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Fareed Zakaria GPS

The Post COVID-19 World. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired September 05, 2021 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is the GPS special edition, the "Post COVID-19 World."


ZAKARIA (voice-over): In this hour, we'll imagine what our lives and livelihoods will look like, not after COVID-19 is defeated, as who knows when that will happen, but rather when someday maybe the extraordinary measures we've had to endure are a thing of the past.

We'll look first at work. Many Americans may be returning to their offices in coming days, weeks and months. They are likely going back to the same workplaces they left almost 20 months ago, and the same routines. But what would work look like if we started from scratch and reimagined it entirely?

I'll ask the former "USA Today" editor-in-chief, Joanne Lipman.

JOANNE LIPMAN, FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, USA TODAY: Can we redesign the workforce in a way that makes much more sense for today?

ZAKARIA: Similarly if we could redesign the classroom and the campus, what would we end up with? And just what is the future of schooling? I'll talk to former education secretary, Arne Duncan.

ARNE DUNCAN, FORMER U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: The vast majority of students want to be around their friends, want to be, you know, with the teacher, need those human relationships, need that human contact, and the fact that we've denied them that for so long is extraordinarily tough.

ZAKARIA: Also, COVID-19 hit some cities hard. New York and New Delhi, Detroit and Jakarta. In the wake of those outbreaks many predicted the death of urban areas. But the scholar Richard Florida rejects those rumors and says instead we will see a great urban reset.

RICHARD FLORIDA, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO: Urbanization is a wonderful thing. It is the thing that we have created as human beings when we cluster together, when we increase density, when we become more diverse, we increase our innovativeness, our creativity and productivity.

ZAKARIA: Finally, the global economy. Who will be the big winners once all the COVID chips have fallen and who will be the losers? "The Economist" editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes will weigh in.

ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE ECONOMIST: The cost of COVID, whether the cost of not being in school, the cost of not being able to focus on any other areas of health care, these are hitting the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world hardest.


ZAKARIA: All that and more. And we will close with my usual take, all in the special hour. So let's get started.

Police officers, soldiers, doctors, journalists, supermarket shelf stockers. These folks and many others went to work throughout the pandemic because they had to. But many white-collar workers traded in commutes and cubicles for at-home setups, meetings became virtual, e- mails and slack replaced conversations and coffee breaks, and the lines between work and leisure blurred.

Some workers will return to the office just after Labor Day, but many companies are delaying those plans because of the Delta variant. So just what will work life look like, and what should it look like?

Joanne Lipman has been thinking about just that. She wrote a great piece about it for "TIME." She is the former editor-in-chief of "USA Today," and she joins me now.

Joanne, before the pandemic we had a sort of system of work that we took for granted and we assumed kind of had always been around. But you point out that came out of a particular historical moment and period.

LIPMAN: That's right, so if you look at the workplace where we live right now, it actually dates back to World War II. So the guys coming home from the front recreated essentially a military hierarchy, so the modern office place was actually created by a bunch of guys who created a very strictly hierarchical workforce that assumed that you had to be there all the time, eight hours a day. And there was also an assumption that there was somebody else at home, a wife, who was going to take care of the rest of your life.

The entire workplace has changed since then. Not just the introduction of women into work, but now we're in a digital society, we're in a global work force where we are working with people across time zones, we're working virtually. And yet -- and we're in a service economy and yet we are still really attached to this very, very old system of what the workplace looked like. And I really -- when I started looking at this, I started with the simple question, which is, if you were going to start the workplace from scratch today, what would it look like?


Would it look like five days a week, 40 hours a week? I don't think so. I don't think it would look anything like that. And so what COVID has done with this suddenly shutting down the economy in many, many ways, sending office workers home to work remotely, what it did is it provided this break that allowed people to sort of reassess how they work, the kind of work they do, the tempo of the work week, and it's given all of us an opportunity to really think about, can we reinvent the work force in a way that makes much more sense for today?

