Jeremi sits down with Adam Tooze to discuss the affects of Coronavirus on the global and U.S. economy.
Zachary sets the scene with his poem, “Fallen”.
Adam Tooze is the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of History at Columbia University. He is a leading economic historian and expert on the contemporary global economy. He is the author of numerous prize-winning book: Statistics and the German State 1900-1945: The Making of Modern Economic Knowledge (2001), Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (2006), The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931 (2014), and Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (2018). Tooze frequently comments on current affairs for the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among other publications. You can follow him on Twitter: @adam_tooze.
Unknown Speaker 0:05
This is Democracy, a podcast that explores the interracial intergenerational and intersectional unheard voices living in the world’s
most influential democracy.
Jeremi Suri 0:17
Welcome to our new episode of This is Democracy. Today, we are talking to one of the leading economic historians in the world today and an expert on contemporary economic pathologies if I might say an expert on economic crashes. My friend Adam, Adam is the Katherine and Shelby Calum Davis professor of history at Columbia University. He’s the author of a number of books that all of my students are familiar with wages of destruction, which is one of my all time favorites, the making and breaking of the Nazi economy. A book that actually highlights Nazi concerns about American economic competitiveness on the eve of World War Two He’s also written the deludes the Great War and the remaking of the global order crashed his most recent book, how a decade of financial crises change the world. And then an older book statistics and the German state 1900 to 1945. Most recently, Adam has been publishing prolifically, putting me to shame publishing in The Guardian, The New York Times The Washington Post on issues related to the current economic crisis. Adam, thanks for taking the time away from your writing to talk to us. So thanks
Adam Tooze 1:31
for having me on the show.
Jeremi Suri 1:33
Before we turn to Adam, we have of course, Zachary series scene setting poem, Zachary. What’s the title of your poem today? fallen, fallen? Well, let’s hear it.
Zachary Suri 1:45
Fallen. We are all waiting on the edge of a ravine we are all staring into some vision of future doom. We’re all waiting on the edge of a ravine six feet apart, trying to cover our mouths when we cough. We are all falling off some Everest. Like peak in the timeline of history, all sleeping in the same dreamlike state. And all that was true is wrong and everything that was false is now some crude approach for those who can even remember anything else. There was never a time like this before. Never have we fallen so gloriously together down the dark ravine of economic forecasts, like downhill headlights trying to illuminate the bends with steep mountain road, as if some bitter recollection of the prosperity of strip malls and waterslide. America. We are sliding into the uncertain future of the fallen. The way the airplanes wait patiently on the tarmac fallen out of the sky, the way the restaurants are all locked, and we are in our sweat pants waiting for the hard rebuke of the ground. And that is not to be a pessimist. For the grass now untrampled, the translucent leaves of the oak branches unpolluted. It was also beautiful this afternoon, walking in with my neighbors along the empty streets.
Jeremi Suri 2:58
Zachary the last stanza reminds me A bit of TS Eliot, did you have that in mind? Yeah, a little bit. What What is your poem about?
Zachary Suri 3:04
my poem is really about what it’s like, as a nation to find yourself on, really on the edge and in the middle of a major economic crisis after so many years of economic boom, and in many ways, how sudden, but also dangerous, it feels.
Jeremi Suri 3:23
Right. Right. Well, that’s a perfect spot to turn to Adam. Adam, we’re historians and and and this podcast is about the history of democracy and its relevance for today. How can history help us to understand this moment?
