The world after coronavirus? Four possible futures – a summary

The four futures @Simon Mair

The original article, What will the world be like after coronavirus? Four possible futures, is written by Dr Simon Mair. A link will appear at the end of this post.

What will happen to the world after the coronavirus pandemic?

There are a number of futures but it will depend on what the government and society do in response of the pandemic and its economic aftermath.

Four futures

From an economic perspective, there are four possible futures: a robust state capitalism, a descent into barbarism, a radical state socialism, and a transformation into a big society built on mutual aid.

These futures will be perfectly possible but not equally desirable.

To understand the situation with the Covid-19 pandemic, we must first answer the question what the economy is for. To facilitate exchanges of money is the primary aim of the global economy and economists call this “exchange value”.

Take two factors that will be important in driving the future, and imagine what will happen under different combinations of those factors. The factors are value and centralisation.

Value is the guiding principle of our economy. Are our resources used to maximise exchanges and money, or to maximise life? Centralisation is the ways that things are organised, either by of lots of small units or by one big commanding force.

State capitalism

State capitalism is a centralised response, prioritising exchange value. It is the dominant response of the world and examples are the UK, Spain and Denmark.

The state capitalist society continues to pursue exchange value as the guiding light of the economy. When the markets are in crisis, they require support from the state. In the event of many workers cannot work because they are ill, and fear for their lives, the state steps in with extended welfare. By providing Keynesian stimulus, the state extends credit and makes direct payments to businesses.

The primary function of this is to allow as many businesses as possible to keep on trading and this is expected for a short period only. The size of the payment is based on what a worker creates in the market, not the usefulness of their work.

This is a successful scenario if the Covid-19 is controlled in a short period. To prevent unrest and deeper economic impacts, the state will turn into more radical actions to keep the market functioning.


Barbarism is a decentralised response prioritising exchange value. Bleakest, it is. Barbarism is if we continue relying on the exchange value as the guiding principle but refuse to extend support to the those got out of markets by illness and unemployment. It is a scenario that we haven’t seen before.

Businesses fail and workers starve because there is not any mechanism to protect them. Hospitals become overwhelmed as there are no other extra measures to support them and people will die. Barbarism is the state that ends in ruin or transition to another state after in disaster.

Could this happen? Yes, it could, by mistake during the pandemic, or by intention after the peak of the pandemic. The government might offer support to businesses and households but if it is not enough, chaos will continue. If hospitals are not provided with extra funds, people – or rather sick people – will be turned away in large numbers.

State socialism

State socialism is a centralised response, prioritising the protection of life. It has a cultural shift that places a different value to the heart of the economy and examples are the UK, Spain and Denmark.

Nationalisation of hospitals and payments to workers, for example, are seen as not tools to protect the market but to protect life itself. In a situation like this, the state steps in to protect the area of the economy that is essential to life – the production of food, energy and shelter – which are no longer inside the market. The state nationalise hospitals, makes housing freely available and means people to access goods, especially basic ones.

Citizens can no longer view as employers as intermediaries to the basic material of life. Payments are made directly and is not related to the exchange values they create. Payments are the same or is related to the usefulness of the work. Supermarket workers, delivery drivers, warehouse stackers, nurses, teachers, and doctors are the new CEOs.

State socialism emerges as the consequence of the state capitalism and the prolonged pandemic. If deep recession happens, the state may step in.

If we are careful to avoid authoritarianism, this may be the best response against Covid-19 outbreak. A strong state is to utilise resources to protect the core of economy and society.

Mutual aid

Mutual aid is a decentralised response, prioritising the protection of life. Without the state playing a defining role, it does so with individuals and small groups caring for the communities.

The small groups are unable to rapidly mobilise the efforts to enhance the healthcare capacity and this is a risk here. But mutual aid could act against transmission by providing community support networks to protect the vulnerable and police the isolation rules. This type of future will enable the rise of new democratic structures.

Mutual aid is a way out of barbarism or state capitalism and supports state socialism. An example is West African Ebola outbreak.


What will the world be like after coronavirus? Four possible futures

What will the world be like after coronavirus? Four possible futures

Dr Simon Mair


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