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Dr. Sanjay Gupta: If there’s one question I get more than any other, it’s “When is this all going to be over and what will the future look like?” I wish I knew. But the truth is no one really knows what our post-pandemic lives will be like.
Most states are beginning to reopen, while others are still continuing restrictions. But for now, the future remains a mystery.
Every day this week, I’m going to be talking to experts from all different fields about what we can expect in the months and years to come. The future of travel, education, surveillance and more.
To kick it all off, I couldn’t think of anyone else better to talk to than my friend and colleague, Fareed Zakaria. His show, “GPS,” is a forum for discussion on global affairs, featuring conversations with political and business leaders from around the world. I’ve always valued his perspective as a political scientist and generally very smart guy. So I turned to him for insight on our post-pandemic future.
To start off, I asked Fareed what his biggest fear was for the future.
Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s “GPS”: I think there’s no question that the biggest danger that comes out of this pandemic is that we enter a cold war with China.
If this takes us down a path of greater and greater confrontation with China, the world’s second largest economy, the most populous country in the world, that’s a whole new ball game, and that takes us into a very different world than the world of global stability and globalization and economic interdependence that we’ve lived in for the last 30 years. That’s the part I’m watching most closely.
And right now, Sanjay, the signs are not great. I mean these kind of conflicts start in strange ways. And the issue of where this virus originated has taken on such a charged political feeling, and that’s all mirrored in China. The Chinese also have their conservatives. They also have their nationalist sentiment. They also have their populist sentiment.
So it’s a combustible mixture.
Gupta: You know, it strikes me, you know, from a public health perspective, there is no doubt that there was little information in the beginning about this virus and some of the information that we know has changed. Does that sort of translate ultimately into distrust? What is the right sort of path of leadership when you’re dealing with little information or evolving information?
Zakaria: If you go back to those early days, it’s absolutely clear that the Chinese local health officials didn’t realize what they were dealing with, mishandled it. But the path of leadership to me would be to recognize, “Look, what’s done is done.”
It’s not going to save one human life to attack the Chinese, but it is going to save a lot of lives if we can put this behind us and find a way to cooperate, cooperate on a vaccine, cooperate on how do you reopen world trade, how do you reopen world travel, how do you get cures out?
I mean, I think one of the great examples during the Cold War is even though the United States and the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at each other, they collaborated on a campaign to rid the world of smallpox, and they actually worked together to vaccinate as many countries as was possible.
Imagine if we could come out of this, because this is a pandemic that affects everybody, and say the United States and the Europeans and the Chinese got together and said, “We are going to vaccinate the world.” That would be leadership because that’s going to change the world.
Gupta: Yeah. I’ve been reading a lot of your writing, all of it, I think, and watching your programs, as I always do. And I’m really interested in how you’ve been talking about politics. You have the fringe right, you have the fringe left, who in some ways have both felt emboldened by this in some way. Where do you think this global crisis is going to take us in the course of politics around the world?
Zakaria: By nature, this should draw us together. It somehow should make us recognize our common humanity because it affects the rich and the poor. It affects you no matter what your skin color. It affects you no matter what your borders. But it hasn’t. It’s drawn us to be more insular, more narrow.
But I think, again, this is temporary, because I think fundamentally what this points to is the reality of the interdependence of our modern world. And you quickly come to realize that the only win-win solution here is cooperation. The only way you’re actually going to manage to make this all better, because we are going to start at some point focusing on how do you get the economy back? How do you get growth back?
Well, the way you get growth back is by buying and selling from other people. If we want to raise the living standards of our citizens and get so many of these people who are unemployed now back into work, we’ve got to get the world economy started, not just the U.S. economy. And so I’m hoping that we move in that direction. I’m also hoping that one of the things that this crisis shows us is the limits to that kind of populist [thinking], “We don’t need experts.”
And I’m hoping that this kind of crisis makes people realize, you know, there’s a value for somebody who’s actually spent his life studying medicine, who’s still a practicing surgeon like you. I mean, it’s that kind of thing that has value in every part of our lives, except for some reason in public discourse, where the loudest voice, not the most learned voice, wins.
Gupta: Let me ask you, Fareed, about the economy. This is not an area of my expertise, but obviously the news is not good. Are we facing, do you think, a global depression?
Zakaria: I don’t think anyone knows for sure, Sanjay, because it is truly a unique event. We’ve never seen anything like it. We literally put the economy into a coma. I think of it as the Great Paralysis rather than the Great Depression because you just paralyze the economy.
I think the key issue that I don’t think people are focusing enough on and markets certainly don’t seem to focus enough on: When you restart it first, it’s not going to go back to 100 percent. The United States will be spared the worst, even though I think it will be very tough, because we uniquely have the ability to essentially print money.
The United States will borrow $3 trillion this quarter. That is more than it borrowed, I think, in the entire global financial crisis of 2008, 2009. But we can do it because the United States has, you know, the infinite capacity, because it is the world’s reserve currency. It is the — seen as the most stable economy in the world. Very few countries have that option.
Gupta: And I don’t want to be alarmist at all. But if you do look back at the previous model, I guess, of the influenza pandemic of 1918. If we’re looking at that sort of timeline, which people have suggested is possible, given the vaccine production that is necessary and all that, what then of the economy? Can we continue to print money? Even with our status?
Zakaria: Then I think it really separates the very small number of countries that have that capacity — United States, Japan, Germany, China — from a lot of the others. I think the big ones will still be able to because, you know, you have to put your money somewhere. There is not a lot of good options. And as long as the United States is the cleanest shirt in the hamper, even if it’s a hamper full of very dirty clothes, you still have that advantage.
But Sanjay, I think it’s going to be very tough in terms of the economy and the livelihoods of people, because we live in a very different world. Our economies are now so interconnected. There’s so much cross-border everything, investment, trade, you know. And so it’s not that easy to start up again.
Gupta: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Do you think that we’re gonna see any long-term shifts away from cities during this time or even in the aftermath?
I still think cities will still retain that sense of being centers and communities of civilization because of the art, the culture, the restaurants. And I think that, you know, a vaccine gets us past a lot of that. The larger question, it seems to me, is are we living in a way that makes these kind of epidemics, pandemics, really more and more likely?
You know, with the way in which we’re destroying the natural habitat of so many animals, like bats; with the kind of factory farming where you crowd cattle together and, you know, inches from each other, and it’s almost a petri dish where viruses are going to jump and get stronger as they jump; global warming, which makes everything hotter and intensifies all these trends. You know, is this a moment for us to pause and say, “Yeah, we want to get back to normal, but maybe it’s time to rethink what normal means.”
The old normal was quite risky. And that there are ways to just approach nature in a way that is more mindful of the fact that if you wreak havoc on nature, nature can wreak havoc on you.
Gupta: Fareed’s outlook, like mine, is cautiously optimistic. I choose to believe that amid all this bad news is hope for a future that looks different but feels the same and is somehow still better.
We’ll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.