ZAKARIA: But there are people, as you know, CEOs of banks, for example, who say, look, a lot of the work that happens is the accidental encounters, the teamwork, and you've got to be in the same place at the same time. You know, the CEOs of JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley and such say if you want New York wages, you've got to work at the New York office. What are they trying to get at, and are they right?

LIPMAN: I am a believer that there is a lot of these sort of incidental meetings that really are very, very important. However, that said, there is a lot of that that can be done -- some of it can be remotely, but also you can have a sort of hybrid model. And I think that when you talk to people, when you talk to workers, the vast, vast majority of people would prefer a hybrid model where they are sometimes in the workplace, but sometimes being able to work at home.

I do think there is a danger in the executives who are saying you have to have face time. I think that is a very, very outmoded, outdated way of thinking about things.

ZAKARIA: How do you deal with the class divide element of this? A CEO friend of mine said to me about those of us who do think there will be greater hybrid model, he said to me, look, the senior management loves this idea. They all have large houses, large suburban houses with home offices. But the younger kids, they don't have that, they live in four, five -- you know, two in an apartment. They do want to come back to the office. So is there -- you know, is there a divide here?

LIPMAN: There's a couple ways this could play out. One might be that the people who are -- the younger people want to come in because they want to get away from their roommates and their studio apartment, and the older people who live in the suburbs and have a commute want to stay at home and work remotely. In which case you don't get the mentoring that you need, you don't get the transmission of the company culture, which is so, so important.

There is another way this class system could work out that could be potentially even more damaging, and that would be if the people who want to hustle are in and are -- they are favored over those who are remote. And this, I think, is perhaps a bigger issue. If you have a situation, we know that women, particularly working mothers of young children, and we know that people of color are more likely to say that they prefer remote working.

If you have the people on the premises being favored, getting the promotions, getting the raises, getting the opportunities, whereas those who are remote do not, you really -- then you have a class system that exacerbates what we already know are the issues that these marginalized groups are already facing. And so you could actually double down on the issues faced by women, faced by people of color, faced by your marginalized communities, and that is something that's a real danger that we've got to keep our eyes open for. ZAKARIA: So it has to be intelligently designed and presumably some

piece of this will be that offices will become a little bit more like WeWork, that model of the idea that you kind of come in and out, plug in and leave becomes the new model?

LIPMAN: I think what might be more likely to happen could be a situation where there are more satellite offices. REI, the apparel retailer, did something really interesting where they gave up their headquarters building in favor of creating satellite offices so that people could go to work but go to work in a smaller office that would be closer to their home. So you are surrounded by colleagues, which is helpful, right? But at the same time you are not having to make that long commute into the center of the city.

One of the big changes that we might see, I think, would be more companies adopting a four-day work week. This, I think, could be quite revolutionary, and I do think -- you know, when we talk about starting the office and the work week from scratch, I believe that is something where we might have landed. There's been some experiments here. Iceland over four years, 2015 to 2019, they just recently released the results of their experiment for the four-day work week.


They found that productivity remained constant or increased, and that employee -- that the employees loved it. It was great for their mental health. They reported less burnout, they reported better balance in their work and lives, so I think there is a real lesson there.

Joanne Lipman, pleasure to have you on.

LIPMAN: Thank you, Fareed. Great to be here.

ZAKARIA: From back to work to back to school. How can all schools from nursery to graduate change the way they educate our kids post- pandemic? I'll be back with the former U.S. secretary of education, Arne Duncan, in a moment.



ZAKARIA: Children across America are starting to go back to school after a long summer break. And when they get back, the school bell will likely ring at about 8:00 a.m. That's just the way schools work in America. But is that the way they should work? Should kids have almost three months off in summer? Is 8:00 a.m. the best start time?

Well, the pandemic gives educators and policymakers a prime opportunity to reconsider every aspect of how we teach our children. Arne Duncan joined me to talk about it all. He was secretary of education for seven years under President Obama.


