What you need to know:
- He shows that although government is important, it must first be government of quality.
- Quality here means competent persons who should head the bureaucracy that deals with pandemics of this kind.
- The acknowledgement that life is digital is perhaps the book’s most important observation.
The Covid-19 virus definitely changed the world. At the time of writing this piece, the World Health Organisation confirmed that about 6.8 million people had died of Covid-19 over the past three years. Although Covid-19 is receding, it is far from over. But as the first global pandemic of the 21st century, there are lessons that would never have been learnt had the pandemic not emerged.
This is where Fareed Zakaria steps in with the poignant book: 10 lessons for a Post-Pandemic World.
While some may argue that trying to see the lessons from a pandemic that is not yet over and whose source is still under contention, Fareed brings a sense of prescience coupled with his usual depth of understanding of the pandemic.
Drawing from the countries that appeared to have handled the pandemic well and rode through it with the least effects, the author makes the important point with examples of governments which handled Covid-19 well. He shows that although government is important, it must first be government of quality.
Quality here means competent persons who should head the bureaucracy that deals with pandemics of this kind, if a country is to get over it with the least effect. Neither was the size of government a factor, the book seems to assert.
Singapore with a small government handled the pandemic almost as well as Germany, a far bigger government. The US on the other hand with a far bigger budget than Germany and Singapore fared poorly. This was simply because of incompetent leadership coupled with complexity of government design.
In the US, for instance, the Covid strategy was boggled by state, federal and local health departments which asserted authority of one kind or another on management of the pandemic.
The book highlights another hindrance to the management of the pandemic not only in the US — that was public distrust or inability to trust experts. This started with scepticism about the virus to conspiracy theories about who would benefit from vaccines and even to phony prescriptions about the cure for the Covid-19 .
Fareed acknowledges that there has been an emerging chasm between the elite in most of the world and the rest of the societies not just in wealth, education but also in terms of how they perceive realities. This is even more heightened by populist leaders across the world exemplified by former Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro who defied health advise to wear a face mask in public to the extent that he had to be ordered by a court to do so.
Fareed makes the observation that the underside of this is that experts too must listen to people.
The acknowledgement that life is digital is perhaps the book’s most important observation. In this it notes that the pandemic’s most enduring effect was the spur it made to the world of work.
With the pandemic and work-from-home models by most organisations, the world was returned to what has been the human experience for most of history, that is, that work is tied to life at home. This is an achievement that without Covid would not have happened.
In addition to this is the emerging reality that the jobs and sector of life that the pandemic impacted the most was in medical care with artificial intelligence as the agency of delivery of services.
But that life is digital raises the underside challenge that the pandemic proved too. This is the Aristotelian recognition that man is a social animal.
The digital world realisation comes with the lesson Fareed points out and rather clearly that in the world of work, this will tend to favour professionals over other categories of workers.
This will in turn herald further inequality between people in the market society that will be the spin off from the excesses of the market economy trajectory persistent in most of the world today.
But the enduring lesson in the fact of the efforts made towards development of vaccines, their distribution all over the world underscores globalisation as a thriving rather than declining reality of the world.
But, the author warns that the lingering problem is the tendency of individuals and states to make the best of globalisation when it suits them but jettison the problems inherent in multilateralism.
Noting that the book was written early in the history of the pandemic, the clarity with which the author expresses the lessons lends them to serious consideration and marks the book as a must read for anyone who wants to understand the world as it will be in a decade and as it is currently.
My best quote from the book:
“We have many futures in front of us. We could turn inward and embrace nationalism and self-interest, or we could view the global pandemic as a spur to global cooperation and action.”
This article was first published in The EastAfrican.