Adam Tooze 3:39
Well, I think there are several different ways in which historians might help and many colleagues who put their shoulders to the wheel over the last couple of weeks. I mean, the people I don’t I know and not the people best suited to really help who are the historians of public health historians of the influenza epidemic of 1918 1919. They obviously have have knowledge and expertise which is immediately relevant. But I think there’s another genre of historian who’ve been called upon, notably those who work on board economies. Recently, there’s been a whole slew of excellent articles that I read recommended foreign policy by Nick Mulder, a former student of mine. Yeah, an excellent piece in financial times, if you’ve got access to that site, take a bunch of British historians. And then I think there’s also a roundup on Bloomberg. So really, a lot of people have gotten engaged in in quite naturally, I think in this this question of what the crisis means for the necessity of mobilization, clearly, we need to change the structure of production. And all of those also, I think, make the kind of adverse comment, which is the one that I take up really in the in the Washington Post, which is that, which is that history can also help us to understand the uniqueness of this crisis. And I think that’s really you know, where what history provides is that it helps us both to think of parallels analogies and similarities, which may be helpful in confronting our current reality but also warns us and alerts us when, when something truly radical and unprecedented occurs as did this morning with the release of the labor market numbers for the United States with more than 3 million new people signing on for unemployment insurance in the US, this is completely unprecedented in its severity to shock like none other, it’s 10 times worse, roughly speaking than what we saw in the worst months of the 2008 nine crisis. Ultimately, the unemployment during the Great Depression in the 30s. But you know, accumulated too far more, but even then there was no month quite like the week that we’ve seen. And we have more weeks to come as there’s closure as this closure bites. Yeah. So so that too, is a useful role for historians is to is to remind us that in fact, maybe something that we’re confronting is radically new. I think climate change fits in the same topic. Category have radically new problems. And to sharpen our awareness, therefore, of just how difficult our situation is, how complex it is, and and how we can’t really escape, in other words, also the present that we’re in, right, so we cannot leap back to some preferred world for which we have a solution in a sense, you know, Pearl Harbor analogies always strike me as a little bit too. comforting. They’re almost a bit of escapism escapism because we know how that story ended. And despite the casualties, it ended well, our side one and it was a good war. And we prevailed. And the the horrifying thing about our current moment is that it doesn’t have any of that clarity or certainty, not for any one of us individually, not for our families, our loved ones, the most vulnerable that we may know, and not for us collectively.
Jeremi Suri 6:52
Right. In most of our conversations, Adam about other policy issues on this podcast and in other settings. We’re usually looking, as you said, for historical analogy or a historical setting, to give us some comfort in some comparison to move forward. you’re arguing here as you’re doing the washington post that that this moment is truly unprecedented. If that’s true, which I’m sure it is, what do we do with that?
Adam Tooze 7:18
Well, then I think we have to start this is what I like about that move is that then it forces you to really look at, at the present the minute there’s no, you know, there’s there’s no point in spending a lot of time, you know, trying to look for big broad parallels to something that happened in 1929. What you have to do ruthlessly, endlessly is just throw yourself into the immediate present. So I spent all afternoon looking back at the reports put together by the IMF, the International Monetary Fund and the BA is the Bank of International Settlements. That’s the club of central bankers who last fall in October, November, December, we’re putting out alarming reports about the state of global debt at that moment. Four months ago, which now of course appear even more alarming in light of what’s happened in global financial markets in the last two weeks, but my awareness of and super significance of the messages that they were giving us then is even more heightened, if you like by the reality of the last two weeks. So I think you have to orientate yourself immediately in the present. This doesn’t mean of course, that there aren’t some general conclusions that you can draw. It’s it’s likely that you know, if stock markets plunged and investors will run to safety in subject like US Treasuries, government debt, which are one of the safe havens, except that that didn’t even happen last week. And the week before that, again, it that bench slide of normality, where we have an inverse relationship between riskier and less risky assets that broke down why because everyone was panicking. The only kind of financial asset that anyone wanted was cash. And under those circumstances, even gold sold off
Jeremi Suri 9:00
So again, you have that, you know, what philosophers call is a dialectical relationship between thesis antithesis, similarity and difference oscillates backwards and forwards. Right. And it does seem that we’ve moved whether consciously or not into a new a new deal analogy and thinking about what to do about this the way our stimulus packages have been discussed and various other things. Are you warning against that as well?
