“Why are people so angry? »Minouche Shafik explains how the pandemic will change society


The last time the UK experienced social change on a scale similar to the Covid-19 pandemic was during World War II. In 1942, as the impact of the war became evident, a former principal of the London School of Economics (LSE), William Beveridge, said in a government report that recovery would be made possible by a new social policy “from the cradle to the cradle. the fall “. These ideas contributed to the advent of the modern welfare state and the NHS.

The current director of the LSE, Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, believes it is time to plan for the recovery again. His book, What we owe each other, suggests that we review our social contract – the way we interact with each other – and fix the things that don’t work.

She spoke to me by video from her office at the LSE. Her appointment there, in 2017, was the latest in a series of high-level posts: she was deputy governor of the Bank of England in 2014-17, after stints as deputy managing director of the Fund. International Monetary and Department of International Development, as well as teaching at Wharton School and Georgetown University. At 36, she was the youngest Vice President of the World Bank.

Her book takes a methodical approach to the reorganization of society, working across themes – from childcare to health and education – and analyzing how different countries and cultures approach them. Her journey helps her cross-examine these differences: at 59, she lived in Egypt (where she was born), the United States (where her family emigrated after their lands and possessions were nationalized by the Egyptian state in the 1960s), and the United Kingdom, where it settled.

Although the pandemic has exposed issues with many of our social structures, Shafik said she started the book before it started. “It was partly in response to the wave of populist politics around the world,” she explained. “I just wanted to understand – why are people so angry? Why are they so disappointed? And how can we remedy this and reduce the polarization in our societies? “

The pandemic provided a perfect case study. “My first reaction was, ‘Oh my god, I have to rewrite this book now.’ But I realized that in fact [it] has just revealed even more these fractures in our societies.

A reading of the book suggests that if Covid was a test of our social contract, it was one that we failed. “Who took the biggest hit? Shafik asked. “Precarious workers, vulnerable people, women, the elderly. In many ways, all of these fractures in our society have been further exposed by the pandemic. “

The subtext of much of his book is more than we should be doing better now. Different measures may make different observations about inequality, but Shafik’s point of view is that fundamentally, things get more difficult for the less fortunate in society.

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“The opportunities people face are so unequal,” she said. “Depending on the family you were born into or where you were born in the country is simply a determining factor for your chances in life.

“It is deeply problematic for society as a whole, because so much talent is wasted in the world.”

Shafik’s book came out around the same time as that of his former Bank of England colleague Mark Carney. As one reviewer noted, when a former governor and a former deputy governor of the bank simultaneously publish books claiming that something is seriously wrong with the economy, we should be either very comforted or very worried. Which one is it?

“A bit of both,” she said. “Worried because there is a feeling that there is something wrong with our business model. But I think you have to be reassured that a lot of people inside the system are asking the hard questions and trying to figure out how to solve the problems.

Beveridge’s report came out as war raged in Europe and the fabric of society was torn apart. Eight decades later, is it time to make such radical proposals? “If you look historically, sometimes when you have a critical moment like this, there is an incredibly important element of progressive reform, like the Beveridge report. [or] like the New Deal in the United States.

On the other hand, “sometimes there isn’t much going on that is really transformative, like after the 2008 financial crisis. So it could go both ways,” she said. “I just hope my book takes him in a slightly more ambitious direction.”

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