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Fareed Zakaria - A Political Scientist's Predictions for a Post Pandemic World

Updated: Nov 28, 2020

In his book, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, Fareed Zakaria cites Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) as stating that “there are decades when nothing happens, and then there are weeks when decades happens.” The corona virus, which is 1/10,000 the size of a period, exemplifies Lenin’s observation and has sucker-punched societies and economies, bringing both to their knees. Zakaria, a CNN journalist who earned a Ph.D. in government from Harvard, sheds light on both the potential pros and cons of the effects of the tiny, novel coronavirus with his latest tome.

Future viral outbreaks appear to be a given and Earth’s inhabitants are no strangers to such. Zakaria jars readers’ memories by recounting past outbreaks such as the bubonic plague, the Spanish flu, AIDS, SARS, and MERS. He feels that we, like Gates back in 2015, should have seen COVID-19 coming. Destroying nature’s habitats and living closer to wild animals has become a toxic brew resulting in an estimated 75 percent of human disease originating in animals. (CDC, “Zoonotic Diseases”) Zakaria quotes Peter Daszak, an eminent disease ecologist, as stating “we are doing things every day that make pandemics more likely.” Zakaria observes that livestock in factory farms have become “petri dishes for viruses.” Vox’s Sigal Samuel explains in Zakaria’s book that “selection for specific genes in farmed animals has made these animals almost genetically identical. That means that a virus can easily spread from animal to animal without encountering any genetic variants that might stop it in its tracks. As it rips through a flock or herd, the virus can grow even more virulent.”

Zakaria, like other authors, notes that a new normal exists and “it is unlikely we will ever fully go back to the past.” In other words, the virus’ effects will never be completely leeched from our lives. Employment will be greatly affected and Zakaria believes jobs in medicine will transform the fastest. He foresees a shift from treating disease to preventing it. Additionally, he predicts the rise of robots. However, he sees the goal of artificial intelligence (AI), the robotic brain, will not be to replace workers, but to refocus them. For many, the conversion will be scary. Zakaria writes that “some jobs will go away, but overall productivity will rise generating greater wealth that could help all.”

Zakaria views the weird needle COVID-19 has threaded as a great unequalizer and that inequality will get worse. He writes that the differences between poor and rich countries and places with good healthcare and those without will increase. Businesses will experience inequities as well - the Internet enables instant price comparison - and big companies will get bigger. Businesses hit proportionally hardest will be in the food and retail sectors as people gravitate toward the security of established brands. Zakaria believes that we have “moved from accepting a market economy to creating a market society where everything is seen through a lens of price. When everything can be bought, everything becomes unequal.”

International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva echoes Zakaria’s sentiments stating that emerging markets and low-income and fragile states will continue to “face a precarious situation. They have weaker health systems and are highly exposed to the most affected sectors, such as tourism and commodity exports. And they are highly dependent on external financing.” Georgieva elaborates on this theme by stating “there is also now the risk of severe economic scarring from job losses, bankruptcies, and the disruption of education. Because of this loss of capacity, we expect global output to remain well below our pre-pandemic projections over the medium term. For almost all countries, this will be a setback to the improvement of living standards. This crisis has also made inequality even worse because of its disproportionate impact on low-skilled workers, women, and young people.” (“The Long Ascent,” October 2020)

Economists note that the stock market always recovers. Similarly, “nature usually seeks an equilibrium” as Nobel prize winner Joshua Lederberg once stated. Zakaria embraces this ideal of our planet’s resiliency. He writes, “we have had ice ages, plagues, world wars, revolutions and yet we have survived and flourished.” Zakaria acknowledges that many people distrust experts but adds that “the public can grasp nuance if presented honestly.” We need competent, well-functioning governance.

Due to COVID-19, some people fear living in cities, but Zakaria credits cities with having unique advantages. “It is in cities where you meet new people, learn from mentors, and compare notes,” he writes. Zakaria observes that rideshare and meal deliveries make city life easier and that good planning can make city life safer. Skilled public policy officials can help cities by reacting to the virus aggressively and by making intelligent decisions regarding hygiene and healthcare. Additionally, Zakaria is of the opinion that cities “are built to be factories of assimilation and amalgamation.” He states that the new world will be very diverse with different ideas, industries, and people of all backgrounds, races, colors, and creeds. He pushes for a need to learn to manage diversity, rather than feel threatened.

Zakaria feels that technology is a beneficial thing, but “we need to choose to act forcefully using the vast capacity of government to make massive new investments to equip people with the skills and security they need in an age of bewildering change.” AI will create more jobs than it destroys. These newly created jobs will require new skills and necessitate significant investment in upskilling and reskilling young people and adults. But businesses and governments can, and must, work together to address this transition and embrace the positive societal benefits of artificial intelligence. (Forbes, October 2020) In its “Future of Jobs Report 2020,” the World Economic Forum estimates that 85 million jobs will be displaced while 97 million new jobs will be created across 26 countries by 2025. This optimistic metric is encouraging.

In Canada, for example, AI has a unique application. It is being used to predict which residents are at risk of becoming homeless. The Chronic Homelessness Artificial Intelligence model has a 93% success rate in predicting homelessness. The AI program is only applied to consenting individuals. Participants can quit the program at any time and their data will be removed from the model. (“AI in Canada Helping Homeless People,” The Thomson Reuters Foundation, October 2020)

Zakaria writes that there will be a new multilateralism. He believes we are all intertwined and our lives and economies are entangled. He notes that major European countries are so interdependent that starting a war would be self-defeating and would disrupt global commerce.

Despite current challenging circumstances, Zakaria points out that the U.S. continues to perform extremely well on the most basic measure of global power – economic heft. Hopefully, this strength will serve us and support his prediction of a new infrastructure, one that will promote sustainability in upcoming years.

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