Adam Tooze 9:26
I do think it’s wrong. Yeah, I think it’s the wrong analogy, because stimulus isn’t the point here. And this is also why the world war two analogy is so misleading, because in the war, of course, the point is mobilization in a stimulus. The idea is to use government spending to create a chain reaction which dynamize is the private economy and puts people back to work. And that’s the opposite of what we need. I mean, what we’re actually trying to do is if you like in juicer kind of like a medically induced coma in the economy put on life support, knock the economy out for a period of two to three months. And then the purpose of the $2 trillion, and there will need to be more that is being injected is to tide people over right to enable us to get through this without excessive scarring. Because the real worry when you do this in the same way as if you actually put a patient in an intensive care unit on a ventilator that there is lasting damage, this is the you know, we’re right now obsessed with getting places on ventilators. I had unfortunately a brother in law who died on a ventilator and I can tell you, that’s not a place you want to be ever right because it does permanent damage to your body. And it does permanent damage to you psychologically because they they put you under with opiates, but you’re not actually fully unconscious. So you live in a kind of zombie like state as your body is kept alive. It’s absolutely horrifying. And that’s what we’re doing to the national economy right now. We you know, we are all looking at windows Hey, in New York, I can see businesses slowly dying in front of my eyes and the question is, can we through various Means of makeshift through credits through government assistance, keep them alive in a diminished and weakened state such that say in July they can reopen and that business will still be there. It is it conceivable that that one could do this what you’ve laid out that one could in essence, put the economy in a coma and then revive it from a coma to something that would look like what we thought of as a global and national economy before. We’ve never done it before. So it’s possible but it is a gigantic experiment. But But flat out we’ve just never done it before. There are historical analogies to economies which are suddenly shut down, but they’re all very unattractive. So the end of communism in the Soviet Union, the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, or Imperial Japan or the beginning of World War One when people didn’t understand what the war was going to be about, and they thought it was basically a kind of national holiday to prove you know, Europe’s manhood. And that turned out to be a misunderstanding. But in the first two months of the war, there was unemployment and the financial markets sold off the Before they realized this was going to be a war, total mobilization. But those are our only even remote equivalences. To this, there is no other moment where we have systematically employed the power of the state and not just in one place in one city. We’re now doing it across all of the major advanced economies to civil taneous. Lee shut them down. So it’s an astonishingly daring experiment which we’ve tumbled into and you can see the pushback. Right and you it’s obviously I find the actions of the President Trump appalling and profoundly irresponsible, but it’s easy to sympathize with. In fact, I don’t know what your household is like, but in our household, each one of us sort of basically day by day struggles and the others in the household have to help that individual who at that moment is struggling with the logic of quarantine, you know, yes, yes, we have to do this. This is an you know, this doesn’t make any sense. Look, there are still people outside No, nevertheless, we nevertheless have to keep it locked up. It’s a it’s a it’s a truly schizophrenia situation to find ourselves in. And it’s a measure of I think of the degeneracy of American politics right now that it’s finding it so difficult to, to, you know, hold the line, which is indeed a very difficult line to toe.
Zachary Suri 13:11
What are the likely consequences if we do not handle this crisis? Well for United States global economic standing?
