Fragile Futures: The Uncertain Economics of Disasters, Pandemics, and Climate Change. Vito Tanzi. 2022. Cambridge University Press. ISBN-10 1009100122. ISBN-13 978-1009100120. 246 pages. US$24.99 (hardcover).
How can governments prepare for unpredictable events such as a pandemic or climate change? That is one of the questions raised by economics professor Vito Tanzi as he also addresses in Fragile Futures: The Uncertain Economics of Disasters, Pandemics, and Climate Change an idea from economist John Maynard Keynes about the distinction between predictable and unpredictable events and how governments only prepare for predictable events. Tanzi argues that governments have not in the past prepared for unpredictable events such as a pandemic or climate change and proposes that if there is to be human progress in a future world, governments should look at a more global government role to deal with unpredictable disasters.
Famine is a topic Tanzi mentions in the section of Fragile Futures: The Uncertain Economics of Disasters, Pandemics, and Climate Change on disasters. Tanzi notes famines can be due to poor distribution of income as some economic theories prevent income redistribution. In some cases, as in China and Russia, famines resulted from “extreme left experiments” (p. 73). Tanzi feels governments in the future should take a global approach as they work to eliminate famine.
In the section of Fragile Futures: The Uncertain Economics of Disasters, Pandemics, and Climate Change on climate change, Tanzi concludes that “it may be a cruel illusion to believe that private actions, helped by some important technological changes, will, automatically and quickly, solve the ongoing global warming problem” (p. 164). He also notes it is easy to ignore climate change because it does not happen suddenly. While there is hope that spontaneous adaptation will help (p. 164), this is not enough and what is needed is to address issues related to climate change and global warming is global action and agreements through organizations such as the United Nations. What will help is a coordinated global effort getting away from the interests of individuals and specific groups (p. 165).
Tanzi’s also discusses inequality in the world. An example of inequality in the United States is how the top one percent of the wealthy saves 40% of their income; the bottom 90% saves almost none of their income; the remaining 9% (in between the top and bottom) saves about 10% (p. 212). With these kinds of saving rates, Tanzi feels that the future will not hold less inequality (p. 212). To lower this inequality and address how those who are less wealthy can suffer more than the wealthy during a disaster, Tanzi has an idealistic vision of governments that include environmentalists and altruistic individuals (p. 219). These individuals would believe “as did some major thinkers in the 1950’s (such as Einstein, Gandhi and Churchill), that we need an effective, global, institutional umbrella to guide decisions that affect the whole globe” (p. 219). Of course, only time will tell if we as human beings are capable of implementing such an idea and global approach. Tanzi’s hope is that a global governmental role would help keep undesirable economic inequalities lower as well as helping the world deal with unpredictable disasters, pandemics, and climate change.
By Jeanette Evans
A version of this review is scheduled to appear in Technical Communication.