May 11, 2020

Axios World

Welcome to a new week and another edition of Axios World. We're spanning 70,000 years of history tonight in just 1,680 words (6 minutes)

  • We're offering free global tours in this locked-down world. Tell someone in your life to sign up here.

Heads up: On tonight’s "Axios on HBO"... Vice President Mike Pence tells Axios’ Mike Allen that he'd be "happy" to see former national security adviser Michael Flynn back in the government (clip here).

  • Catch the full interview and much more tonight at 11pm ET/PT.
1 big thing: How humanity became global

The collision of U.S.-China rivalry with a global pandemic seems to vindicate the argument that globalization has peaked — supply chains will shrink, multilateralism will fade, and human connections across oceans and borders will fray.

The big picture: This narrative holds that globalization took root after World War II, accelerated after the fall of the Soviet Union, and is now under threat as nationalism rises in the West and China rises in the East.

  • But that’s just a sliver of the story. A forthcoming book by Jeffrey Sachs traces globalization back to the very beginning — some 70,000 years ago.

Sachs demonstrates in "The Ages of Globalization" that since the great dispersal from Africa, humanity has been on an unceasing trajectory toward deeper linkages between more people across greater distances.

  • In the 14th century, it took 16 years for the bubonic plague to spread from China to Italy.
  • "In our time, the pathogen arrived within days by nonstop flight from Wuhan to Rome," Sachs writes.

The talk of "peak globalization" is "mostly noise," Sachs tells Axios.

  • As what Sachs considers the seventh age of globalization (the Digital Age) dawns, "we are intensely interconnected and we are going to remain that way."
  • We may bemoan the dangers of globalization, Sachs argues, but we're unwilling to give up its fruits. Over Zoom, he holds up his morning coffee, harvested in Indonesia.

Sachs believes we are at a "hinge moment" geopolitically, however, as the COVID-19 crisis heralds the end of American global leadership.

  • Sachs traces the global balance of power across millennia in his book, and he finds it unsurprising that China — which was for centuries the most advanced civilization on Earth — is once again a leading power.
  • More worryingly, the book demonstrates that both shifts in power and major technological breakthroughs often lead to war.

Zoom out: Sachs divides human history into seven "ages of globalization."

  • The Paleolithic Age (70,000–10,000 BCE) gives way to the Neolithic Age (10,000–3,000 BCE) with the arrival of agriculture and trade between villages.
  • In the Equestrian Age (3,000–1,000 BCE), the domestication of the horse allows for long-distance overland travel. In the Classical Age (1,000 BCE–1,500 CE), vast empires form and compete.
  • The Ocean Age (1,500–1,800) brings genuinely global conquest and commerce, which accelerates as the Industrial Age (1800–2000) ushers in new technologies and the first truly global powers — the U.K. and then the U.S.

The bottom line: Sachs' unstated argument is that the histories of humanity and of globalization are one and the same.

  • Just as knowledge and culture spread through globalization, so too did slavery and disease.
  • "Globalization has always created risks," Sachs says. "The bad spreads very quickly, along with the good."

What to watch: Globalization allowed COVID-19 to spread to every country on Earth. Now humanity must hope the intense international effort will yield a vaccine that will spread globally too.

Bonus: Killing off the wild horse

Sachs defines 2,000 years of globalization around a single development — the domestication of the horse — from which tremendous breakthroughs in farming, manufacturing, transport, communications, warfare and governance flowed.

  • Conquerors on horseback swept down from the Eurasian steppe and, as the "disruptive technology" dispersed, built great empires.
  • Just 500 years ago, conquerors arrived in the New World. They found no horses. Wild horses had been hunted into mass extinction throughout the Americas by early human arrivals.
  • "They had to walk for tens of thousands of years," Sachs told me. "Their one chance of decent transport and they lose it."

Makes one wonder which “wild horses” we might be killing off today...

2. No getting back to "normal"

A poll of five countries — the U.S., U.K., Germany, Sweden and Japan — finds that concerns around getting sick or losing jobs are fading slightly, but realization is setting in that lives will be different even after the crisis abates.

Data: Kekst CNC; Note: Exact question wording was "Assume that a vaccine against coronavirus is eventually developed and rolled out universally. After the coronavirus crisis is over, how do you expect your own lifestyle to be different to your lifestyle before the outbreak?" Table: Axios Visuals

What to watch: People in all five countries say that even after a vaccine is available, they will be less likely to travel by plane, use public transport and eat out at restaurants, according to polling from Kekst CNC, an international strategic communications firm, shared exclusively with Axios.

Breaking it down: Concerns about the effects of the crisis on jobs, finances and local economies are highest in the U.S. and lowest in Sweden.

In Germany, strong government actions likely contributed to the sharp decline in economic and health fears since the firm's previous poll a month ago.

  • Germany was the only country where respondents would like to see their national leader have more influence over the national response than they currently do.

Japanese people are the least content with their government’s response, by a big margin.

  • They're also most likely to say they expect the economy to collapse and to lose their job (39% for both).

While 51% of Germans and 65% of Brits agree that the government “is giving business the support it needs,” very few Japanese (13%) people agree. Results are mixed for Americans (44%) and Swedes (40%).

  • Brits (7%) and Germans (8%) were least likely to say they’d already lost their jobs (7%), and Americans most likely (19%).
  • Brits are by far the most likely to anticipate a long struggle, with 79% expecting their country to be dealing with the crisis a year from now, compared to 43% of Americans.
3. Three views of COVID-19 reality

Marching to a different tune, on Victory Day in Minsk. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko/TASS via Getty

1. Australia and New Zealand are reopening their economies and aim to share a "COVID-safe travel zone" within weeks, reports Axios’ Rebecca Falconer, who has been living under one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in New Zealand:

  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that retailers, restaurants and schools will reopen this week, along with domestic travel, following weeks with new daily cases near zero.
  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has outlined a three-step plan to fully reopen the economy by July after reporting similarly low numbers.
  • Conservative Morrison and progressive Ardern are working on joint plans to benefit both countries.

