Globalization May Be the Greatest Victim of the Coronavirus

Even though the Covid-19 infection is still on the rise in much of the world there is some hope it can be slowed down to where it can be managed as a chronic public health problem.

The ideal goal in fighting an epidemic or pandemic is to completely halt the spread. But merely slowing it — mitigation — is critical. This reduces the number of cases that are active at any given time, which in turn gives doctors, hospitals, police, schools and vaccine-manufacturers time to prepare and respond, without becoming overwhelmed. Most hospitals can function with 10 percent reduction in staff, but not with half their people out at once.

Should it ever settle down, the lasting impact of Covid-19 will probably be cultural. Physically the pandemic has seemingly left the world's infrastructure untouched. The accumulated deaths, while tragic, appear thankfully few compared to war. What obviously died was the confidence of the End of History. What Covid-19 ended was the illusion of control. Before the virus, world leaders had big plans for the future. Now they will be happy to survive the present.

As with every crisis, there will probably be some winners. Telecommuting, online learning, delivery services, cleaning gangs, failover suppliers, etc., may see an uptick. The New York Times:

The global spread of the coronavirus is reigniting efforts by the Trump administration to encourage more American manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and reduce dependence on China for the drugs and medical products that fuel the federal health care system. ...

The administration has been preparing an executive order, which could be released in the coming days, that would close loopholes allowing the government to purchase pharmaceuticals, face masks, ventilators and other medical products from foreign countries. The hope is that increasing government demand for American-made drugs and medical products will provide an incentive for companies to make their products in the United States, rather than China.

To help facilitate such production, the White House is also pushing for streamlined regulatory approvals for American-made products and more detailed labeling of the origin of products made offshore, these people said.

One of the losers may be the idea of globalization. "Well before a deadly virus began spreading across multiple borders, a world defined by deepening interconnection appeared to be reassessing the merits of globalization," wrote Peter Goodman of the NYT.

The United States, led by the unabashed nationalist Donald J. Trump, was ordering multinational companies to abandon China and make their goods in American factories. Britain was forsaking the European Union ...

A surge of refugees fleeing some of the most dangerous places on earth — Syria, Afghanistan, Central America — had produced a backlash against immigration in many developed countries. ...

"The coronavirus that has seeped out of China, insinuating itself into at least 81 countries while killing more than 3,200 people" may prove the death blow to a lot of political projects. "It has sown chaos in the global supply chain that links factories across borders and oceans." The public is discovering that a lot of mid-20th-century progressive social engineering -- communal kitchens, high-density housing, public transportation, daycare -- is surprisingly dangerous in a truly connected world. As a result of recent reversals, Bernie Sanders may be walking into what the NYT calls the "Open Borders Trap":

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont vows a moratorium on deportations and a move to “break up” ICE. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts joined him in pledging to make border crossings a civil, not criminal offense, before leaving the race this week. Both would include undocumented migrants in their plans for universal health insurance (as did the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg, a moderate who also left the race recently).

What was only recently a promise is now a threat.

But although the physical and human damage to the world may seem at any instant slight, it is unremitting. The disruption could grind on, like the trench warfare of the Great War, without an obvious end and cumulatively produce changes that go far beyond their immediate effect. The hopeful assumption that the ordeal will soon be over may prove as illusory as the 1914 generation's belief they would be "home before the leaves fall."

The echoes of Covid-19 may reverberate for a long time. Epidemics, like the waves of the sea, can come in succession. Research suggests that epidemic waves could be a periodic function of social networks themselves. The global world has become tuned to certain reverberations and nature is ringing it like a wind chime.

Epidemics of infectious diseases are frequently characterized by multiple waves of infection. Notably, the 1918 influenza pandemic spread through several US and European cities in multiple waves with local variation in the frequency and timing of individual epidemic peaks ...

Community structure—aggregation into highly intraconnected but loosely interconnected groups—is a common feature of social contact networks that can potentially drive multiwave epidemics as a disease spreads through one group before emerging in another. ...

Our results suggest that ordinary contact patterns can produce multiwave epidemics at the scale of a single urban area without the temporal shifts that are usually assumed to be responsible. Understanding the role of community structure in epidemic dynamics allows officials to anticipate epidemic resurgence without having to forecast future changes in hosts, pathogens, or the environment.

Instead of a rapid return to normalcy societies may experience a long period of adjustment in social distance norms, travel regulations, supply chain arrangements, personal privacy, and political norms. These will effectively produce a whole new world. The old global system may be in for a long siege and it is unclear that it will ever be the same again.

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Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, by Jim Mattis and Bing West. This is a book on leadership as seen through Jim Mattis's storied career, from his wide-ranging leadership roles in three wars to ultimately commanding a quarter of a million troops across the Middle East.

The Centurions, by Jean Larteguy. Now back in print, this military cult classic has resonance to the wars in Iraq and Vietnam. When it was first published in 1960, readers were riveted by the thrilling account of soldiers fighting for survival in hostile environments. They were equally transfixed by the chilling moral question the novel posed: how to fight when the “age of heroics is over.” As relevant today as it was half a century ago, this book is an extended symposium on waging war in a new global order and an essential investigation of the ethics of counterinsurgency.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert A. Caro. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and chosen by the Modern Library as one of the hundred greatest books of the 20th century, this book is a galvanizing biography of one man's incredible accumulation of power, as well as the story of the shaping and mis-shaping of New York in the 20th century.

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Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

Open Curtains by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. Technology represents both unlimited promise and menace. Which transpires depends on whether people can claim ownership over their knowledge or whether human informational capital continues to suffer the Tragedy of the Commons.

The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free

The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

Storming the Castle, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.

Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific.