In a world already riddled by extreme economic and racial inequality, the coronavirus has exacerbated entrenched systems of inequity and oppression and created new pockets of precarity for already vulnerable populations. A recent report by Oxfam International confirms this appalling reality—while the richest in the world have recouped their losses already, it may take at least a decade for billions of poor people to recover from the coronavirus-induced economic impacts. The pandemic has forced people of colour, women and other historically disadvantaged groups into poverty, homelessness and death, but wealthy individuals and corporations have continued to reap the benefits of neoliberal economic policies for their individual gains. In fact, the report finds that the profit garnered by the 10 richest billionaires since the onset of the pandemic is "more than enough not only to prevent anyone in the world from falling into poverty but also to pay for Covid-19 vaccines for all".
Governments across the world are allowing, albeit enabling, this inequality to flourish. They are undertaxing corporations and wealthy individuals on the one hand, and underfunding essential public services and social safety net programmes on the other. For far too long, we have been told to accept the inequalities which are products of a flawed and exploitative neoliberal economic system as inevitable—it is time we realise that these inequalities are man-made and that, if we want, we can and must dream of and demand a fairer and just world. In other words, we need to re-envision what kind of a world we want to inhabit and take concrete policies and steps to rectify existing inequities and hierarchies.
We wholeheartedly concur with Oxfam that governments, including our own, need to move away from a narrow focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and put inequality at the centre of their plans for economic recovery. Rather than provide bailout packages to those who are already profiting from the existing capitalist order, we need to ensure, among other things, universal healthcare, dignified wages, food security, education and environmental justice for all.
A nationwide survey carried out by South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) between November and December last year found that of Bangladeshi households surveyed, 42 percent were below the poverty line. As we congratulate ourselves for maintaining our economic growth rate and export earnings, what we cannot do is lose sight of those who are falling through the cracks of this neoliberal economic system. The bottom 99 percent must set the agenda for a fairer future.