Covid-19 accelerating massive global change, says Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer

11 December 2020 Consulting.us
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Covid is accelerating several massive global changes already underway beforehand, according to a recent keynote speech from Ian Bremmer, a political scientist and founder & CEO of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. Bremmer’s speech kicked off Eurasia Group’s annual G-Zero Summit, which examines the contours of a leaderless global order.

Covid didn’t start the fire – it just poured gasoline on the flames.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created the largest crisis since World War 2. But the changes the health crisis is accelerating – growing inequality, eroding democratic legitimacy, outdated global institutions, and technological disruption – were already well underway, according to Bremmer.

Inequality

The media has reported widely on the K-shaped recovery from the pandemic – wherein well-educated workers in the knowledge economy were less-impacted by the economic and health impacts of the pandemic, and are recovering more quickly.

In the US, the differing access to healthcare for rich and poor, as well as the kinds of jobs most likely to be affected by the crisis (in-person, retail, hospitality, etc.) has accentuated the unequal impact of the pandemic. And because Blacks and Hispanics are likelier to occupy the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, the economic and health impacts of Covid-19 have more severely affected their communities.

As Bremmer notes, recessions are always hardest on poor people, but the particularities of the pandemic have made its resultant recession the most unequal in US history.

The pandemic has also created incentives for employers to invest more into automation, machine learning, and 3D printing, which will have further negative impacts on low-skill labor.

Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group

Eroding democratic legitimacy

The pandemic has also accelerated the ongoing loss of public confidence in national and international institutions. In the US, political division and public anger at the political establishment has been building for years. Foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election undermined public confidence in the integrity of elections, while Trump’s unfounded allegations of voter fraud further threaten to undermine trust in political institutions – at least for his followers.

The Covid-19 pandemic’s massive health impact on the US, and the general mishandling of the crisis, have further eroded public confidence in the presidency, Congress, and institutions like the CDC and WHO.

Bremmer notes that the US is not becoming an authoritarian state, in contrast to the views of certain alarmist commentators. “It is far too divided for that,” he says. “But the US also doesn’t have the healthy civic democracy we see in Japan, Germany, the Nordic countries, or Canada.”

Shifting geopolitical architecture

Bremmer says the pandemic has revealed how ill-equipped our Cold War-era multinational institutions are to confront the global problems of today. For one, the defeated Axis powers of Japan and Germany should be permanent members of the UN Security Council (they’re our friends now). Bremmer also highlights the need for a multilateral military alliance between the US and Japan, South Korea, and Australia to counter Chinese power in Asia-Pacific. “How do you do that with NATO, focused on the North Atlantic?,” he asks.

China has recovered more quickly and completely from the pandemic that began within its borders, and will be the only major economy to grow in 2020. The pandemic has also accelerated China’s ambition to present itself as an alternative to Western leadership. The country will now market an affordable vaccine that will make its way to many developing nations in Asia and Africa – where China has previously been making economic inroads.

However, China has also engendered a large degree of international mistrust from its handling of the pandemic. Beijing tried to cover up the original outbreak and silenced doctors who tried to warn the world about Covid-19 – contributing to the already lax manner in which Western countries approached Covid-19’s spread from China’s borders in early 2020.

Disruptive technology

The pandemic has created even more incentives to invest in automation, artificial intelligence, and digital technology. Covid-19 has depressed traditional manufacturing and turbocharged e-commerce and information technology. Manufacturers will look to further automate their factories and retailers will increasingly opt for digital channels.

Digital infrastructure has allowed office employees to work from home, and larger companies will continue to invest in digital technology that creates efficiencies in the back-office, such as robotic process automation.

Technological advances will also create opportunities for distance learning, telemedicine, more efficient agriculture, and the “smart cities” of the future. However, these changes will leave many people behind in both rich and poor countries, according to Bremmer. In the absence of a robust and effective policy, what happens to the obsolete administrators, bus drivers, factory workers, and retail clerks?

“Covid-19 didn’t create our problems,” Bremmer says. “It has accelerated their growth. And it is now robbing us of the time and resources to solve them.”