Adam Tooze 13:20
Well, I mean, I think that the immediate consequences that we end up in a really bad equilibrium Game Theorists have ways of theorizing the situation that we’re in. And it this is a sort of Prisoner’s Dilemma type problem where if we can all cooperate to effect a massive shutdown, then the period of shutdown is short, the number of casualties is small, and the whole thing ends up looking like a success of national policy. Our basic standards of political judgment and public conduct are confirmed and it isn’t exorbitantly expensive in economic terms. And that’s as it were the good equilibrium, the South Koreans, the Taiwanese and indeed even China look like they’re steering towards they are now I’m making real steps to restart their economy. And unfortunately, what we have in the West is, as it were, the degenerate form of that where we oscillate back and forth, we want to get to the restart far too soon. And as a result, I think the risk is that we end up with very massive economic losses, and very large casualties at all, how that then plays out in terms of, you know, our the position of the United States economy, globally, is very complex. And because this is completely unfamiliar terrain, novel terrain, we will have to wait and see, for me the urgency of doing all of the writing and thinking I have is precisely trying to accompany that with, with with whatever resources I can. And there is a there’s an extraordinary heterogeneity in the American response because, you know, at the same time as we have the goings on at the White House press conference every day, we have the actions of the Fed, which over the last two weeks has once again following Alden from its actions in oh eight and after, demonstrated it’s completely indispensable position at the heart of the global economy, the financial economy of the world, like it or not runs on dollars, there’s only one central bank that can provide unlimited quantities of those, the Fed understands this, despite the fact that it’s a national central bank, it understands that it has a global role. And very quickly, this time, it reacted to the crisis by opening up liquidity provision, dollar provision to central banks and other countries. So and that is showing effect, it’s probably not going to be enough, there’s going to be have to be very much more complex safety net put in place for the emerging markets and developing economies, which are only beginning now to stumble into the depths of the crisis. But the Fed is acting and so there’s a real sort of lack of coherence, really about America’s position in this crisis, which I would argue is being characteristic of America’s position. Well, I mean, you could go all the way back, Jeremy kindly cited my book that was one You could go back really to the beginning of America’s entry into World Affairs. It’s difficult for America to concert if you like the different facets of American power and American politics around presenting a coherent face and a coherent policy towards the outside, there are high points in which it manages to do this. The Marshall Plan being the most obvious one, but we’re in a low point right now.
Jeremi Suri 16:22
Right. I was going to say, Adam, it certainly sounded like you were echo echoing much of your early work on the the disorganization and incoherence of American policy in the early 20th century. And maybe this is something that’s symptomatic of the way American Political Economy operates. I wanted to ask you more about the Fed because I’ve been trying to understand this as well. It does seem to me the historical historical analogy the Fed is operating with is from 2007 2008. And it appears they’re trying to do what they did then and more, what are the limits of what they can do how much quantitative easing is possible, how much liquidity can they put into the market?
Adam Tooze 17:01
You know, we got 99 problems, but that ain’t one like that that really isn’t the thing to worry about like the Fed can do as much as it likes, there is extraordinary demand right now for dollars in the world. There is extraordinary demand for US Treasuries as a safe asset. There were blips in the Treasury market, which were very unprecedented. But that’s a sign of the fact that what people really really wanted was dollars. In other words, basically, just cash accounts with the Fed would do them just fine. So there really is no limit to what the Fed can do in that respect. That doesn’t need to be our concern. I think the real question is, can the Fed reach and should the Fed reach all of the nooks and crannies of the credit system, both within the United States and outside I mean, you got your folks who are in Texas, you know, one of the absolute the hardest hit sectors, for better or worse is going to be the energy sector, the oil sector, the tech, the shale, the shale industry, which is, you know, as environmental critics will tell you basically a kind of a child of QE, a child of Federal Reserve low interest rate policy. Now, obviously, it’s a technological innovation of very considerable significance. The real achievements of the fracking industry are undeniable but financially it would not be possible without it extremely mild, shall we say, monetary policy environment, in other words, very low interest rates and very easy credit. And in a situation like this, where credit is getting tight for private borrowers, and where there is a huge loss of confidence and commodity prices globally, and above all the oil prices collapse, that sector is in real trouble. And it’s not clear really whether the Fed is able or willing to devise instruments to protect what’s called high yield or in colloquial term junk. Corporate boring. Junk isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. It just means, you know, corporate debt, which is not Coca Cola or Intel, or Google, you know, triple A rated bombproof gold plated corporates. Everyone else is in the so called high yield or junk category, including, you know, loads and loads of brand names, you’re familiar with the entire hotel industry, even in the Goodyear is in that category, as is much of the wild cat in independent oil industry. And the Fed has, as it were legal limitations on the kinds of risks that it’s really able to take on behalf of the American taxpayer. And that doesn’t generally include and well it doesn’t generally include buying investment grade corporate debt, but they’ve made they’ve found a way around that by creating an off balance sheet vehicle to make support possible for corporate debt to go to the high yield sector would be really difficult and of course, the boundary between the two is not really it’s not a sort of scientifically given natural fact it’s a it’s a judgment by ratings agencies, decides whether debt is in the investment grade or in the high yield category and there’s an awful lot of debt notionally still an investment grade about half in fact of the stuff which is notionally investment grade is on the boundary is triple B. So it’s just one downgrade away from dropping into a category which the Fed can’t currently support. So that gives you an idea of how how you know institutionally constrained the feds action is it can do a general credit burst, it can provide limitless quantities of dollars, it can pump liquidity easily into the high end bits of the American economy, whether it can reach the mom and pop store, the little restaurant or even the medium sized business with a slightly dubious credit rating, and quite a lot of the American economy does exist on that line between life and death. That’s a very different question.
