Shutdown ~ by Adam Tooze

Heck of a good book – yes-siree-bob – if you’re interested in international and macro economics in the era of the novel Coronavirus-19. I read Premonition by Michael Lewis which was about the medical aspects and how the US professionals and officials dealt with that.  And I read Landslide by Michael Wolff which was about Trump and how he handled it (along with other matters).  But this book is about the worldwide economics of it.  Fwiw, Tooze is from the UK but the book was written as much of more for Americans as the English. 

Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy 
by Adam Tooze
2021 / 354 pages
Read by Simon Vance 12h 37m
Rating: 9 / current events-economics 
(Both read and listened) 

“This is the real first world war … the other world wars were localized in (some) continents with very little participation from other continents  … but this affects everyone. It is not localized. It is not a war from which you can escape.” Lenin Moreno – president of Ecuador. (p. 8) 

I read Tooze’s book Crashed back in February of 2019 and enjoyed it so much I wanted to read it a second time but … yeah – time.   Here’s my review of it- a 9.75 rating:

In Shutdown I was hooked in with the first few pages. The Introduction is long and fascinating and read by Tooze who is a very good narrator.  The book is long and fascinating as it goes over any and almost all aspects of what we (the world)  went through as well as some background (2008).  And there are the perennial economics issues – big government and big debt vs trying to keep it all to a minimum.  

In Chapter 1 Tooze introduces the reader to some of the problems associated with the economics of a pandemic like Covid.  What is a life/death worth? How much risk is reasonable? Are we as community minded as the vets of WWI?  And now the source and spread of the infectious diseases (like the viruses, HIV-AIDS, SAARS, the Coronavirus-19, Ebola, Swine Flu, H1N1, etc) is global and fast.  So we have to be prepared and to fight big because these are costly by nature and they involve “market failure.” By that time the social order and political legitimacy are at stake. This kind of biomedical catastrophe had been seen as a probable future problem for a long time before Covid hit – but still, we weren’t prepared – nobody was.  And the US and China were not much better.  We were preoccupied with climate.  

Of course, I got bored and a bit lost when the narrative turned to junk bonds, derivatives, treasuries and repurchasing, but that’s only a chapter or two.  And Tooze covers what Wall Street and the European Union were doing in trying to get their act together.  Strong central banks were vital.  And what caught my attention were the varied responses of the EU, South American countries, China and the wee bits about Africa – good and bad. 

For the first couple of months there was no need for a lot of “lockdowns” and travel bans. People were doing that anyway of their own accord – this is what is meant by “shutdown.”  Shutdown is voluntary.  The results show that in the economics reports: travel was down something like 90% in places and movies were making no money at all and this was before any mandates or laws about Covid behavior.

Then the governments got involved and everyone did they their own thing with China and South Korea being quickly successful at containing the virus while there was horrendous spread in Bolsonaro’s Brazil.  

Trump’s behavior and ideas come into the picture at times and Tooze is no fan but he does give rather grudging credit where it’s due- Trump changed his mind on a few things before the crisis got too much.   And Xi Jinping is not exempt from criticism, but I think Tooze supports Xi’s China more than the old -style capitalism of the right wing US which is made up of a strange coalition of Koch money and tattoo parlor/motorcycle repair businesses.   

The main thrust of the book is in the economics and how all the countries and agencies worked together (or not) to deal with the crisis.

Overall I enjoyed the book – it’s a good overview of what’s transpired over the last 18 months and how  the economy has been affected and how the financial sectors have reacted.  

Simon Vance does an excellent job of narrating.  

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