Why already ponder what’s next? The world is, arguably, still in the middle of fighting the virus and its impact. What could possibly be said about the future? Well, the truth appears to be that if we don’t already start planning for the next virus—or even just for how to live with the current virus long term—we will face even more earth-shattering negative consequences.
Responding to this need, I have drawn up a few immediate scenarios—new ways to think about the future. Scenario thinking is usually a way to prepare for an imagined future. Instead, I would argue, these sweeping societal changes will happen much faster. I have drawn up five. In this case, each of the scenarios are quite near term; in fact, we are living in versions of each of them right now. Crafting solid scenarios can help us, as citizens, policy makers, or business leaders, decide which path we want to chart for what lies ahead. Or, as it were, distilling key facets of the reality we are already living, we might learn to live with it a bit better. Leaving aside the details, let me also state that different parts of the world seem to respond differently to this crisis. Therefore, the potential is that we will shatter into regional or national worlds.
Broadly, I see five scenarios for our post-coronavirus future. The five scenarios considered are: borderless world, nation-state renewal, two worlds apart, Hobbesian chaos, and status quo.
In Borderless world, an expert-led world federal state where leaders are able to fully implement globalization and strategies to fix health systems. Yet, the cost is a synthetic world, where nature and the elderly, are both abandoned.
In Nation state renewal, with enormous virus death tolls, borders close down and people stop traveling huge distances. This is the decade of intermittency, cycles of opening up society is followed by cycles of closing down, repeatedly and physical distancing is needed throughout the decade. China, Scandinavia, Singapore, Qatar and Germany thrive, whilst formerly “great” nations like US, UK, Russia, Brazil, and India struggle.
In Two worlds apart, with a failed vaccine the top 0.1% of population separates from the 99.9% in entire new walled-off financial districts plus a set of islands purposefully constructed to avoid contagion, filled with the world’s most expensive real estate, governed by their own laws.
In Hobbesian chaos, all vaccines fail, no protective state lasts beyond a year, rule of law ceases to exist, and terrorist groups (Boko Haram, the Mafia, al Qaeda), clans and ideological movements sweep through the earth with constant struggle and fight for scarce resources as a result.
In Status Quo, the vaccine works, the world is still a tri-polar order (US, China, Russia rule in each hemisphere) and after a period of readjustment, society and the world economy, on most dimensions, will not be significantly altered by this pandemic experience, although remote work is now a real thing.
Broadly, the book will:
• Provide a conceptual framework for the socio-political reality of Coronavirus
• Help you imagine the next decade’s technology, society and physical proximity
• Provide a blueprint for leadership, far beyond public health
In sum, the choices before us as a global society, which of course largely means the choices nation states and their voting citizens make, are important and far outshine public health considerations as such. The question before us is, how to live through the crisis—and live beyond it—in a dignified and meaningful way. I’m at least writing this book with that question in mind. I fear not everyone will have that perspective, given that the survival instinct and self-protection, as well as the opportunities envisioned by taking a more egotistical approach, would also become quite evident in the time to come.
We should not only be planning for the pandemics of tomorrow (which we should also do), but also for the society of tomorrow. Doing so simultaneously, will require a different dialogue and ambition level than the world has had over the past fifty years, at the very least. There is no time to lose.