ZAKARIA: Arne Duncan, pleasure to have you on. DUNCAN: Thanks so much for having me.

ZAKARIA: Let's start by just getting the broadest lesson we can from the pandemic regarding education. What was the effect of the pandemic on education in America, particularly K through 12?

DUNCAN: Unfortunately for me, the pandemic has had just a devastating impact on children's education across the country as everyone is aware that we're actually going to be entering the third school year impacted by the pandemic, and our refusal as adults to take care of kids, to pay attention to science, to do the things that make sense have just had a really, really detrimental impact on children, not just educationally and academically, and we now have tens of millions of children who are behind anywhere between a couple months to a year or more, but also on students' social and emotional needs.

And so it's been an extraordinarily tough time and we have to emerge from this darkness doing whatever we can to help take care of our kids' social and emotional needs first, help them accelerate academically and help them fulfill their tremendous academic and social potential.

ZAKARIA: So if you look at the rest of society and the economy, one of the pleasant surprises of the pandemic was that the digital economy kind of stepped in and was able to operate pretty successfully in a whole bunch of different areas. But it seems as though online education, or exclusively online education, did not really deliver. Why do you think that is?

DUNCAN: Well, I think all of us, but particularly our children, are by nature social beings. And we probably have a small percent of students who learn better in a virtual environment, but the vast majority of students want to be around their friends, want to be, you know, with a teacher, need those human relationships, need that human contact, and the fact that we've denied them that for so long is extraordinarily tough.

An underreported story that is perhaps the most troubling to me, Fareed, is that we have somewhere between two million and 2.5 million students who never made the transition from physical school to virtual school. They just disappeared. And we can't have a lost generation of students, and this is not something we can solve via technology. This has to be high touch, not high tech.

And as we go into the next school year having teachers, social workers, principals, whatever, go to children's homes who have been missing, who have been out of school for more than a year now, find them, find out what's going wrong, find out what the challenges are either at home or in the broader neighborhood, whatever might be, get them back enrolled in school. That has to be, you know, that's critical. It has to be mission number one.

ZAKARIA: So, you know, people talk in the workplace of a new hybrid model, whether it be part digital, part real in person. It sounds like you're saying we really need to focus on the physical in-person part here. There isn't a lot of hybrid in your vision. DUNCAN: Well, I think there are some things that we can learn, you

know, from the virtual environment. I'll give you one concrete example of it. You know, we have, you know, thousands and thousands of algebra teachers teaching algebra to 125 students across the country every single day.

Think if we figured out who the best, who the Albert Einstein algebra teachers who are in our country, and rather than teaching 100 hundreds each day, think about they're teaching a thousand or 10,000 or 100,000, and then we could use that class time, the in-person time for tutorials and small group instruction.

So there are some lessons that we can take and run with. Obviously we need to make access to devices, to Wi-Fi, as ubiquitous as access to electricity and running water. Children everywhere, inner city communities, in Appalachia and Native American Reservations need to be able to learn anything they want, anytime, anywhere, 24/7, so the pandemic is forcing us to make progress. We have to continue to make that progress. But at the end of the day, for the vast majority of students, spending a vast majority of their time in a physical school building is the right way to go.


ZAKARIA: When you look forward, what's your hope for post-pandemic education? What do you -- what's the best-case scenario September onwards?

DUNCAN: Well, there are so many lessons that we can learn, and I've said repeatedly that the goal here should not be to go back to, quote- unquote, "normal," because normal didn't serve tens and millions of children well enough. We need to leapfrog, we need to innovate, we need to accelerate how we learn and how we teach. So just a couple quick ideas, Fareed.

First of all, the idea of having three months off for summer is pretty obsolete. Has been obsolete for a long time. That was based upon the raring economy, and last time I checked, most of our children weren't working in our fields. And so children need different amounts of schooling. So some children might need five days a week, nine months a year. Other children might need six, seven days a week, 11 months of a year. Longer days, afternoons, because of what's going on again at home or in the community.

