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The Legacy of 2020

As if COVID-19’s impact in 2020 was not pervasive enough, its long-term implications may be even broader and more far-reaching. Even if vaccines bring an end to the pandemic as quickly as hoped, they will not reverse its most consequential effects on governance, geopolitics, and culture.

In this Big Picture, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis says the COVID-19 crisis has shown that national governments, which had seemingly been sidelined by globalization, in fact retain enormous power. Arguing in a similar vein, former Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio thinks the pandemic may have triggered a fundamental reshaping and rebalancing of the relationship between state and society, particularly in Western liberal democracies.

Ngaire Woods, the dean of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, explains why many poor, ill-equipped countries nonetheless managed the virus much better than wealthy countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom did. And former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer warns that whereas China – after a rocky start – has emerged stronger from this year of crisis, America has come out weaker. But Bill Emmott, co-director of the Global Commission for Post-Pandemic Policy, cautions that it would be premature to declare 2020 the beginning of a new “Asian Century.”

Finally, Harvard University’s Jeffrey Frankel notes how a year dominated by US President Donald Trump and COVID-19 came to be symbolized by three pervasive terms, whose users often did not understand what they meant.

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