At the beginning of June 2022, STATEC held the Well-Being Conference 2022. For this event, Plaidons Responsable by Caritas Luxembourg invited Stefano Bartolini, a political scientist from the University of Siena.
Followed by Dr.Serge Allegrezza’s opening remarks, we had the pleasure of hearing our partner, Stephano Bartoloni present his research titled “COVID-19 and how we got there and what is next.” This article will focus on what was mentioned during said talk as it is in line with our values at Caritas.
In his talk, he informed us that he believed that epidemics would become “our new normal” and that we as a society must find ways to combat them without putting a stop to the economy as we have done with COVID.
He highlighted the fact that zoonosis will keep on appearing due to the loss of biodiversity with increasing deforestation, climate change and factory farming. A big reason as to why it is important for us to learn how to control epidemics while keeping the social, economic and psychological costs low. His arguments regarding why Western countries had many issues combatting COVID are due to already existing weaknesses such as inequality, higher % of the population chronically ill and finally poor social capital.
Evidence shows that there has been an increase of chronically ill patients in Europe on a yearly basis which made it harder for the government to give them appropriate treatment throughout the pandemic due to lack of available hospital beds and oxygen. Poor social capital reduced the trust in governments, especially regarding the different ways they chose to fight the epidemic. Countries such as China, has a more centralized approach which had a heavier toll on their population as they had very difficult and long isolation periods. On the other hand, other countries in Asia such as South Korea and Taiwan had a different approach, their governments instead focused on citizen’s involvement, where they entrusted them to be responsible and deal carefully with the epidemic. Europe chose to implement a mix of both measures previously mentioned.
As Europe implemented such measures, the mistrust in governments decreased accordingly with a 28% reduction in the UK from 1944 to 2021. Mistrust in governments is also apparent in the US. To combat this, Stephano proposed policies to change cities, work, schools, media and most notably healthcare. His main argument was that cities were originally created for aggregation, it would be more benefiting to society’s well-being if instead we were to focus rather on social capital. School wise, our current institutions leave no space for cooperation, kids aren’t being taught in a fun environment but rather in a competitive one. Such changes would be made in hopes of strengthening trust in institutions. Yet the biggest alteration that he talked about was regarding our democracy; with political decisions being made in the hands of a few trusted elites, what matters to society matters less and less. In order to make democracy work, he proposed the public financing of political parties with lower spending limits and restrictions on private financing.
Finally, to reduce the number of chronic illnesses in society, he mentioned that we should take example from Japan where there are programs to fight loneliness, a huge factor that plays into the elderly developing chronic illnesses, such as community saloons where they can attend various courses to maintain their well-being. Such program could easily be implemented in the EU with the local authorities help, leaving us much to think about regarding ways to make societies more inclusive and therefore combat future epidemics better.