Some children need one meal a day at school, some children need three meals a day at school. And when I ran the Chicago public schools, we sent home very discreetly for a couple thousand children backpacks full of food on Friday afternoons because we worried about them not eating during weekends and coming back to school hungry. And if your stomach is grumbling, you can't learn.

So really trying to change the concept of time. What's been constant in education is time, and the variable has been learning. I want to flip that on its head. I want learning to be the constant and the variable to be time, and let's give every child exactly what they need to be successful. The second one is we have to move -- and this is related, move from a

system based upon see time, and I'll go back to my algebra analogy. Basically you pass algebra by sitting in class four, five days a week, an hour a day for nine months. You should pass algebra when you know algebra. And that might be after three months, it might be after four months, it might be after nine months. Maybe after 15 months. And that's all OK.

But moving from see time to compensate, thinking very differently about the use of time, and giving every child exactly what they need academically but also socially and emotionally, and making sure they're fed, those are ideas that if we were to take them to scale, Fareed, we could really accelerate learning, accelerate progress coming out of an extraordinarily dark time in our nation's history.

ZAKARIA: Arne Duncan, pleasure to have you on, sir.

DUNCAN: Thank you so much for the opportunity.


ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, will the world's cities be yet another victim of this pandemic? My next guest says nobody should be writing obituaries for our urban areas. They will be back, just in a different, hopefully better way. That story in a moment.



ZAKARIA: After New York City was devastated by COVID in the spring of 2020, much ink was spilled on the obituary of the Big Apple and many of the world's other cities as well. But New York is coming back. This summer was just about as hot and noisy and filled with great art and culture and food and interesting people as ever.

But what have cities learned from the pandemic and what will keep those obituary writers at bay for many more decades?

Richard Florida joins me now. He is the co-founder of the City Lab and a professor at the University of Toronto.

Richard, first with New York and San Francisco, have they really come back? I mean, you still do hear that -- you know, the office buildings are still vacant. There are shops that are vacant. Can we confidently say that cities are back?

FLORIDA: I think cities are back. And I think New York in particular -- and we can get to San Francisco -- has proven to be the most resilient city in the world. You know, this is the third time in the past two decades New York City was counted for dead. The first was after the tragic attack on the Twin Towers, the second was in 2008. And then of course now.

But I think the pundits got this wrong. They thought people would leave cities, and of course in the short term, as people have done going back to the plagues in Europe, wealthier people and more advantaged people and people with families decamped cities temporarily.

But I think the big effect, Fareed, and you hinted at this in the question, is not where people are going to live. I think that going to look pretty similar -- not the same, but similar to how it did pre- pandemic -- how people work and where they work is going to change, and I think remote work is a much bigger deal than most people have thought.

Now, look, the best data we have says remote work is going to go from less than 5 percent of working days, and this is from Nick Bloom at Stanford and his colleagues, to about 20 percent of working days. But that's a lot, and I think that will have an effect ultimately on reshaping and remaking these office areas or what urban has called central business districts of major cities.

ZAKARIA: So explain how that will play out. Describe what you think is going to happen. Because, you know, if you do end up with more remote work, won't more people say, well, I could live in the suburbs? You know, the commuting three times a week is not as bad as commuting five times a week.


Or, you know, what's the hybrid model we're looking at for the future?

FLORIDA: So remote work seems to have two big effects. The first is very similar to the introduction of earlier technologies like the subway or the commuter train or the automobile. Remote work is the latest technology which stretches the boundaries of cities for what we call metropolitan areas.

If the car allowed people to decamp to the suburbs and the exurbs, remote work really allows people to decamp to rural areas outside of great cities like New York or San Francisco. And when you look at the data, some of the fastest-growing communities in America are the Hudson Valley towns outside of New York City, and there are equivalents outside of Los Angeles or San Francisco.