Jeremi Suri 20:37
What and it does seem to me, Adam, that we have reason to be skeptical, just based on historical experience that the mom and pop store will will benefit from this.
Adam Tooze 20:46
Well, absolutely. I mean, I mean, oh, 809 was, as it were a sort of shocking demonstration of the way in which bailouts of bias towards the big actors too big to fail became a byword for You know, that oligarchic oligopolistic tendency within capitalism, it’s not just a matter of technique and technicality that is difficult for the Fed to reach those businesses. They’re not, you know, in the feds terms, systemically relevant will be the language that’s used. And you know, their failure is just one tree falling in a forest. It’s not a forest fire. And so it’s easy to ignore them. But I do actually think the politics has shifted here in quite an interesting way. And the Fed is making a really determined effort to try and reach out beyond that frame. Ben Bernanke and Yellen, I don’t know really so much about power, but they were quite affected, I think, by the force of that critique and the power of the inequality meme from, you know, 2013 onwards, did a lot of research on how central banks could do more provision for small businesses. And I think the politics of the bailout are quite interesting, right? I mean, there’s in this obviously it’s kind of bifurcated. There’s element of the $2 trillion, which is really a slush fund for big business, right. But then if you look at the other parts of it, they’re very heavily weighted to lower income families, which will leave as it were the top 10%, many of whose jobs are also in jeopardy and in a more uncomfortable position than we might expect from previous actions by Congress. So this is a genuine bargain, I think between the democrats on the one hand and the Republicans on the other, it’s not just a rerun of the republican tax cut of a few years ago.
Jeremi Suri 22:28
Right. I guess, though, to just stay on this point for one more minute. It does seem to me that what what the stimulus bill that passed the Senate shows is just as you said that there’s a there’s an argument for a more vibrant social welfare net, and there’s an argument for bailing out the big businesses, but we does still seem that small businesses have trouble getting the help they need. He done this.
Adam Tooze 22:50
Absolutely. And all of the evidence that we’re getting from, from some from surveys of different types shows that they’re very fragile. They’re, you know, four to six weeks away from failure. You only have To live on a, you know, a busy High Street in any American city to know how rapid the churn is of restaurants and stores and small businesses of all types, they come and go, you know, like an extraordinary pace. And so for them, if any of them lose, you know, six weeks, if there isn’t some comprehensive deal on rent payments and mortgage payments, in particular, I would imagine are absolutely key, then it’s going to be very difficult for many of them to survive. I mean, the data is overwhelming, you know, like half of those businesses car really don’t have funds to enable them to tide over for more than four to six weeks. I mean, I’ve never personally affected this because my wife has a small travel business and but for the fact that I have a secure income at the university, she would be in terrible trouble. She’s had to cancel all of the trips of the year. She has she has no way means of generating any additional revenue and we’ve looked at the stimulus and it’s not obvious that a small business like that with a turnover, you know, modest turnover has any place is That in that package except maybe through the small business loan facility, but it’s, it’s like you say it’s really quite difficult to figure out whether folks in that kind of position would go. Yeah, it’s
Jeremi Suri 24:11
been quite startling to me out I’m just living in Austin, Texas, where we’re filled with these restaurants and other small businesses that have been booming to see how quickly they go from boom to bust. It’s extraordinary.
