• Isaac Vitorino

Toilet Paper Economics

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

The concept of globalization and international free trade has given us the ability to allocate goods and services worldwide at cheaper costs than ever before. But one thing that the COVID-19 epidemic has made abundantly clear is that these ideas that we have held dear and glorified for generations are a huge societal detriment. And it shows.

As the numbers of reported COVID-19 cases increase every day at this point, the destabilization of the markets increases alongside the general hysteria amongst the population. While it would be of interest to conduct a research in which the data is used to provide accurate mortality rates, zones likely to be infected and things of the sort, perhaps the most important yet ignored aspect would be that of how this crisis has stripped our current model of economics of any credibility it had.

Granted, this is not the first time anyone’s ever criticised international trade: ever since the dawn of capitalism, however, that most western and non-western societies have adapted to this system, and thus sources of criticism are not only existent but frequent. But since modern societies have been built around the ideas of globalization and free trade, most criticism was seen as unrealistic, nonspecific, even dangerous.

We have built society in this way, and it works. Why should we change if we do not know for sure if it will get better or worse?

This strain of thought seemed as if it had won the intellectual debate, but with the recent outbreak of COVID-19, not only has international trade been put into question, this global pandemic has opened a massive wound right at the core of its soul, with such damage that it might take much more than ever imagined to recover. As schools and jobs shut down, entire populations are put into quarantine, and with a very likely shutdown in travel in sight, the societal fabric has well and truly been threatened to be ripped apart, and in its absence, the people might finally start asking questions about the sanctity of the societal model they were used to living with.

The fact that western countries are dependent on China for the massive scale of production that feeds their economies and their population is now something that seems of bigger importance than ever before. As many of these ‘unwanted factory jobs’ were shipped over to China, a sizeable number of Europeans were left jobless, competing for ever more specialized jobs in a heavily higher-education centred job market.

While this is generally seen as a good thing, these sorts of very specialized jobs can not make up the necessary numbers to fully employ a population: manufacturing, agricultural, and other raw product based jobs were usually a good solution to fill in this void, before they were shipped over to countries who can produce them at a lower price by enslaving their workers in all but name.

With an increase in their living conditions and an artificially functional economy (despite constant economic crashes) Westerners had been able to turn a blind eye to this reality, reaping the benefits it gave them and focusing exclusively on the fact that it seemed to be working. Since COVID-19, however, as the key component in international trade, travelling, is now compromised, the markets have plummeted in a way unseen since 2008, and if the virus is not contained in a short period of time, it might cause another economic crash. And as the general hysteria within the population shows, our society model is inefficient in dealing with something of this nature.

It is, therefore, obvious: One singular virus that has a fatality rate between 1% to 3.4% (these numbers are still disputed) managed to do what centuries of anti-capitalist activism and propaganda could not: to undoubtedly present an issue that everyone can clearly see is impossible for the markets to fix. The fact that the countries that have had lower reported cases of the spread of COVID-19 (Russia, Singapore, Macao) were all very early to regulate/shut down their borders only further goes to show how inadequately this model attempts to deal with a pandemic.

Out of all of the societal chaos COVID-19 has caused and is yet to further cause, it is important that whatever’s left after it is carefully analysed to prevent something like this from happening again. And amongst all the things that need to be questioned, the current capitalist model needs to be brought out, kicking and screaming, out into a public field of debate, and finally be legitimately put into question. If we are to approach economics in a more protectionist manner, focusing on achieving self-sufficiency rather than international dependency, it will be then possible to contain the spread of future pandemics, including ones that might have a fatality rate that is exponentially higher than this one.

I am not saying all international trade should be discarded; but it is common sense to understand that if you are in need of resources that you do not possess to combat a disease, and they belong to a country who might not be able to provide them to you due to said disease, then it is only a matter of time until a perpetual cycle of doom is upon everyone. And that is a clear example that while the market may be able to paper over a lot of cracks, like our stores today, it will eventually run out of toilet paper.

The Politician Independent Newspaper, created in 2020