2. Belarus is now grappling with one of Europe's highest per-capita coronavirus infection rates, even as longtime President Alexander Lukashenko plays down the danger, Helene Bienvenu reports:

  • “Cafes and bars are still open, the football league is going ahead, and ... Lukashenko rejected calls to cancel a military parade on Saturday."
  • “Fearing a worse outbreak and with poor expectations of the authorities, many Belarusians are taking it upon themselves to distribute masks and promote social distancing.”

3. Sweden, which did not go into lockdown, has suffered 15 times as many deaths as has Norway, which did.

  • But the scientist behind Sweden’s approach, Anders Tegnell, says Sweden also appears to have far more immunity in its population (25% vs. 1–2% in Norway).
  • It’s unclear how long immunity will last, but even if it's only three to six months, that will position Sweden well for a potential second wave, Tegnell says.
  • He contended in a Q&A with the International Center for Journalists that decisions to lock down across Europe weren't based on any established science. “The costs are enormous,” he argues, and the benefits still unclear.
  • Worth noting: Despite its more lax approach, Sweden’s economy has been hit hard, the FT notes.

In photos: Countries ease lockdown restrictions

4. State of the outbreak: Remittances, wristbands and riding bikes

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

1. Countries across Asia are following China’s example and isolating even those with mild symptoms away from their families, WSJ notes.

  • An ex­hi­bi­tion cen­ter in Singapore and corporate dormitories in South Korea have been repurposed. The strategy seems to be effective in further containing infections.

2. Students in Beijing, meanwhile, have been given bracelets that monitor their temperatures 24 hours a day in case they develop a fever and need to be isolated, the BBC reports.

3. Cities across Europe — Paris, Brussels, London — are preparing for a post-lockdown future of wary commuters by installing miles of bike lanes, per the Washington Post.

  • Paris will designate some iconic streets strictly for bikes. “At least something good can [come out] of this terrible drama,” said an official from the transportation ministry, noting the environmental and public health benefits.

4. The World Bank projects that remittances could drop by 20% globally during the pandemic, the sharpest decline in history — threatening the livelihoods of the families who rely on them, Axios’ Rashaan Ayesh reports.

  • Remittances are roughly three times as valuable to poor countries as international aid because they go directly into the hands of people who need them the most. Go deeper.

Go deeper: South Korea's new outbreak should be a warning

5. Learning from a flawed history

Marking the 75th anniversary. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

It's fitting that the world marked the 75th anniversary of allied Victory in Europe as it was debating how to restart economies and emerge — eventually — from a world of lockdowns, furloughs and fear.

As historian Adam Tooze notes in an essay for Foreign Policy, the lessons of 1945 have been preached repeatedly by advocates of stronger social welfare programs and deeper multilateralism, forecasters of a "green industrial revolution" and guardians of national myths like Russia's Vladimir Putin. If the modern world was born from the fires of war, why can't a new one emerge from this pandemic? 

Tooze contends that the rhetoric around 1945 is "peculiarly bloodless," particularly among reformers: "a moment of collective organization and mobilization — but with the violence taken out."

In fact, 1945 was exceedingly bloody.

  • The world didn't simply shudder at the violence and decide to change, the violence itself changed the world, he contends.
  • 1945 saw ethnic cleansing in Europe and anti-colonial revolts around the world. Cities were liberated but they were also bombed almost into oblivion.
  • The end of World War II did not only give us the GI Bill and the U.K.'s National Health Service. It also birthed the Cold War, nuclear stockpiles and "the vast and dramatic acceleration of humanity’s appropriation of nature."

The bottom line: Selecting the most heroic version of the past may cause us to impose the wrong lessons onto the present.

In photos: Europe celebrates 75th anniversary of V-E Day

6. What I'm reading: The real Lord of the Flies

Warner (c) and his crew of former castaways. Photo: Golding/Fairfax Media via Getty

Dutch historian Rutger Bregman had always found William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" a vexing counterpoint to his argument that humanity is generally cooperative and kind.

Why it matters: Bregman wondered how Golding's classic would play out in the real world, and stumbled upon the tale of six boys who stole away from a boarding school in Tonga in 1965 only to become stranded at sea for eight days and wash up on a deserted island.

  • It was more than a year later when an Australian captain, Peter Warner, passed near the island and "saw a boy. Naked. Hair down to his shoulders. This wild creature leaped from the cliffside and plunged into the water."
  • Far from a scene of death, betrayal and inhumanity, Warner found "a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination.”
  • The boys remained friends throughout the ordeal, despite occasional squabbles. They continued to work together afterward as the crew of Warner's fishing boat.

Go deeper

7. Stories we're watching

A stroll along the Bosporus, in Istanbul. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Image

  1. Coronavirus reverses global progress
  2. New Israeli ambassador to serve dual UN, U.S. role
  3. Inside Israel's response to Iranian cyberattack
  4. Shanghai Disneyland reopens in tourism test for China
  5. U.K. coronavirus reopening plan advises face coverings
  6. Oil's "rapid and brutal adjustment"
  7. Deep dive: Education upended by coronavirus


"I think General Flynn is an American patriot. ... For my part, I'd be happy to see Michael Flynn again."
— Mike Pence to "Axios on HBO," saying he'd welcome Flynn back into the administration. The episode airs tonight.

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