ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Moral Economy Crisis

Is Post-Covid-19 Capitalism Predatory?

Global capitalism, having suffered a set­back due to the pandemic, will not succumb to a self-liquidation but is likely to become more predatory in nature aided by a corporate-friendly Indian state. The moral economy solutions should be the core of what is offered as a set of transient demands of the ongoing struggle against predatory capitalisms, describing the practical as­pects of such a struggle, and a process of conscientisation of the state from below.

Views are personal. The author is grateful to the anonymous reviewer for their valuable comments.

Alfred W Crosby (1976/1989), a pioneering environmental historian, warned us decades ago about the dangers of ignoring previous pandemics, such as the Spanish influenza of 1918–19, and the 2019 epidemic has confirmed his fears. Additional evidence for this comes from David Arnold (2020), a historian of colonial medicine, who is concerned about the risks of interpreting India’s actions in the years after the 1896 pandemic. He claims that the lessons and repercussions of the past are strongly felt in South Asian history via the lens of India’s COVID-19 narratives. To an epidemiologist, the COVID-19 pandemic may seem to be a “novel” coronavirus, but to a historian, the disease’s behaviour and the sociopolitical responses it sparked are hardly new, Arnold asserts. Similar to the current COVID-19 epidemic, migrant movement limitations, population and economic losses, transit limits, and the halt of corporate and market activities were put into place, with the poor bearing the most of the burden prompting us to describe the situation as a moral economy crisis as well.

The COVID-19 crisis affected all social groups, but migrant workers were forced to endure its most agonising effects and have their fundamental rights violated. As Giorgio Agamben (1995), the Italian philosopher, writes, human rights in practice are not capable of bridging the gap between the two forms of life: the bare natural life (zoè) and the political life (bios). With respect to millions of migrants and vulnerable poor, the COVID-19-driven pan-India lockdown mirrors this observation—even their bare life of biological existence was challenged, not to speak of their non-existent political life. The situation remains alarmingly volatile with the labyrinthine complexities of COVID-19 continuing to elude scientists and public health officials alike. One of the most critical lessons learnt from the pandemic is that it is not only a public health or epidemiological crisis but a “moral economy” crisis of monstrous proportions, raising serious existential and political questions for the country. This is precisely where India as a state seemingly fails. The consequences of its strategic failure with respect to the marginal sections of the populace have been harsher than the disease effects of COVID-19 itself. The struggling poor were forced to follow the logic of their own “moral economy” that historically protected their rights to subsistence, as renowned historian E P Thompson (1991) has rightly observed in the case of the 18th-century “food riots” in England. Crisis in the moral economy demands moral economy fixes. Concerns about how to effectively handle the livelihood options of the migrant labour and how a moral economy policy option could be an intentional one in the future sparked the concept for this commentary.

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Updated On : 9th Aug, 2023
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