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Our Fragile Bodies: Economic Change, the Nation-State and the Coronavirus Pandemic

Like almost all major events recorded in history, not a soul in the world could’ve imagined that by the end of 2019, the world will experience a drastic change. However, months after the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s evident that the disastrous pandemic, which has kept all humanity on standby with the colossal number of deaths, has completely altered the way we conceive the world. It also represents how international relations might get redefined in the near future.

Human history is prone to change at a much more relentless rate than the cumulative changes witnessed by the physical world (Taleb, 2011). Human societies across the world have been characterized by their continuous struggles against political dislocations, natural cataclysms, and war. Interestingly, just within a few millennia, we have also deliberately achieved many goals. For instance, just a few centuries ago, reaching outer space felt impossible – something that could only be thought of in a mere wild imagination. While it takes many centuries for any civilization to emerge, sometimes a robust state can fall apart on the brink of an eye, leading to disruptions in the entire international order.

This can be best understood in the light of the pandemic and how it has affected human societies, destroying institutions that were built laboriously over time. Pandemics, like the COVID-19 one, are a universal challenge for humanity. The quick and unpredictable devastation that such infectious diseases inflict upon society is incomparable because there is little we can do to prevent such disasters, regardless of how technologically progressed humankind may get.

In light of this calamity, it has become compulsory and natural for scholars to address how deeply the COVID-19 pandemic may impact societies. While future generations may be better equipped to portray the origin of the pandemic and its true historical scope, the current generation is responsible for documenting the catastrophic event and the impact it has had on people and institutions (Birnn 2020).

This epidemic crisis did highlight our fast-tracked advancements towards intensive digitization and automatization as tools that may make economic structures less vulnerable to the fragility of the human body.

Economic Transformation and The Pandemic

History has provided us with empirical, analytical tools to grasp the way such pandemics may affect human societies or shape their development (Brooke 2020). They have stricken humankind ever since they appeared on planet earth, and their influences on their lives have been recorded during several instances since ancient times. If we are to discuss the spread of the Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague, in the 14th century, it wiped off a third of the European population in the 1300s. It led to the entire economic and social fabric of the continent changing inevitably.

Essentially, this drastic reduction of the European population forced entities to employ labor much more efficiently. It made paid labor more important and expensive because the severe scarcity of labor led to a scarcity of resources. The cities often competed with each other to remain economically viable. However, the rise in wages led to better consumption and wealth, which in turn boosted productivity. It also paved the way for women to join the workforce while it offered the entire labor force much more leverage and social freedom.

It also caused slavery to decline as the rapid urbanization coupled with scarce labor forced the elites to give up being masters and pay salaries. This led to a considerable reduction in the gap between the upper and lower classes, while healing creates more cohesive societies that enable the societies to become robust in the face of external threats (Frankopan 2017).

When calamities hit, generally, the societies that adapt themselves better according to the trends are also usually the ones that benefit most from the newfound order. On the contrary, societies that stick to the restricted mobility of labors or resources are generally unable to address the impact of such pandemics. They either lag behind in the adoption of the new economic reality or remain unable to cope with it (Frankopan 2016).

Modern times have already led us to witness how these pandemics can cause massive financial losses, but the fact that they also confine nations socially, which was basically the case with almost every nation across the world with COVID-19, the situations demands much more drastic approaches which humans might have just experienced sporadically.

The COVID-19 pandemic has signaled the direction in which the world needs to move in terms of technology. It has made it evident that humankind needs to accelerate towards more digitalized and automatized societies than we live in today. For example, we have come to terms with the fact that sooner or later, all societies need to adopt universally accepted digital payments.

Similarly, the pandemic has reinforced many prevalent ideological frameworks to highlight the massive tensions that preexist even today, between the national and cosmopolitan identities, where nationalism invariably embodies the backbone of the contemporary world.

The author is an LQBTQIA+ activist who has been monitoring how the pandemic has affected various nation-states. She is particularly interested in multiple roles played by political powers and their representations in political science and international relations with a broadly comparative or international approach across various fields. She has curated several articles for renowned publications to express her views about inclusivity in western societies.

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I am a guest blogger and I have published blogs to different sites.

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