The second big effect is how people work and commute. It's not so much that people don't want to go to the office per se. What we're finding is that suburban office parks close to where workers work and where they can drive to work are getting filled up more quickly. It's the downtown office parks where people have to commute by train or train to subway that are not filling up. It's not so much here at the office, it's this reluctance to commute.

What I think is likely to happen is that instead of an area where people come to work and plug their laptop into a cubicle, the central business district will gradually be reshaped as a place to convene and socialize.

ZAKARIA: And you've written a lot about how this kind of transformation has happened in the past, you know. We often forget cities used to be the centers of manufacturing and then what happened? FLORIDA: Well, if you look at -- and I've studied this pretty

exhaustively. After the Spanish flu, you know, we had the roaring '20s. And we can look forward again to the roaring 2020s. New York City came back blazingly fast and really became a world center for arts and culture. It's when the Greenwich Village as we know it. New York City is an arts and cultural center because housing became more affordable and artists could move there.

But the big example I think we can use historically that you and I both lived through was the deindustrialization of great cities that happened in the '70s and '80s when manufacturing decamped for the suburbs, for the sunbelt, and ultimately people predicted the death of New York and that's when President Ford said, New York, drop dead, deal with your fiscal crisis, but what happened was those older factory buildings proved the perfect spaces for art galleries, artist studios, musical bands to practice, cultural venues.

Ultimately they were reconverted into luxury housing and now many of the -- even the biggest of those buildings that lie fallow for quite a while have become the incubators and accelerators for the great tech boom in New York City, so it wouldn't surprise me is if our big experiment with remote work is recasting our office towers and office buildings, which are located in the most central and best locations served by transit and trains that the densest parts of our great cities, if they came back as new centers of socializing connectivity and actually more residents and more affordable housing.

ZAKARIA: And when you look globally, it's fair to say that the great trend of urbanization -- I mean, we've already crossed, I think 50 percent of the world now lives in cities that great trend seems to be continuing and continues to be as strong as ever, and I want to ask you if I'm right in thinking, you know, the fundamental reason why this continues is very simple. You make more money if you live in a city on average.

FLORIDA: That's why, in the wake of every pandemic in history going back to the Middle Ages, from the plagues to cholera, to the Spanish flu, young and ambitious people have flocked the cities even in the wake of pandemics that were far deadlier. Urbanization is a wonderful thing. It is the thing that we have created as human beings. When we cluster together, when we increase density, when we become more diverse, we increase our innovativeness, our creativity and productivity.

It's not that we do this as individuals. We do this in groups, in collectivities, in urban areas. But there's one thing that people get confused when they talk about urbanization. Most people conceive of urbanization as more and more skyscrapers and more and more density in the city core. And that's a good deal of the part of urbanization. A part of urbanization is the intensification of land use, more business, more innovation, more people at the city center.

The other part of it that we've been going through for more than a century is the extensification of the use of land as we move to the city periphery, as we move to the suburbs, and the exurbs, and the rural areas and ultimately, as we see these great mega regions take shape like the New York, Boston, Washington corridors, analogs, Beijing, and Shanghai in China. Bangalore and Mumbai in India. These great (INAUDIBLE) that extend out are also part of urbanization and that's proceeding at a quicker pace.


ZAKARIA: Richard Florida, a pleasure to have you on.

FLORIDA: It's great to be with you, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, we will explore how the pandemic shifted the economic realities of the world. Both at the human level and the national level. "The Economist" editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes next.


ZAKARIA: The pandemic has devastated the travel, hospitality and restaurant industries. It's crushed live theater and concerts and sporting events. The World Back says the pandemic pushed about 100 million people around the globe back into extreme poverty in 2020. But it also made some of the rich fabulously richer.

