Reviewing Zakaria Fareed’s Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World

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Dr Nadia Anwar

Zakaria’s contribution to the ever-growing discourse on COVID-19 charts out the transforming relationship between countries and people. Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, in this respect, turns out to be a self-help book that not only critiques the strategies and measures which failed the powerful states of the world but also brings forth how economic, social, and political disruptions prepare the world for impending crises and leave a lasting effect on human lives. “The spiky blob” as described by The New York Times, changed the very pace and potential of human life, thus prompting a self-reflection and an understanding of the continual nature of apocalyptic events and preparing us for a changing world.
Well-versed in the historical contexts that shaped the fate of nations, Zakaria draws the attention of his readers to the crucial impact pandemic had in defusing their absolute power just as a small glitch in software causes the whole system to shut down. Massive destructions have happened with apparently trivial irritants. The plague in Athens failed in a state and all its claims to democratic excellence. Similarly, the bubonic plague of the 1330s wiped out half of the population of Europe.
The writer talks about the three shocks that caused disruption in the flow of history: the first, 9/11, had a political dimension; the second, the Great Depression, pertained to the financial crunch; and the third is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected humanity at multiple levels – economic paralysis, psychological breakdown, isolation and loneliness. Hence all the more reason to understand this post-pandemic world which Zakaria does in the form of “Ten Lessons.”
In “Lesson One: Buckle Up,” the writer, while applauding human resilience in the face of plagues, ice age and draughts advises a check on the continued economic growth that is likely to threaten biodiversity and cause an increased risk of diseases. Zakaria advises us to become conscious and prepare ourselves by taking preventive measures. For example, climate change cannot be stopped, but the scale can be reduced through preventive measures and future policies, the cost of which is minuscule as compared to economic loss caused by the natural crisis. Hence, building resilience creates stability.
Zakaria realizes that despite various ecological disasters in North America, Americans have not learnt the lesson that unplanned development provokes a backlash; for example, the bad weather and Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the hottest year of 1934. Climate change and tropical environment provide hospitable conditions for diseases which later spread plagues. These diseases are now used as weapons for wars because in this era of technology countries conspire against each other and fight through these bioweapons.
Through “Lesson Two: What Matters Is Not the Quantity of Government but the Quality,” the writer proceeds by ironically mentioning a press release of Johns Hopkins University which states that the United States have an exceptional health care system. Despite this claim, the novel coronavirus had a ten times higher daily death rate in the US than in European countries. This is because the president downplayed the pandemic by not following the guidelines given by scientists.
Other countries were able to emerge out of the pandemic in a far better manner than America despite its scientific and technological advancements. In this case, according to the writer, dominance led to complacency. The writer concludes the chapter by suggesting that what matters in the development of a nation is the quality of a government and not its size.
Zakaria starts “Lesson Three: Markets Are Not Free” by suggesting that the issues and problems related to the economy in the world can be solved through the open market. In such markets, apart from the agenda of redistribution, public services are considered investments and labour feel less insecure. For a greater level of globalization government(s) should find solutions for the problems related to foreign competition and technology. Grown up in socialist India, the writer highlights the power of dynamic markets that transform societies.
In “Lesson Four: People Should Listen to the Experts and Experts Should Listen to the People,” Zakaria emphasizes the need to listen to the experts in times of crisis. Countries such as the US, Brazil, and Mexico suffered because their presidents did not listen to the advice of their experts. On the other hand, the role of experts should be to help people understand how science is working for them by not creating miracles but by learning and discovering things. If wars are handled by the Generals, pandemics should be handled by the experts.
“Lesson Five: Life is Digital,” describes how the pandemic has opened doors to a much broader transformation. After the Spanish flu, US President Warren G Harding announced people’s “return to normalcy” that does not happen every time because “history does not always repeat itself”. The post-Spanish flu world had to come back to normal because there was no other option available. Today, life has become digital which allowed COVID-19 to ease restrictions. The digital economy has allowed people to have appointments through video chats, take online classes and pay bills etc. without any hassle. It is now impossible that we go back to the material economy.
In “Lesson Six: Aristotle Was Right-We are Social Animals,” Zakaria shares his love for small cities that are full even when they are quiet. Remote work tools such as Zoom, online chats, and online education can be beneficial but cannot substitute human contact. The best model is a hybrid. Zakaria reiterates that humans are social animals and are shaped by nature and surroundings. Humans create cities and cities create humans.
In “Lesson Seven: Inequality Will Get Worse,” Zakaria calls the pandemic a great equalizer because diseases are blind to race, class, and nationality. He gives an account of his land where he has seen the villages converting into towns and the mortality rate declining. Due to COVID-19, progress has been reversed causing low income in developing countries. Moreover, there are fewer hospitals in developing countries as compared to developed countries. Hence, inequality has increased. If we face another pandemic, we should keep everyone safe, irrespective of economic class.
“Lesson Eight: Globalization Is Not Dead,” explains the paradoxical feature of pandemics that is tied up with globalization. Despite the arguments encouraging de-globalization, in tackling the COVID-19 outbreak, countries spoke about the dangers of dependence and favoured globalization. Moreover, globalization has flourished because countries can excel economically in certain areas. It will last until we kill it.
Through “Lesson Nine: The World Is Becoming Bipolar,” the writer critiques the system by referring to the economic depression of 2008, political unrest, deteriorating quality of life and widespread use of drugs that have affected the American dream. COVID-19 served as the icing on the cake. It not only made the matters worse but also unravelled the reality and standards of administration and healthcare facilities and the decline of America as a nation.
Meanwhile, the rest of the first world particularly, China managed the crisis wonderfully well. Following the pattern of the fall of the British empire, the gradual shift of power to China and its economic and industrial boom caused major concern in the American ranks.
Decades ago, the US could make any country kneel but now things have changed. China’s increasing GDP has set the base for the bipolar international system accounting for the 16% of the global GDP. Being the largest manufacturer and the 2nd largest importer, China has the biggest foreign exchange reserves. No doubt, the two nations are competing with each other but they are far ahead of the rest of the world.
In “Lesson Ten: Sometimes the Greatest Realists Are the Idealists,” the writer talks about how nations shut their borders due to COVID-19. Trump’s strategy during the pandemic appealed to American nationalism as he blamed China for spreading the disease. During the crisis, the leaders became nationalistic, while self-interest and self-reliance became their slogans. Leaders like Trump advocated the narrow vision that they were protecting the interest of the state, without realizing that the world is built on collective endeavours.
Zakaria concludes with the message that there is a need for a functional multilateral system that solves our problems. The liberal international order is far better as it has helped many people. The idealism lying under liberalism is simple if people cooperate with each other, they will get better than when they act alone. The writer concludes the chapter with the advice that “it is not a flight of fancy to believe that cooperation can change the world. It is common sense.”
This well-sketched book is a must for any person conscious about the transforming global realities and worried about human existence on the planet