Adam Tooze 24:23
It’s really tough and anyone who imagines that kind of bourgeois bohemian fantasy of leaving your you know, high pressure white collar job, but then going into running your, you know, your boutique, artisanal bakery or your lovely cafe, I think really needs to wake up and smell the coffee. I mean, those jobs are relentlessly self exploiting. They’re incredibly tough. I mean, as an academic who used to think of himself as a workaholic, living with somebody who’s actually self employed, and actually has a business that relies on you know, pitching, you know, trip after trip after trip to very demanding clients, you really begin to sense what it actually takes to earn a living. In a competitive marketplace, it’s it’s extraordinarily tough out there for those kinds of folks
Zachary Suri 25:06
moving to a different note, what does this economic crisis and the fallout that we’re really beginning to see, tell us about the state of globalism?
Adam Tooze 25:16
Yeah, this is I mean, these are the big questions.
I’m in two minds, and I really think it’s a bit of a Rorschach test. So one of the, one of the you know, the sense of you know, there’s a there’s a block and the block is this massive shock that we’re all experiencing and that there is a real tendency, I think, for people to project onto it, what is in a sense already in their heads. You know, there has been a great wave of commentary which basically consists of and now in light of crona May I propose the thing that I’ve always proposed anyway is if you like in authored after op ed. And, you know, give him give me an idea i’m i’m a confirmed liberal internationalist with a cosmopolitan bargain. And I just can’t. I just it’s difficult for me to think outside that box that there’s nothing about this crisis which convinces me that in and of itself, it’s an argument against globalism. Though I can easily see how it might be exploited for those purposes and it’s easy to see how you could get and this is one of the reasons I’m kind of leery of the world war two analogy because it rapidly becomes an argument for scientific autarkic industrial production of medical equipment, and you know, we should all be sewing our own mouth guards and there are heroic examples of this the checks your vicuna deserve far more credit than they’ve received their national effort which everyone’s just got their sewing machine out, basically made all the masks they needed a small country but nevertheless impressive. But I don’t buy that necessarily. For me. It’s an argument for intelligent globalism. It’s been an extraordinary global event in many ways, right? We’ve been in touch with each other monitoring each other’s progress if you have the kind of life that that I’ve been privileged to Enjoy, then that’s the way this crisis happens to you. It’s absolutely not a national local shock, I’m affected. And you know, as it were exposed in so many different places at once in Italy, in Germany, in Britain, in France, in the United States and several different places in the United States. So for me, it becomes a drama of how we do globalism more intelligently and more safely and future. And for me, the response to the crisis would be upgrade the infrastructure of globalization, do smart things that make this a safe planet so that we can go on doing much of what we’ve been doing before which over the last 30 years has brought extraordinary benefits to huge numbers of people on the planet, not just privileged. I mean, that’s, that’s really a Can I think that should be slain and needs to be seen over and over again, though, it is also obviously created inequality. And this is another dimension of this about inequality that needs to be taken extraordinarily seriously that the most vulnerable again are going to be the poor people. without insurance, the people who basically don’t appear to have access to public media or the ability to process the messages so as to get make themselves and their nearest and dearest safe. I it’ll be very interesting in the aftermath to look at the social composition of those who died and those who got sick. Because my sense being in New York is that the affluent and educated and no longer on the street. Some of them are in the Hamptons and the rest of us are frantically reading the New York Times and figuring out life strategies and trying to keep busy and when you do venture out onto the street, that is not the population that you encounter on the street anymore. There are people begging, you know, who are extraordinarily exposed, there are little shopkeepers on corners extraordinarily exposed. There are people who are clearly isolated, elderly and mobility devices wandering around and you just fear for their health over the next three or four weeks and the nightmare that awaits them in hospital when they end up there. Where again at the frontlines They will be treated by, you know, a the lower end of the medical hierarchy, which is overwhelmingly recruited from as far as I can see from the images, women of color, who are in the frontlines of this struggle and dressed in garbage bags. I mean, it’s an indignity and shame on this country. And but that is a, you know, that is a problem not of globalism, that’s a problem of backing up globalism, with with the tools of an adequate welfare state with the intelligence of the modern public health system that actually deserves the name and with some reserve capacity. Right. Yeah, we should do shop stockpiles.
