The British Academy has responded to the request in September 2020 from the Government Office for Science and published last week two reports –
- The Covid Decade – understanding the long-term societal impacts of Covid-19
- Shaping the Covid Decade – addressing the long term impacts of Covid-19
You can read these reports by following the links at the end of this blog.
The government was not taking much of a risk in asking the British Academy what were the long-term impacts of Covid. The Academy is part of The Establishment, comprising, as it does, more than a thousand ‘leading’ academics, few of whom could be deemed radical or cutting-edge. Although it must be conceded that the late Eric Hobsbawm, the brilliant Marxist historian and Communist Party member, was tolerated as a Fellow, more typical of its Fellows is Professor Colin Meyer who published a report for the Academy in 2019 on the Principles for Purposeful Business in which he expounded the view that it wasn’t ‘obscene to make a lot of money in the process of creating real solutions to the problems of the world’. The hollowness of this view has been further revealed during the Covid pandemic with rampant cronyism exploiting Track and Trace and PPE procurement and Big Pharma treating vaccination technology as a form of intellectual private property.
The report on Understanding the Long-term Societal Impacts of Covid-19 identifies nine areas which include, rather obviously, geographical inequalities, intergenerational and racial inequalities, health inequalities and unemployment. Also included is education, about which the report asks with stunning banality whether lifelong educational opportunities post-Covid are sufficient – whoever thought they were even before Covid! Two dimensions are, however, conspicuous by their absence: class and any detailed economic analysis of the financial mess we find ourselves in. The ‘leading economists’ on which the Academy can draw are, of course, bourgeois economists who typically ignore both distributional issues and political economy, while the ‘leading philosophers’ on which it draws are still engaged in trying to understanding the world, not, as Marx would have them do, in trying to change it.
The report on Addressing the Long-term Societal Impacts of Covid advocates “joined up policy” across the whole range of societal elements – a sensible approach which this government (or one led by Starmer) can be relied on to ignore. Generalities proliferate while specific recommendations in this report are vague and unspecific. For example, a vague reform of the powers of central and local government is called for, not actual reform of the voting system, abolition of the upper chamber (and, as argued previously here, a randomly selected body) and specific tax raising powers for local government such as a Land Value Tax. Data sharing is called for but copyright, patents and commercial confidentiality remain unexamined. Support for community-based infrastructure is called for, but there is no mention of ending the anti-trade union laws. Everyone, including businesses, is exhorted to work together with a sense of ‘social purpose’ but there is no explanation of how that can happen when there are no common interests.
Perhaps the greatest weakness in both reports is their failure to link recovery from the Covid pandemic with the need to address global warming. Society faces one crisis, not two, and it is beyond the resources of capitalism to address it.