Why was the response of the UK and US to the coronavirus pandemic so bungled? How can we be better prepared when the next disaster strikes? These are the questions that historian Niall Ferguson answered when he comes to Intelligence Squared in May 2021 to discuss the ideas in his new book Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe. While much of the media has blamed populists like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump for their poor leadership in the face of the pandemic, Ferguson will argue that while neither performed well, to see the story of Covid-19 as a morality play is to miss the more profound pathologies that were at work – pathologies already visible in our responses to earlier disasters.
Drawing on multiple disciplines including economics, network science and data analysis, Ferguson offered a general theory of disaster from which governments can learn. States, he argued, need to stop focusing on the last disaster and preparing for it to happen again; and they need to stop myopically obsessing about one particular threat – climate change – and prepare for a panoply of possible disasters.
Ferguson was in conversation with historian and broadcaster Rana Mitter.
‘The most brilliant historian of his generation’ – The Times