FeatureVol 25 No. 8 - August 2020

“No one is safe, until everyone is”

Amid a global health crisis and widely varying government responses, the UN High-level Advisory Board (HLAB) on Economic and Social Affairs – a group of 16 former heads of states, ministers, eminent economists, and social scientists – offers a set of new solutions for governments to build back better, greener and fairer after COVID-19. The Board members launched a new volume of essays, “Recover Better: Economic and Social Challenges and Opportunities,” during an online dialogue on 22 July 2020.

The event explored different pathways for rebuilding economies and the role of international cooperation.

The seven essays in the compilation explore the implications of digital technological advances and promote regulatory practices that ensure that these generate more job opportunities, particularly for lower-wage workers. In their essays, the Board members also urge methods of economic rebuilding that reduce inequalities, manage the environment sustainably and promote multilateral cooperation.

“The topics could not be more timely and relevant for a post-COVID-19 world, which is certain to be much more digital than before,” said Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), also contributed an essay to the volume and participated in the event. As the market is not going to equalize society, she said, we need state intervention and a new social and political compact altogether.

Several Board members suggested innovative ways for the UN system to provide additional support in the COVID-19 recovery. Former President of Chile, Ricardo Lagos, proposed an internationally binding agreement on pandemics, similar to the climate COP, under the auspices of the WHO, to improve multilateralism and avoid the worst effects of future pandemics. President Lagos also suggested that UN DESA could work together with the UN’s regional economic commissions to develop regional-specific, integrated COVID-19 recovery policies in line with the SDGs.

Merit E. Janow, Dean of the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, said that the World Bank and IMF remain critical institutions and should be utilized where they work best, for instance, with providing emerging markets access to capital. Expanding digital access is one of the best hopes for extending financial support, delivering government services and supporting education, she added.

Overall, Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University said that we should use this moment to “create a new world that, when we emerge from the pandemic, is a world that is more in accord with our views of what our society should be like …. [with] a greener economy, an economy marked by greater equality, social justice, racial justice, a more knowledge-based economy.”

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed shared a similar sentiment in her video message, saying that we need to “rebuild our economies sustainably and inclusively.” “Remember, we are in this together,” she said. “No one will ever be truly safe until everyone is safe.”

The new essay volume, “Recover Better,” is available online now. You can watch the online discussion with the Board members on UN DESA’s Facebook page.

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