What have we learned from Covid-19?
Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World
Fareed Zakaria 2020
The Covid-19 epidemic may well turn out to be a transformational event for the world. Black swan occurrences like this come out of the blue, and can greatly accelerate changes that were already in the works. We all know how Covid has changed our lives during the pandemic, but what lasting effects will this pandemic leave after it's long gone? How will our world in 2025 look different from the one of 2019?
Fareed Zakaria is a smart and well-known writer who has written many books and newspaper columns about the issues of our day, and I wanted to hear his take on how the pandemic could change us. Mind you, this book, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, was published in October of 2020, so I question just how much perspective Zakaria could have had while knocking this book out in the first months of the pandemic. As I write this a year later, we still don't know near enough about the lasting effects of Covid-19 and when society can truly transition to normalcy.
What I can say is that I see one huge transition still in the works, the effects of which I still can't completely wrap my head around: many things that we used to do in person are more likely to be done virtually from now on- work, education, medical visits, entertainment, sporting events, conventions, and shopping. The impact of not dealing with other human beings in person, where tone of voice and body language can comprise 90% of communications, will have a huge impact on us all.
That said, here are Fareed Zakaria's ten lessons:
1- Buckle up- change is accelerating. Covid is just a sign of what's to come.
2- Quality of government is more important than the quantity. We can learn much from watching how different countries reacted to the pandemic. Some, like Korea, Canada, Taiwan, and Germany used smart tactics to minimize the damage done to their people and economies. Others, like India, Brazil, and the US, had weak or indifferent governments who never took the pandemic seriously, with devastating results for their countries.
3- Markets are not enough. Libertarian assumptions that market forces will fix most problems fell apart during Covid. Public health is not something that private companies can deal with, and it's more apparent now than ever that sometimes strong collective (aka government) action is needed to deal with crises.
4- People should listen to experts and vice versa. Politicians in many areas ignored advice from the medical community. But the scientific experts don't get off the hook here- they need to listen to their communities better and connect with the doubters more effectively.
5- Life is digital. The power of software, artificial intelligence, mobile phones, zoom meetings, telehealth, streaming movies, Pelotons and more show how quickly things are changing, as all became more prevalent and powerful during the pandemic. Change is coming to the economy and we need to plan for the transition with jobs and training.
6- We are social animals and cities are where things are happening. Cities will endure and become even more dominant in politics and economics in the future. They need to be made more affordable, livable, and sustainable.
7- Inequality will get worse. The power of Big Data will make the rich even richer, leaving most of us in the dust. Covid hit poor people much harder, both physically and fiscally, and something will need to be done to close this gap to avoid a dystopian future.
8- Globalization is not dead. Even though the US tried to pursue an isolationist "America First" policy, the world has continued to develop vast interconnected networks. The development of vaccines required international cooperation, as did the provision of masks, drugs, and disinfectants that keep Covid 19 at bay. In coordination with #5- life is digital- everything digital is now global.
9- The world is bipolar. The two poles are the US and China, and China's growth while America declines could be the story of the 21st century. The Chinese have moved quickly to integrate its products and services into the rest of the world, and their rising power and influence cannot be ignored.
10- Sometimes the greatest realists are idealists. Fareed is big on the liberal international order. Open systems and democratic governments outplayed isolationists, dictators, and ideologues. The types of government that use cooperation and collaboration to solve common problems will prevail in the future over the likes of Putin, Trump, and Xi.
This is an interesting read, even if the 10 lessons don't exactly tie in together very much. There wasn't anything earth-shattering in his list of lessons, but it's always nice to hear a smart person lay things out professionally as food for thought. That said, there is still a place for a thought-provoking book on how the move to virtual is changing everything and how we can adapt to it- but this is not that book.
Many mistakes have been made during this pandemic. People died needlessly and misinformation still seems to be everywhere. Hopefully people have learned something from those mistakes so that future pandemics won't have as drastic an impact. I'm not so sure. Covid is a terrible disease, but not nearly as deadly as smallpox or as communicable as measles. If we want to progress as a people, we need to learn the hard lessons that disasters like this provide. We are here to learn. Books like this help point out the lessons that we need to take away from this experience.