At COSM 2021, Jay Richards interviewed historian Niall Ferguson, author of Doom: The politics of catastrophe (2021), on the lessons we could learn from historic disasters in interpreting the COVID-19 crises.
Ferguson spoke at COSM 2021 (November 10, 3:00 pm) on “Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe”:
Setting the annus horribilis of 2020 in historical perspective, Niall Ferguson explains why we are getting worse, not better, at handling disasters. The lessons of history that this country — indeed the West as a whole — urgently need to learn, if we want to handle the next crisis better, and to avoid the ultimate doom of irreversible decline.
Generally, he sees the economic impact of the COVID shutdown as comparable to fighting World War II — or World War III. There is a human tendency, Niall Ferguson says, to blame national leaders but the needless COVID deaths were to mostly due to failures lower down. In any event, he predicted, correctly, that we were largely over the pandemic, based on several key assumptions:
➤ The worst of the pandemic is behind us. Tuning out the frequent alarms in media about Greek alphabet variants (Delta, Kappa, Zeta, and such), the disease is becoming endemic. That is, if history is any guide, there will be multiple future waves in a population that is already learning coping strategies but it won’t be a crisis.
➤ It’s not clear how many people died prematurely due to COVID. Estimates range from 5 million through to 19.8 million worldwide. Ferguson told the gathering that the meaningful measure to focus on now is excess mortality. That includes “people who, who died for reasons that were not directly attributable to the SARS COV-2 virus but whose deaths were hastened by the conditions of the pandemic, people who couldn’t get to hospital to see the doctor about their heart condition, or couldn’t get their cancer treated early enough.” Excess mortality is declining.
➤ Covid-19 is nowhere close in severity to the great pandemics of the past, not even of the recent past: “It’s nothing close to the Black Death or the Plague of Justinian, which we think may have killed as many as a third of humanity. We’re really talking here at this point of, of a death toll of 0.066% of the world’s population. If you buy the Economist’s highest estimate, 0.26%, that’s a trivial number by comparison with the Black Death. It’s an order of magnitude smaller than the death toll of the 1918–19 Spanish influenza. In fact, it was only this year that COVID-19 overtook the 1957–58 Asian flu in terms of its, mortality relative to global population.”News, “Critical lessons from the COVID crisis — from a leading historian” at Mind Matters News (November 23, 2021)
Sometimes it takes a bit of history to put our fears in perspective.
You may also wish to read:
Critical lessons from the COVID crisis — from a leading historian. Niall Ferguson sees the economic impact of the COVID shutdown as comparable to fighting World War II — or World War III. There is a human tendency, Niall Ferguson says, to blame national leaders but the needless COVID deaths were mostly due to failures lower down.
Also: Historian supports new anti-Cancel Culture university. Niall Ferguson hopes that the new University of Austin will unite traditional wisdom with new technology in a spirit of free enquiry. At COSM 2021, he noted that proposed faculty had spent the last 48 hours dealing with a tidal wave of Twitter hate. So, he said, they are over the target…