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Niall Ferguson on the Politics of Catastrophe

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?

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.

Praise for Niall Ferguson:

‘The most brilliant historian of his generation’ – The Times


Speakers

Speaker

Niall Ferguson

One of the UK’s most renowned historians, whose latest book is Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe


One of the UK’s most renowned historians. He is Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior faculty fellow of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. He is the author of sixteen books, including The Pity of War, The House of Rothschild, Empire, Civilization and Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist, and The Square and the Tower. He writes a column for Bloomberg Opinion, and he is the founder and managing director of the advisory firm Greenmantle LLC. His new book is Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe.
Chair

Rana Mitter

Historian, author and broadcaster


Historian, author and broadcaster. He is director of the University China Centre at the University of Oxford, where he is Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China. His new book, China's Good War: How World War II is Shaping a New Nationalism, will be published in September this year. He is a regular presenter of the arts and ideas programme Free Thinking on BBC Radio 3.