G. Patrick Lynch is a Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund.
[Editor’s note: Read Part One and Two of Lynch’s review.]
At the beginning of Chapter 9, which ultimately marks the beginning of Ferguson’s writing about our current epidemic, the author claims that while he clearly cannot write a history of the crisis as it unfolds, “the task of thinking historically about an unfolding event is not without its value. ” I hope you’ll forgive me if I admit to you that my first thought upon reading this sentence was, “Well, Neil, it’s definitely worth it.” you!” The value of this particular book project to the reader is an entirely different matter.
So what is the value here? What can we gain from this attempt to think historically about disaster, plague, death and destruction? There seems to be some value if the reader does not approach this project as a book per, because it’s not really a coherent book-length project. It is rather a mess. But in that mess there are some very interesting observations about the limitations of politics, the challenges of the current crisis, and even how we reacted as individuals when it was happening. If you think of this book as a collection of essays, despite the disconnect, some things are worth reading and other chapters are best avoided.
For example, chapter 9 was probably dated to the moment the book was printed and now looks more like it. Yes, the US and UK’s initial response to the pandemic was random and costly lives; However looking at one side still With China partially locked down and economically crippled in 2022, one wonders if the Chinese leadership is simply stalling the inevitable. Moreover, as he wrote, Ferguson seemed to ignore the public’s exhaustion with taking drastic measures against a disease that even he acknowledged was fatal to a certain subgroup (the elderly and co-morbid). That weariness is finally all over the world.
Now compare it to an older chapter: Chapter 10. In it, Ferguson reviews the economic consequences of the pandemic and the lockdown. He noted that Imperial College London’s now widely dismissed and flawed model of the potential mortality rate of the Covid virus also ignored the social, economic and political realities of human life. He noted that the excess mortality rates of the United States and Sweden were remarkably similar at the time, a fact that became clearer and clearer over time. Lockdowns do not seem to be helping to control deaths and they have certainly worsened the social and economic toll of the epidemic. His review of social unrest in the summer of 2020 is more uneven and now looks poised for rehabilitation, but his point about the partisan nature of the pandemic and the response is dead-on, even if his social overview seems dated.
Whatever one thinks of Ferguson’s theories on empire and global hegemony, his final chapter addresses how, at the time, he saw more clearly that the growing conflict between China and the United States was the new Cold War. I don’t think I have to rub it in, but apparently Russia messed it up for him. Pity the political soothsayer. While China is clearly siding with Russia in its aggression in Ukraine, one cannot look at the current Chinese covid policy and slowing economic growth and see the Chinese leadership as the same rising adversary. appeared Handled the virus better than the US. Moreover, the relatively strong American and European response to helping Ukraine has likely given China more pause in looking longingly at Taiwan as a future Hong Kong, especially in light of the way Beijing has chosen to govern the region. Any Western leader who does not recognize what will happen in Taiwan will be hard-pressed to explain why he is taking action against China. So here again, Ferguson’s claims and theories are not particularly outdated.
I guess if I had to sum up this review in one sentence it would be this – the first part of this book is much better than the last parts, but the point is that Ferguson’s book gave us a way to understand how intellectuals and scholars were responding to the pandemic in real time. If you want to revisit old discussions and controversies from the lockdown period, this book will revive old, perhaps unpleasant memories. What have we learned for the next pandemic or disaster? This reviewer believes that the main lesson from Covid was political skepticism and a healthy dose of faith in individuals and markets that build wealth as a form of broader resilience; It is not clear to me that Ferguson has highlighted these points sufficiently.