Shutdown Book Summary - Shutdown Book explained in key points
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Shutdown summary

Adam Tooze

How Covid Shook the World's Economy

3.3 (91 ratings)
24 mins
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    Widespread, willful unpreparedness allowed the virus to bring public life to a screeching halt.

    However the chaos of 2020 is written about in history books, US President Donald Trump is certain to have a starring role. 

    Over the course of the crisis, Trump flirted with Covid denialism. He hemmed and hawed on social distancing, endorsed quack remedies, and railed against the best science available. He inflamed international and domestic divisions when unity was needed most. His performance was dangerously ill-advised, and it had a massive impact. 

    However, the conditions that lent Covid its world-shaking power go far beyond the US and long preceded Trump’s presidency.

    The key message here is: Widespread, willful unpreparedness allowed a virus to bring public life around the world to a screeching halt.

    We’ve known for decades that our modern lives create more – not less – disease. Endless encroachment into wilderness, industrial farming, mega-urbanization, overuse of antibiotics, global mobility, and fake medical news, to say nothing of a warming climate, all increase the generation of new maladies.

    More specifically, after SARS in 2003, swine flu in 2009, and MERS in 2012, virologists predicted with near certainty that a new and contagious flu-like virus was close at hand. If it spread throughout the world, mild lethality would mean a death toll exceeding WWI and WWII combined.

    Public health experts also knew that a flu-like virus could spread through global corridors of trade and travel. They knew it could brutalize poorer populations. Take Sub-Saharan Africans, for example – in 2017, they were already 12 times more likely to die from communicable disease than a European or a citizen of the United States. The numbers were sure to be even worse in the case of a highly contagious disease. The same inequity would be true within countries. In the US, respiratory infections account for 80 percent of deaths by communicable disease, and poverty demonstrably increases the incidence and lethality of those infections, a grim fact that is particularly true in poor Black, Latino, and Native American populations. 

    In terms of a response, governments knew that 7.8 billion people would rely immensely on the World Health Organization, a woefully underfunded agency with a budget of $4.4 billion, roughly equivalent to one large hospital. Within the US, Americans would rely on a healthcare system that excludes tens of millions and a patchwork of hospitals that are managed according to revenue and cost, not preparedness. The catastrophic stakes were known and they went unaddressed. However, when Covid hit, it hit first in a place that, compared to most, was as prepared as one can be.

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    What is Shutdown about?

    Shutdown (2021) explores the unprecedented shock COVID-19 dealt the world economy. The story begins with the revelation of the disease in January 2020 by Chinese President Xi Jinping and ends precisely a year later with the inauguration of US President Joe Biden, and through this history, Shutdown shows how markets and governments reeled from the blow, how they regained their footing, and what we might learn for the next worldwide crisis. 

    Who should read Shutdown?

    • News junkies and history buffs alike
    • Those who know that economic policy matters
    • Anyone seeking perspective on our tumultuous times

    About the Author

    Alan Tooze is a professor of economic history at Columbia University and the author of numerous award-winning books, including The Wages of Destruction, a history of the Nazi economy, Deluge, which traces the fallout of the First World War, and Crashed, an autopsy of the Great Recession. 

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