A New Social Compact?

For the 2021-22 academic year, the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics will focus on the theme of “A New Social Compact?

The COVID-19 pandemic has delivered a shock to the nations of the world. Variations in national responses and experiments with economic and health policies have implicitly revealed different conceptions of the social compact (a phrase we use loosely to refer to shared understandings of what members of societies believe they owe to each other).

In the United States, the experience of the pandemic has been defined by failures of governance, leadership, and technocratic expertise. These failures have led to the stark exposure of underlying health inequities, along with the broad social vulnerability for individuals, and the polity generally, that flows from inequality. The centrality of care provision to our economy and social well-being has also been brought to the fore, made visible by the sudden disappearance of structures like schools that have come to provide so much of the care and services of the social safety net in the United States.

Restrictions on international travel, the fracturing of global supply chains, rationing of medical supplies, and attempts to develop a vaccine all call into question the social compact at a global level. While much innovation in political philosophy, political economy, and public policy has been in development for the last decade, since the global financial crisis, the pandemic presents an occasion for harvesting the fruits of that work with the goal of articulating the foundations of a new social compact.

We invite applications connected to any dimension of this broad field of inquiry. We see the nature of the failures to be addressed as so multifaceted as to make this theme not very restrictive; however, in our usual fashion, we will also consider applications that fall outside the parameters of this thematic description.