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The Challenges of the Post-Pandemic Agenda

The pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of human societies and fortified support for urgent climate action. But while the small government, free-market template of the last four decades suddenly looks terribly outdated, history suggests that transitions between phases of capitalist development can be harsh and uncertain.

PARIS – There is a growing possibility that the COVID-19 crisis will mark the end of the growth model born four decades ago with the Reagan-Thatcher revolution, China’s embrace of capitalism, and the demise of the Soviet Union. The pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of human societies and fortified support for urgent climate action. And it has strengthened governments’ hand, eroded already-shaky support for globalization, and triggered a reappraisal of the social value of mundane tasks. The small government, free-market template suddenly looks terribly outdated.

History suggests that transitions between phases of capitalist development can be harsh and uncertain. The postwar growth model took shape only after the Marshall Plan catalyzed its emergence. And the transition from the stagflationary 1970s to the market-dominated growth model took a decade. The years ahead will most likely be tough ones.

The challenge is not only one of uncertainty. It is also that the emergence of a new coherence usually requires something or someone to give way. In the late 1940s, European rent-seekers gave way to the forces of modernization. And in the 1980s, organized labor gave way to financial capitalism. The same will be true this time, because the coherence among the emerging priorities is all but obvious.

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