Our writers survey the pandemic and ask: what now—and what next?by Tom Clark / May 7, 2020 / Leave a comment
Where do we stand? And how on earth do we get out? It’s a rare moment where an editor can be entirely confident about the two questions weighing on pretty well every reader’s mind. In this issue, we have something to say in answer to both. But because this is Prospect, it is also our role to squint over the horizon, at where things are heading next. Hence a third question: what sort of world might we find ourselves waking into, blinking, after we eventually throw off the nightmare that is Covid-19?
Taking our three questions in reverse order, we invite the esteemed historian Margaret MacMillan to paint a panoramic picture of the fallout from seven centuries of catastrophes—from the Black Death to the financial crisis, by way of the trenches. She distils immediate advice for our leaders: trust the people and tell them the truth; keep nimble amid fast-moving events; and invest all the resources you can in figuring out what you’re up against, which in the coronavirus context means testing. But above all, don’t assume that once you’ve weathered the storm, things will go back to what they were. From the Thirty Years’ War to the Great Depression, crises have eventually remade the old order. History teaches us—says MacMillan—that the precondition for this re-ordering taking a benign form is a spirit of magnanimity towards those who have endured an especially difficult crisis. Today that means not only the frail and the elderly who are especially prone to the virus, but also the low-paid young who are (see Speed Data) making the biggest financial sacrifice in the lockdown.
With public policy being radically remade at extraordinary speed, a rewriting of the social contract is moving from the realm of the unthinkable to that of the unavoidable. MacMillan also highlights how previous transnational crises, such as the Second World War, have recast relationships between different societies around the globe, and asks whether the border-busting problem of the virus could do so again.
This is where economist Dani Rodrik jumps in, picking up the challenge of President Macron’s recent remarks about the need to reconfigure globalisation. He asks what a new world order would look like if it were built from first principles. There’d be a lot more emphasis on public health, climate, even human rights, and a more relaxed approach to…