Take Jeff Bezos. Thanks to Amazon's increasing indispensability during the pandemic, delivering disinfectant, diapers and daily entertainment to those stuck at home, the world's wealthiest man almost doubled his net worth, adding nearly $100 billion to his personal coffers in the past 20 months.


So what will the post-pandemic economy bring for people and nations across the wealth spectrum. Zanny Minton Beddoes is the editor-in- chief of "The Economist."

Welcome, Zanny Minton Beddoes. Let me ask you to start, what do you think is just the outlines of the economy as we get out of this pandemic haltingly and hesitatingly as it is, but, you know, what does it look like with all this government money thrown at the economy in the United States, in Europe, in China?

MINTON BEDDOES: Well, I think there are several things going on. The first is how much will the post-pandemic economy look like the pre- pandemic economy? Are we just getting back to a normal, or is it a new kind of economy? And I think there are many significant ways in which the way we work, the way we live, the way we shop, the way we travel has changed. And so one big question is, is all of that temporary or are some those changes going to stick?

And the second, as you say, is what is the impact of this huge amount of government spending, this huge stimulus that particularly in the rich world and particularly in America is fueling the economy? And I think if you think that -- if you combine that huge amount of stimulus with a sense that maybe actually some things in the economy have changed, maybe fewer people are willing to work, then you have the ingredients of potentially higher inflation. And I think that's the challenge for the debate about whether

inflation is a problem is whether you think what's going on now is temporary, as you say, where stuff went back to normal or whether you think we're in a new world?

ZAKARIA: What do you think happens to globalization? Because, you know, at the start of the pandemic, we all heard about countries wanting to bring their supply chains back and even liberals like Emanuel Macron started talking about the importance of national sovereignty and economics.

But if you look at the trade numbers, I mean, U.S.-China trade is at a peak. The China-Australia trade is at a peak, global trade has rebounded pretty much back to pre-pandemic levels. Is globalization in trouble or is it going to just sail right on?

MINTON BEDDOES: I think globalization is going to change. You're right that there hasn't been the collapse in trade that many people feared. But I do think that in country after country, there is an increasing focus on industrial policy, on protecting industries at home, on having critical supply chains at home. Whether it's the United States with Buy America, whether it's, as you say, the Europeans who are focused on strategic industries, and particularly China. And China is very, very focused on its own strategic industries.

And you put all of that together, you have several, you know, small cuts in the nature of globalization and global supply chains. So I think the fact that it hasn't happened dramatically yet doesn't mean that it isn't sort of going to erode globalization going forward. So I think we are going to see some sort of breaking up of supply chains, some regionalization, some localization.

And that will change the nature of globalization and it's going to be particularly difficult for middle income countries that have not yet got onto the kind of export-led growth ladder, and for them that process of exporting your way to becoming a richer country, which is really what the East Asian countries did, what China did, is much, much harder.

So if you're in Latin America or if you're in Africa, it's a harder prospect to do that now, particularly if globalization is not in a stronger shape as it has been.

ZAKARIA: Yes. So let's talk about those kinds of countries because so far we've been talking really about the problems of the rich world. Huge government intervention, huge technological change. But for a large number of countries, you know, I'm thinking of India or Indonesia, the government can't spend that much money, it doesn't have that much money to spend, so it has a public health crisis, it has an economic crisis, and it cannot borrow at the kind of rock bottom rates that the Western world or Japan or China can.

What happens to this group which is, of course, the vast majority of the world's population?

MINTON BEDDOES: Well, I think that group of countries has a much tougher time going forward, and for three reasons. It's in large part because many of those countries have much lower rates of vaccination than the rich world. So there is a big gap in the world now between the jobs and the job nots, if you will. Because if you have low rates of vaccination, the Delta variant and any subsequent variant are causing, you know, far more hurt, far more loss, far more loss of life and far more economic damage. So that's one big hit.


