after the pandemic? As Rudyard Kipling would say, this is another story to be analyzed in upcoming articles.