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Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World Hardcover – October 6, 2020
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New York Times Bestseller
COVID-19 is speeding up history, but how? What is the shape of the world to come?
Lenin once said, "There are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen." This is one of those times when history has sped up. CNN host and best-selling author Fareed Zakaria helps readers to understand the nature of a post-pandemic world: the political, social, technological, and economic consequences that may take years to unfold. Written in the form of ten "lessons," covering topics from natural and biological risks to the rise of "digital life" to an emerging bipolar world order, Zakaria helps readers to begin thinking beyond the immediate effects of COVID-19. Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World speaks to past, present, and future, and, while urgent and timely, is sure to become an enduring reflection on life in the early twenty-first century.
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― Josef Joffe, New York Times
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (October 6, 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0393542130
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393542134
- Item Weight : 15.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #131,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on November 28, 2020
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Top reviews from the United States
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Fareed is smart and articulate and brimming with curiosity about the world. What makes him unique, however, is his genuine sense of humility, a strong philosophical bent, and the fact that he is truly a man of the world. He has an understanding of the world that only extensive time outside of your native country can help you achieve. Such experiences breed tolerance and teach you that the world must be assessed in context, and that in turn requires the openness to accept alternative worldviews on equal terms.
I have lived and worked as an American ex-pat in China for eleven years and am stunned, whenever I return to the US, by how little my friends and family know or understand about China. And over that period of time, despite the connectivity of technology-enabled knowledge sharing, the gulf has widened, not narrowed.
The title of the book refers to the post-pandemic world but this is not a book about the COVID pandemic per se. The pandemic, Fareed argues, is a catalyst for change, many aspects of which were already underway before the virus brought the world to its knees.
The larger debate the pandemic brought to light is whether or not we will live in a multi-lateral world of global cooperation or a world dominated by self-interested populist states powered by extreme nationalism. (Nationalistic populism, I believe history has shown, is the inevitable first step toward repressive authoritarianism.) While he is clearly hopeful of the former, however, he recognizes that American hegemony that dominated the pre-pandemic multi-lateral world is undoubtedly a thing of the past, for good or bad. “At this point, the restoration of an American-dominated international order is not possible.”
I do take exception with some of his observations regarding China, but he stops well short of actually demonizing China with the exaggerated and often false narrative coming out of Washington. Most importantly, he advocates cooperation, which I believe the Chinese would actually welcome if it were sincere, respectful, and reliable.
I view the issues brought to light by the pandemic in much the same way Fareed does but with a slightly different turn of phrase. I think we are facing a choice between two over-riding and competing worldviews – collectivism and individualism. While a healthy balance of both should be the ultimate goal, individualism by itself is a sure path to our assured destruction. A sense of our place in the world, and our responsibility to those we share it with, must be at the heart of everything else we do.
And while there is a strong sentimental case to be made for that, the ultimate justification for a collective worldview is a pragmatic one. And it was an ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, who probably summed it up best. A political advisor at a time when China was constantly at war with itself, he recognized that behaviors could not be sustainably changed at the tip of a spear. As soon as the spear leaves, the old behavior will resurface. Behavior can only be changed through the self-restraint imposed by a moral code built around a personal sense of obligation.
In the US today we have 315 million inhabitants and something over 1 million police men and women. As much as I respect and am thankful for the work they do, however, the police are not at the center of law and order. Self-restraint is. We are a nation of laws only as long as we choose to be. If we take our current trend to selfishness to its logical extreme, where only “I” matters, we will cease to have a functioning democracy. (The refusal to wear masks during the pandemic is not a good sign but free balcony concerts and neighbors looking out for neighbors is.)
This is a wonderful book that I can’t recommend highly enough. You don’t have to agree with every assessment, as I admittedly do not. We must all accept, however, that the future is not written in a one-dimensional (we vs they) fate. We must choose. And only be choosing and acting collectively will we renew and expand the exceptionalism we all yearn for.
Top reviews from other countries
Each year, 17.8 million people die of cardiovascular disease, 9.6 million die of cancer, 6.5 million die of respiratory diseases other than Covid-19, 2.5 million die of dementia and 2.4 million die of digestive disease. So Covid-19 is not even in the top 5.
Nonetheless, as Zakaria observes, we have totally transformed our societies because of this virus, and the trajectory of the journey we are taking is now becoming clear. The world as a whole is moving down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, away from self-actualization and quality of life (including gender and racial equality, creativity, and desire for in-person connection), towards basic survival at the bottom of the hierarchy (including food, shelter, ethnic tribalism, and fear of others).