Jeremi Suri 29:39
I agree. No. And that’s very well said and and very sensible, but it does expose one of the main contradictions or dialectics as you were referring to earlier, which is that if we are to get through this and create a more vibrant global system as you’re describing it, we need more national control in the short term right because the coal mine That we’re going into is being enforced at the local level, not even at the national level in many ways, right? It’s Governor Cuomo in New York? Well, it’s
Adam Tooze 30:08
actually I mean, I think that puts the whole national paradigm in question. You know, from that end, not only is it clearly necessary that the Fed should act globally to support the global dollar system, not only are we going to need to think extremely seriously and imaginatively about how we contain the virus, if and when we it, North America gets to the point of having contained it here, we are going to be in the business of ensuring that Mexico is a safe destination and a safe place of origin for the millions of people in our lives that have to commute back and forth between Mexico and the United States. Yeah, and they in turn, are going to need to know that the rest of Central America is also got, you know, our zero below one. So this is not going to be a battle that we can win. I mean, it has it’s a classic localization type problem and that it has to be one simultaneously at the local level and at the global level. And so so I don’t I mean, I don’t see the it has been in education as a European being here during this crisis and seeing the extraordinary significance of the governance. I mean, if you think about the role of Cuomo in New York or I don’t even know the name of the person in Kentucky, but that’s obviously a politician making a real difference to that community. Yes. belaboring them every night shaming people calling people out really, you know, driving the emergency response in it, you just have to look at the difference to the infection rates in Tennessee next door. And it’s it’s a it’s a world apart. So so I get in the mobilization, yes. But I don’t necessarily see the nation as the obvious frame or the necessary one. I mean, there are moments when we may have to work at that level. But beyond that, now, this has been overwhelmingly a problem of big cities apart from anything else.
Jeremi Suri 31:57
Right, right. Right. And there is an element of this where it almost seems like some of the best advice at times is to ignore national leaders. And and focus on just the institutions you’re describing.
Adam Tooze 32:09
The same thing is happening in Brazil, right where bolson arrow is doing all this nonsense about heard of unity and the regional governors there in that vast country also saying absolutely no way we’re not doing that. So the big states with federal issues, I mean, what’s really amazing, I think about China looking at, you know, across these examples now is the way they’re a nation state actually really did succeed in containing the problem in one province. And if you’re able to do that, then then your options are completely different, right? So that’s actually the only way in a sense of maintaining national control over the problem is to keep it localized in one region. By the time it becomes what we have in the us right now. It necessarily devolves to a multitude of crisis centers, which are too remote from Washington, and the fighting. They’re huge problems and there’ll be one in San Francisco, one in New York, one in Washington State. giucose one in Miami. And you know that the center loses control. If you want center or true central control of this problem, you need to achieve what the Chinese did, which was rain painting who Bay. And then you can pipe in resources from all over the entire country where you can’t do it if you know they’ve had huge outbreaks in Shanghai and Beijing, the problem would be would have been a completely different beast because there’s massive regional politics in China too. And so it would have been very difficult.
Jeremi Suri 33:28
Now that and that very well connects to one of the themes in our podcast, which has been that the world we live in is a world that’s globalized and localized or in many ways globally decentralized.
Adam Tooze 33:38
Yeah. And then network right in strange ways across the decentralization.
Jeremi Suri 33:44
Exactly. So we always like to close our podcast episodes Adam with with some discussion about what citizens who are listening, especially younger citizens, what they can do. What what’s your advice, not necessarily survival strategies for the short term though those are welcome as well. But how should especially young listeners who care about the future of both the global health system as well as the global economy? What are the things they should be thinking about and doing today?
