by Paul Schmutz Schaller for The Saker Blog
There is a lot of speculation about the future of the planet, after the present crisis. This is a natural reaction. The vision of the world has become insecure and one would like to reach solid ground again. However, in order to stay sober, it is necessary to look at the real changes which take place. I shall speak of Switzerland (where I was born and where I live). I would be very interested in articles speaking of the concrete situation in other countries around the globe.
According to the „rankings“ of the Johns Hopkins University (USA), Switzerland is on the 9th place, concerning the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19. Compared with the total population, Switzerland is one of the most affected countries in the world, if not downright „on top“. Does this create panic in Switzerland? No. Does this increase mistrust in the government? No. Does this mean that China, Russia, or Iran are becoming more popular? No. Is the Swiss economic system (which is a Western capitalist system) collapsing? Not at all. Is there more frightening and uncertainty? Definitely yes. Is the trust in the USA and the US-system affected in Switzerland? Yes. Is the European Union becoming more unpopular in Switzerland? Yes.
These are just some examples in order to underline that we should keep a cool head. Wishful thinking is not appropriate. Before turning to the changes, let me emphasize my conviction that the Swiss political system is one of the winners of this crisis. It is an inclusive political system which tends to integrate different forces. One has the habit not only of defending the proper point of view, but also of listening to the others, (mostly) without insults. Here is an example. Based on existing law (the Epidemics Act), the government has restricted some federalist rights of the cantons. With respect to Covid-19, three cantons decided to introduce sharper constraints than the government. This was considered as illegal. Two cantons retreated while the third one, Ticino, (which has by far the closest direct relations with Italy and is the most affected – by the coronavirus – canton in Switzerland) decided to keep the particular constraints. The government quietly introduced a new extraordinary rule, legalizing so – afterwards – the behavior of Ticino. This „case“ did not create any political turmoil.
Social Distancing and Families
This a a very sharp change. Direct private contact is reduced to a minimum. Children and students must learn at home. Consequently, the families get a much bigger place. This is an enormous challenge for the families.
While Switzerland has – reasonably – not decided a strict confinement (walks, jogging, and so on remain legal, but not in groups). The transports have very significantly decreased, flights, trains, buses, cars. Traditional travels and holidays on Easter (April 12) will fall to a minimum.
The Spending Politics
Politically speaking, this is by far the biggest change. For many years, austerity politics were in vogue. This has been abandoned with almost no opposition. There is a huge financial effort for the safeguard of jobs, for the guarantee of wages (also for temporary workers), for saving small business. The discussion of the question who will pay for these efforts, has not yet really started.
New Political „Stars“
This is a favorite subject of mine. It applies to every big crisis, not just to the present one. One can observe that different qualities for political leaders are „requested“. Bluffers, careerists, elitists, and bureaucrats are not adapted for managing a crisis. On the other hand, qualities like integrity, authenticity, and common sense are in the foreground. The Swiss interior minister Alain Berset is a very good example; he is really gifted for the present situation and is very convincing. The same is true for Germany’s Merkel. On the other hand, Macron in France has difficulties – not surprising. In my eyes, Biden is even worse than Trump; I perceive Biden as a typical careerist while Trump has at least some authenticity.
The economical measures of the government do not apply to everybody and this creates problems very fast. For example, self-employers who – legally – have the right to continue working, but do not get contracts, are not supported. So-called undeclared workers – for example many cleaning women – have difficulties. The question that the children have to be occupied and looked after at home is not yet clearly regulated. More problems will appear.
More Political Unity
There is less protests than usual. Different opinions of ourse exist, but there are pronounced less aggressively. While the police has the right of imposing fines – for example if more than 5 persons are together in public – this seems not really necessary. People are quite disciplined.
Moreover, each political party can see positive points. The social democrats have more social intervention of the government, the greens appreciate less air pollution, the liberals enjoy that personal responsibility is reinforced, and the nationalistic right is strengthened in the conviction that foreign countries may be a treat.
One also observes more solidarity. It is not true that people are becoming more egoistic in this crisis. As far as I can see, people usually think more of others than of themselves. Nurses, cashiers, bus drivers are particularly appreciated.
While this is really a big crisis, the problems in Switzerland are – until now – almost luxury problems when one compares with the usual situation in many countries. Nevertheless, immense changes happen and there are more to come.
Personally, I also have some kind of luxury problems. Usually, I do mathematics almost every day (since 5 years, I try to write a book). But since the outbreak of this crisis, I am not able to concentrate on maths. Obviously, my general vision of the world is too disturbed and I cannot make abstraction of the „real“ world. I wonder whether this is not a general problem for pupils and students.