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DISCLAIMER: This is an unofficial summary and analysis.
About Fareed Zakaria
Fareed Zakaria is an Indian-American author and journalist. He also works as a political commentator. He is the author of several books, including The Post-American World and In Defense Of A Liberal Education. Several of his books have been New York Best Sellers, and he has also won the National Magazine Award. Zakaria writes a column each week for The Washington Post and has worked as a columnist for Newsweek. He hosts CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and has worked as an editor of Newsweek International and an editor at large of Time.
Zakaria has a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University and was born in India. He won the India Abroad Person of the Year in 2008. He holds honorary degrees from multiple universities, including the University of Miami and Johns Hopkins University.
Ten Lessons For a Post-Pandemic World foresees the nature of a post-pandemic world. It considers the upcoming political, social, technological, and economic consequences. In his ten “lessons,” Fareed Zakaria invites us to think about how we are social animals with community and cooperation embedded in our nature. He concludes by considering the degree to which nothing is written in stone and that the future is in our own hands.
StoryShot #1: The First Lesson is to Buckle Up
“Everyone is connected, but no one is in control. In other words, the world we live in is open, fast — and thus, almost by definition, unstable.”— Fareed Zakaria.
Technology has advanced considerably over the last few decades, but instead of stopping and thinking about how to keep ourselves safe, we have continued to expand. Zakaria describes this as humans having built the fastest sports car ever imaginable. However, we are driving it into the unknown with no seatbelts on. We haven’t equipped any airbags, and we haven’t purchased any insurance. Driving this sports car makes us feel innovative, modern, and powerful, but we experience crashes along the way. These crashes are getting worse with time.
Despite these crashes, we still haven’t stopped to consider the safety precautions we need. Instead, we pull the vehicle over, tune up the suspension, and fix the engine. We continue to make our cars faster and faster, and yet we put ourselves in more profound danger. Zakaria believes the pandemic is an example of a massive crash. He quotes Larry Brilliant’s idea that “Outbreaks are inevitable but pandemics are optional.” We can’t stop the crashes, but we can control their impact. We should not continue our unsustainable expansion after the pandemic. Instead, we should use this as an opportunity to contemplate the necessary safety precautions. We need to buckle up.
StoryShot #2: The Second Lesson is to Improve the Quality of Government
America believed it was too powerful to collapse financially and politically, but the pandemic has proven us all wrong. Many people have started to associate COVID-19 with political polarization and economic dysfunction. Businesses are in turmoil and there are major debates on both sides about the best way to handle the situation. America may remain the most powerful nation for military personnel, but this means nothing if America’s lives are in danger.
America is becoming more inward-looking and obsessed with being patriotic. It is missing the opportunity to influence world politics and stand at the forefront of innovation. Most of the world has regarded America as a beacon of knowledge for many years, but America now needs to learn from the rest of the world. It needs to improve the quality of its government and incorporate political stability. This allows it to protect its citizens and their quality of life.
StoryShot #3: The Third Lesson is That Markets Do Not Dictate Happiness
“You could choose to live in either America or Denmark. In high-tax Denmark, your disposable income after taxes and transfers would be around $15,000 lower than in the States. But in return for your higher tax bill, you would get universal health care (one with better outcomes than in the US), free education right up through the best graduate schools, worker retraining programs on which the state spends seventeen times more as a percentage of GDP than what is spent in America, as well as high-quality infrastructure, mass transit, and many beautiful public parks and other spaces. Danes also enjoy some 550 more hours of leisure time a year than Americans do. If the choice were put this way—you can take the extra $15,000 but have to work longer hours, take fewer vacation days, and fend for yourself on health care, education, retraining, and transport—I think most Americans would choose the Danish model.”— Fareed Zakaria.
Zakaria accepts that markets with appropriate regulations ensure a relatively level playing field. However, the market performing well does not mean society is performing well. Currently, science, technology, and education in America lack crucial funding. Therefore, Zakaria suggests America needs to take a leaf out of the Nordic countries’ economic policies. This is the only way America can continue to compete with worldwide technological and economic development. America should continue to accept the importance of markets and understand that some fields need more support. This does not mean we should adopt a carbon copy of Denmark’s economic policies. Instead, America needs to adopt some of these foundations and apply them to America’s reality.
StoryShot #4: The Fourth Lesson is that Experts and People Need to Develop Mutual Respect
The pandemic and recent American elections have highlighted that people are starting to trust experts less. Part of the problem is that experts have become an elite group who develop power and authority based on their knowledge. Certain countries have pushed back against this elitism, including America and Brazil. This has led to governments built on celebrations of ignorance rather than knowledge. These governments form policies based on populism rather than facts.
America and Brazil’s COVID-19 responses show that rejecting experts’ opinions does not produce good results. However, the responsibility also lies with the experts. Experts must learn to connect with people and avoid an elitist bubble. The most destructive thinking is believing that your success makes you superior in your society. After all, in democracies, at least, the wishes of the population are the ultimate source of authority.
StoryShot #5: The Fifth Lesson is That The Digital World Is Here to Stay
“The movement to digital is fast and broad and real. But perhaps one of its deepest consequences will be to make us cherish the things in us that are most humans.”— Fareed Zakaria.
The pandemic pushed us closer to our technology. It has encouraged people to consider the possibility of us becoming completely dependent on computers and artificial intelligence. However, Zakaria argues that we are already practically at this point. A phone in our pocket has greater access to information than any person could possess, and can solve complex tasks in nanoseconds. Many of our systems depend on technology.
Despite this, Zakaria doesn’t believe we are at a stage where we mistake our technology for our friends. Instead, technology has the potential to make us value our human companions even more. The pandemic has highlighted that humans are more than problem solvers. Humans are brave, loyal, generous, faithful, and loving. At the moment, technology is none of these things.
We rate this book 4.3/5.
This article was first published in 2021. It was updated and improved in May 2022.
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