The second, as you say, is that these countries don't have the ability to stimulate their economies, to support people in the way that rich countries have. And, thirdly, they are also hit by these fissures in globalization. They are hit by a less hospitable global environment. And particularly if the U.S. is roaring along and starts raising interest rates, then it becomes even harder for them because capital goes back to the United States out of those countries, making it even harder for their economies to rebound.

ZAKARIA: And so we end up with a kind of tale of two worlds? It sounds very much like the kind of great gains of the last 20 or 30 years where the poor countries were catching up is sort of being reversed now.

MINTON BEDDOES: Well, I think that's really a genuine risk. And actually if you look even in the years prior to the pandemic, the great gains that had happened in the '90s and 2000s were slowing, and many more poor countries were not catching up.

So the ingredients of this were setting in before the pandemic. But I think COVID has made it much harder for them, for the reasons that I've laid out, but also because the costs of COVID, whether the cost of not being in school, the cost of not being able to focus in any other areas of health care.

These are hitting the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world hardest. And so I think, yes, I think unfortunately, for the middle- income countries in particular where the vast majority of the world's population live, things have got much tougher. And if you look around the world from Columbia to South Africa to Myanmar, you are seeing protest and political instability because people have aspirations and understandable aspirations that have delivered, and they are fed up with, you know, the situation they face themselves in, being political crackdowns.

All of these ingredients together I think are fairly combustible mix. You know, I don't want to exaggerate but I think the outlook really has gotten tougher for a lot of emerging economies.

ZAKARIA: Zanny Minton Beddoes, always a pleasure.

MINTON BEDDOES: Great to talk to you, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, I'll offer some of my own thoughts on where the world goes in the wake of this pandemic. When we come back.


ZAKARIA: I want to close by giving you some of my own thoughts. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a powerful spotlight. Exposing features of a society that are sometimes hidden from view. It's highlighted which countries have high quality health care bureaucracies, where governments learn from prior experiences and make reforms, and where people trust their experts and their leaders.

In a sense, the COVID pandemic has often been a metaphor for what is right or wrong with a country. Some recent research places a spotlight on an unexpected aspect -- inequality. Youyang Gu, a data scientist, searched for correlations between dozens of factors on the one hand and COVID deaths in America state by state on the other.

Only three factors seemed connected -- population density, numbers of nursing home residents, and above all, income inequality. New York has all three, but most significantly, it has the country's highest level of income inequality and second highest COVID deaths per capita. Other unequal states also suffered some of the highest COVID death rates like Louisiana and Mississippi.

"The Economist" took this research on inequality and found the same pattern when comparing countries. For instance, Scandinavian countries did better than the rest of Europe. Even Sweden did better despite taking a laid-back approach to the virus. A group of Canadian scholars looked at 84 countries, and guess what, they found the same connection. The lower the levels of inequality, the fewer COVID deaths a country experienced on average.

Why is this? Well, "The Economist" has three possible explanations. First, lower levels of inequality usually mean better overall health. An extra dollar for a poor person causes a much bigger improvement in health than an extra dollar for a rich person. Second, workers in more egalitarian societies have more bargaining power and can get better working conditions, have benefits and a higher quality of life overall.

In Sweden, workers like meat packers usually highly prone to COVID in other countries have not died at higher rates than other professions probably for the reasons I just mentioned. And finally lower inequality means higher social capital and trust. Countries without great divides between the rich and poor are more able to find common ground, make sacrifices for each other and trust one another.

America with its sky-high levels of inequality is now a poster child for collapsed social trust. Disease is supposed to be a great leveler. Viruses are equal opportunity menaces, yet COVID-19 laid bare the fissures in our society, in some cases tearing them even wider.


To build back better, we must lower the cost of health care, create a better education system, spend more on alleviating poverty, expand access to transportation and housing, and provide good jobs to people who may not be able to work from home. It has never been more clearer that the health of a society and the

health of its people are deeply intertwined.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my special program this week, and I will see you next week.


JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Happy Labor Day weekend.