‘It may well turn out that the coronavirus will cause the greatest economic, political and social damage to humankind since World War II…
The impact is being shaped by the reality that the world is deeply interconnected, that most countries were unprepared for the pandemic, and that in its wake, many of them – including the world’s richest nations – shut down their societies and their economies in a manner unprecedented in human history…
Covid-19 and the ensuing national lockdowns caused economic indicators to slump more dramatically than at any time on record. In April 2020, compared to a year earlier, global air traffic fell by 94 percent, new car registrations in the European Union were down 76 percent, and the United States had 20 million fewer jobs. Alongside these economic shocks came the imposition of border controls and travel restrictions, even between countries famous for their openness to one another…
By April 2020, many of the world’s most glamorous cities had become shells of their former selves. Paris, with its pretty cafes lining the empty sidewalks, looked like a movie set…
In many developing countries, large segments of the population make just enough each day to feed themselves and their families. Given that these governments don’t have the money to pay people to stay home or subsidize shuttered businesses, the wisest course, in retrospect, was probably not to impose lockdowns. India, for example, partly as a result of the lockdown, is on track to see its economy shrink by 5 percent in 2020, rivalling the worst performance in its history. And yet, as of July 2020, the number of people confirmed to have died from Covid-19 in the country was about 28,000, fewer than the 60,000 children who die of malnutrition there each month…
The mortality rate for young children has dropped 59% since 1990. With Covid-19, much of this progress could be reversed. The pandemic might erase many of the gains made by developing countries over the last quarter century and return us to a world of great and widening global inequality…
What began as a healthcare problem in China soon became a global pandemic. The medical crisis prompted a simultaneous lockdown of all business across the globe, resulting in a Great Paralysis, the cessation of economics itself. By some measures, the economic damage from this pandemic already rivals that of the Great Depression. The political consequences will play out over the coming years. The social and psychological consequences – fear, isolation, purposelessness – might endure even longer…
All societies from the earliest of times began with political systems that Max Weber famously described as ‘patrimonial’, meaning simply rule by a strongman. The regime was just his family, friends, and allies…
Over time, it became clear that China botched the early response to Covid-19. Local officials in Hubei and Wuhan minimized the outbreak, and silenced doctors who tried to sound a general warning. Higher-ups in Beijing kept the World Health Organization and the rest of the world in the dark, delaying the release of vital information about the virus. Under Xi Jinping, the government and Communist Party have tightened their grip on the political system, the economy, and society – and in this atmosphere, local officials were reluctant to report bad news up the chain of command…
All this is inherent to the Chinese political system. Authoritarian regimes want to control information tightly. It is a source of their power. Looking at all epidemics recorded since 1960, The Economist found that dictatorships often mishandle outbreaks. In general, democracies have dealt with them better…
Small changes can have big consequences. In power grids or computer networks, if one tiny element breaks and then shifts its load to another, which then breaks, it can produce a chain reaction that grows ever larger. It is termed a ‘cascading failure’…
Clemenceau once remarked, ‘war is too important to be left to the generals.’ He didn’t mean that one could win a war by dispensing with generals, but rather that you had to supplement them with other kinds of professionals to arrive at the broadest possible understanding. In that spirit, one could say that pandemics are too important to be left to the scientists. They are essential – but so are experts in other fields…
Operating in the fog of a pandemic creates a dilemma. In the early stages of the crisis, scientists felt the need to speak more boldly than the evidence at hand warranted. Sometimes this was done to encourage people to take their guidelines seriously. That approach might have short-term benefits, but it has a longterm drawback that is dangerous: If predictions prove to be off the mark or if new data changes the picture, that undermines the authority and integrity of these experts…
The reason our cities grow and endure, even when faced with calamities, is because most of us are naturally drawn to participation, collaboration and competition. Rationalizations for city living vary – work, companionship, entertainment, culture, or all of the above. But beneath these outward reasons lie deep urges toward social interaction…
Lenin is supposed to have once said, ‘There are decades when nothing happens, and then there are weeks when decades happen.’ The post-pandemic world is going to be, in many aspects, a sped-up version of the world we knew…
In recent years, the changes to the digital economy go well beyond videoconferencing and e-commerce. Today, life can be lived digitally…”
If a large majority of people around the world are losers in the current crisis, who are the winners?
When the small and medium-sized fish are struggling, the big fish devour them, and when real life loses, online survival wins, meaning it is not only Amazon that dominates, but the entire NASDAQ, especially the G-MAFIA (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, IBM, Apple), and in China the BATHByD (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Huawei, ByteDance).
Overall, Zakaria’s book offers many worthwhile observations, including that the lockdowns triggered by the virus are sliding billions of people around the world down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and hundreds of millions into extreme poverty.
But if not lockdown, then what?
Sweden, according to the World Values Survey the most progressive and postmaterialist country in the world, chose a very different approach. Due to its deeply-embedded culture code of lagom (balance), it refused to lock down 100 percent of society, when only 1 percent of the population was at serious risk.
As well, the Swedes recognized that this is a marathon that will last for years, since it can end in only one of three ways: 1) herd immunity; 2) a widely-deployed vaccine; 3) a combination of herd immunity and a widely-deployed vaccine.
This is why Swedish schools, kindergartens, bars, restaurants, ski resorts, sports clubs and hairstylists were never locked down, minimizing damage to the overall economy, to mental health, and to the social fabric - a position now endorsed by 6000 top doctors and scientists in the Great Barrington Declaration.
Time will tell whether lockdown or the Swedish approach was better, but Elon Musk, in his usual direct and concise manner recently tweeted ‘Sweden was right’.
Having bought the book at a time where Europe went into a second lock-down, I was expecting a more „daily life“ advice on the topic. But the author concentrates more on the political economy, mainly centered on US resp. the relationship towards China and Asia, Europe playing only a minor role (except for giving examples on certain topics).
After a first disappointment, that my exception were not met, I realigned my perspective and actually enjoyed reading the different topics. Some of which were not completely new, like the fact that the gap between rich and poor will become bigger (like presented in chapter / lesson five, seven or nine), while other showed an interesting perspective especially from a social / philosophical point of view, as pointed out in the last chapter.
So, I'd recommend to check your expectations before buying this book, but it is definitely a good read, I liked the writing style, especially when the author uses historical facts / stories / anecdotes to start his journey on a specific topic (see lesson three „markets are not enough“). The language can also be well understood by non-natives as myself.