Adam Tooze 34:14
Well, I think we all know what the rules are for the period of this pandemic, like, we need to be patient with each other. We need to learn to live in confined circumstances we need not to drive each other crazy. Those are exactly those are those are those are tough. Those are tough lessons. I think the author I really do think it’s a it’s a spectacular opportunity for for kind of kind of public education. I mean, I’m, you know, I’m a professor, I can’t help myself. I think of it I think of a crisis like this as a gigantic lesson. You know, it’s God’s way of teaching us about about about epidemiology. It’s God’s way of teaching us about exponential processes. And there are other exponential process Which are also affecting us very dramatically. And when we come out of this, we will be right back into the politics of deep, you know, climate change and, and the energy transition, which will define the lives of that generation of younger listeners that you’re speaking about. You and I, Jeremy are too old really to see, you know, the climax of that problem in any real forum. But for anyone that in their 20s and their teens that that is the challenge of the 30 years ahead, 3040 years ahead. So this is this is a good moment to think hard about the implications of those kind of runaway processes and the extraordinary urgency of early action, or, or timely action, at least. So, for me, that’s the real the real takeaway here is and some of the lessons that we’re learning about what we can do in a confined and constrained way may in the end, still have some relevance for that for that, that next challenge. And that’s a that’s a way in which they This kind of remote podcast that we’re doing here and the kinds of communication that we can learn to enjoy in this crisis may in fact be the harbinger of a future way of life.
Jeremi Suri 36:09
Yes. No, I agree. Zachary. Do you agree with Adam d? Do you do you also see that for younger generation, not not the old guys that Adam has labeled? Both he and I have been? Do you see this as as a topic that that’s a call to action? And do you see people thinking and talking about this with your generation?
Zachary Suri 36:30
I think that, that it’s definitely on the minds of all young people at this moment. And I think what’s particularly poignant about it is that it affects everyone, but no one can look away and say it’s not about them. And I think that, as Adam said, this is really an opportunity to educate young people and old people like about the importance of, of vital health infrastructure and making sure that everyone has access to do it. healthcare network.
Jeremi Suri 37:01
What about thinking of yourself and the connections between your actions and those far away because that’s been a that’s been at the core of this what Adam was calling a complex system.
Zachary Suri 37:10
I think that’s um, that’s definitely been a part of it to try and but I do think that young people are still struggling with this concept. I like we talked about this in a class like World Geography, to see kids try and struggle to see how a virus originating you from the beginning in China, how that’s relevant to us is a little hard. But I think that’s a real lesson for us now to see how something that’s started so, so remote from us has become something that really affects their lives.
Adam Tooze 37:39
Yeah, I mean, do not spend another February not reading the news from China is more or less than I get to take away from this. I happen to be in Africa at the time, which is my only excuse but you know that that four or five week period just haunts me now, they, it was all going on there. They were having to go through everything that we’re going to hear and we simply did not Somehow the penny didn’t drop like that this was going to happen to us too.
That’s a disconnects. We can’t afford anymore. I think.
Jeremi Suri 38:09
I think that’s absolutely right. I fall into the same category, I kept thinking this is something that was not going to be quite as large and move quite as quickly as it did. And even though now I look back and all the evidence was in front of me, Adam, we operate in paradigms that don’t keep up with the changes around us. Yeah. Well, Adam, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your insights. I hope all of our listeners will look for your work. And I’m sure you’ll be writing a lot more. I hope you’ll be writing a lot more on these issues in the New York Times and Washington Post Financial Times, guardian and elsewhere. Zachary, thank you for your inspiring poem. And thank you to our listeners for joining us for this episode of This is Democracy
This podcast is produced by the liberal arts development studio and the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin.
Unknown Speaker 39:07
The music in this episode was written and recorded by Harrison Lemke and you can find his music at Harrison lemke.com. subscribe and stay tuned for a new episode every Thursday featuring new perspectives on democracy
Transcribed by https://otter.ai