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Health and the economy, walking together again

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a global health emergency that has tested the ability of States to contain it. Many of the world’s most developed nations have paid dearly for their late reaction or underestimating the deadly power of the virus.

Today, news begins to arrive that in the most affected countries of the West, quarantine is bearing fruit and has gradually begun to flatten the contagion curve.

In Argentina, the early decision of President Alberto Fernández to order a “social, preventive and compulsory isolation” has allowed the epidemic lack of control to be contained, which surpassed health systems with greater resources.

Although the peak of infections announced by the committee of epidemiologists advising the Government has not yet been reached, it is imperative to plan the next phase: maintain a low number of infected and leave behind the paralysis of the economy that produced the quarantine. We must reactivate the level of economic activity, essential to meet the needs of a pressing future.

To extend for a longer time -as it has been warned- the economy of total isolation will demand urgent action, not only for those who are out of work or have lower incomes, but also for the middle class and a huge number of SMEs, who must continue to face the payment of wages, among others, and who have little margin to continue borrowing.

Self-employed workers and professionals are experiencing a similar situation, excluded from Emergency Family Income and all kinds of state containment. If the Argentine economy had been ill for a long time, the urgent need to prevent an explosion of coronavirus infections has put her in an “induced coma”, as the economist Paul Krugman mentioned.

The complexities are of such magnitude that they demand to gather a critical mass of knowledge and technological tools in a way that has never been called before in the history of the country. We need to build a doubly intelligent State: on the one hand, with capacities to manage the pandemic and its economic and social consequences. On the other, with the tools necessary to process this crisis within the institutions of democracy, and avoid authoritarian temptations, typical of the State of Emergency. Everything in a context of absolute transparency of public spending.

The national government commissioned the provinces to evaluate the partial openings of the insulation (ad referendum of the authorization of the national health authorities). This scenario can be very challenging in logistical and administrative terms. The national government must deal with macro decisions and give the provinces fiscal and technological resources so that they can face their local challenges and thus deepen federalism.

With the inability to take on debt and the abrupt drop in international trade, resources are limited. Therefore, the national government must use them with maximum efficiency. The emergency taxes currently being discussed must compensate for the lack of contributions from those who cannot cope with the tax burden, in order to sustain the level of economic activity and maintain jobs.

In that sense, it would seem that today only the monetary emission resource remains, being the only immediate artificial respirator that our economy has. But this has to be used with rationality, predictability and respecting fiscal federalism. Provinces and municipalities must know both the amount and the disbursement schedule that the national government will carry out during the isolation. The same for SMEs and the rest of the population, which is in a vulnerable situation. A broad coordination of all the public organizations and social actors involved is needed, a generous call and, above all, to avoid all arbitrariness and favoritism.

The City of Buenos Aires is giving an exemplary attitude, led by its Head of Government, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, who has provided full collaboration with the national government and the government of the province of Buenos Aires to join forces against the pandemic . The Buenosairean government has demonstrated to be up to the initial challenge to contain the expansion of the virus, despite having a very important population concentration and being one of the epicenters of contagion, given its cosmopolitan nature and its role as an air hub between Ezeiza and the rest of the national airports.

Larreta has combined execution with a search for horizontal consensus among the political forces and permanent consultation with specialists. In this framework, he knew how to coordinate efforts with different institutions and civil society actors, among which the University of Buenos Aires stands out. Hundreds of health professionals, students and graduates, members of a massive volunteer work, accompany the decisions of the authorities of a City in which university hospitals are at the forefront of international healthcare and clinical research.

Martín Lousteau, national senator for Radical Evolution -a space of which I am part as a national deputy- has suggested that, Just as a group of specialists was formed to directly advise the President on health issues, both economists and technology experts should be convened (and of the specialties that the opening of the quarantine require) to integrate a Council of Experts for the Reactivation of Economic and Social Life. This is the time to have all the specialists and add them to the next stages of reconstruction.

It is imperative that the national government broaden its base of political consensus, in order to obtain the majority support that the difficult decisions that must be made demand.

The conjunction of effective and intelligent management – by a State that works together with specialists and leaders of civil society – and unrestricted democracy – which ensures consensus and transparency of decisions – is what will allow us to cross the crossroads between health and economy that all Argentines suffer today.

The author is a national deputy (Radical Evolution)

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