The lessons from the crisis that are still applicable

‘Barcelona Metròpolis’ is the magazine that produced the “Lessons from the Crisis” and “New Vulnerabilities” dossiers, concerning how the financial crisis has caused greater inequality and what we can do to mitigate this. We invite you to take a look at the articles, many of which may inspire ways of overcoming the current health, social and economic crisis. Because we have once again discovered that we can all be vulnerable.

In 2008, we were hit by the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The recession took away the businesses, jobs, homes and life projects of millions of people. It weakened the welfare state and social cohesion. The economic recovery brought greater inequality. In addition to the old forms of social exclusion, there were also new vulnerability factors that brought insecurity and uncertainty to the lives of many people, including some who, due to their origins or training, could consider themselves to be privileged.

There are global dynamics behind crises that are difficult to control. And in the current health and social crisis we are once again formulating questions like those already listed in the dossiers “Lessons from the Crisis” and “New Vulnerabilities”: Is capitalism compatible with prosperity for all? Is capitalism compatible with democracy? What happened to the welfare state? Is there an alternative to the current state of affairs? What have we learned from that disaster, and what do we still have to learn?

The dossiers “Lessons from the Crisis” and “New Vulnerabilities” look beyond the crisis of 2008, analysing the consequences and possible new ways of tackling inequalities, as well as the old and new forms of social exclusion. The ideas they expound could inspire solutions for the current health crisis, which is also social and financial in nature, and help us to learn from what worked and what didn’t. Here we highlight some of them, and we invite you to take a look at the articles in the dossiers.

The priority: combating inequalities

According to Anton Costas, a professor of Economics at the University of Barcelona, the first lesson we must learn is related to confirming the inequalities that the crisis has left behind: debt, lack of income and unemployment. In order to tackle this situation, Costas suggests progressive capitalism as an alternative. This new inclusive capitalism must be preceded by “the redistribution of the income and wealth created by the economy, by means of higher and better taxes, and more and better social spending”.

“A decade of austerity has left a scenario with deeper fractures, where fragmentation is, in its turn, becoming more and more complex. The gap between rich and poor has grown, because in relative terms, the poor are worse off than they were in the years prior to the crisis”. This is the conclusion of Marga León, a Political Science lecturer at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, in her article “Divides that separate, bridges to be built”.

Meanwhile, what are the psychological mechanisms underlying the effects of economic inequality?  Economic inequality makes it more likely that our relationships adopt forms that maintain and reinforce that inequality. This is explained by Rosa Rodríguez Bailón and Guillermo Willis, researchers at the University of Granada’s Social Psychology of Inequality Research Laboratory. But adversity also brings out the best in many people. Marisol García Cabeza and Marc Pradel, members of the CRIT (Creativity, Innovation and Urban Transformation) research group, have compiled a list of social innovation projects that show how civil society has organised itself and responded collectively to the consequences of the crisis.

Vulnerability can affect all of us

The current coronavirus crisis makes the people who became more vulnerable because of the 2008 crisis even more visible. At that time, new forms of vulnerability appeared which affect even those who may consider themselves to be privileged, as Remedios Zafra explains. Those people who have high levels of training and creativity are no longer ensured an income either, as is the case of cultural professions. Preparation and effort do not necessarily protect us from new threats that, like the climate-change crisis, have a planet-wide scope. As Yayo Herrero says, we may all become vulnerable people with vulnerable lives if we do not have a friendly environment in which to develop ourselves or a social network that protects us. And the coronavirus crisis has once again made this clear.

Beyond the crisis, digitalisation continues to alter the employment and productive system. According to the Sociology lecturer from the University of Barcelona Xavier Martínez-Celorrio, we need to think about how to deal with a new era in which human work will become massively expendable. And also in relation to employment, Quim Brugué affirms that social advancement has stopped for all of us. The lack of a political response to influence factors, like the ones above, in relation to the economic crisis causes frustration and reduces participation in politics. Financial vulnerabilities lead to political exclusion and the rise of new forms of populism, warns Quim Brugué.

The changes happen quickly and the current crisis situation reminds us every day that we need to take minute-by-minute decisions. There must also be moments in which we review history so that we don’t repeat its errors, so that we know where we are and where we want to go. With these dossiers, we aim to contribute to this process of reflection.