“War is a judgement that overtakes societies when they have been living upon ideas that conflict too violently with the laws governing the universe… Never think that wars are irrational catastrophes: they happen when wrong ways of thinking and living bring about intolerable situations.” — Dorothy L. Sayers
In the near future, we are likely to call this the Third World War, or WW3.
World Wars are events that are global, cause severe economic damage, and result in very large numbers of deaths. Unlike ordinary wars, which are localized, by definition world wars involve the entire planet and no nation is entirely immune from the death and destruction that follows.
This world war, unlike the previous two in the last century, is not a military war. But like them, it will lead to some economic, social, and political upheavals that could not have been anticipated at the start. The start of world wars can only be identified in hindsight, when the whole world is engulfed in conflict.
Once this pandemic is seen as WW3, several implications follow. First, it is not going to be short-lived. World wars last several years, not a few months. Second, it is an inflection point. The before and after images of the world are radically different. Expect the unexpected. Third, all aspects of the world are affected negatively. The body blow to global health will cause economic disruption at all levels, and in all sectors. The tiny village in a poor nation will suffer, as will the mega region in an advanced industrialized nation.
Fourth, the political effect. Governments, which under normal circumstances gradually ratchet up their economic control, as they do in any war, increase their power and control at breakneck speeds. This is the most pernicious effect of this WW3, and this will cause more death and destruction than the pandemic will end up doing directly.
The formula governments employ is to induce panic and fear among the people, and then persuade them that only the government can protect them, and that protection entails greater governmental power and control. People will become less free.
The collateral damage from the government grab for power will be much larger — perhaps an order of magnitude larger — than the direct damage of the disease. The body social will suffer more from the government “virus” than the body biologic from the natural virus.
Suffering will be universal but the poor will suffer more than the rich. The rich have the ability to absorb economic setbacks but the poor are less resilient and only need a small push to send them over the economic cliff. The active war should be expected to last around three to five years. During this time, the poor will die not only due to the disease but also the actions taken in response to the disease such as lockdowns. In the decade following the end of the war, the poor will continue to die not from the disease but from the after-effects of the economic collapse of poor nations.
A conservative estimate of the number of poor people around the world that are vulnerable is around 2 billion. That includes the 700 million who are extremely poor (less than $2 a day per capita income), and around 1.3 billion with an income between $2 to $10 a day. The vast majority of these 2 billion poor are in the developing nations. India probably has around 600 million poor people.
I anticipate that WW3 will end in 2023. During and the 10 years following the end of WW3 I estimate that the excess deaths among the poor will be around 10 percent, or 200 million between now and 2033. Of these, around 20 million poor will die because of the disease, and the remaining 180 million will die because of the economic disruption, much of which can be attributed to government incompetence and malfeasance.
Are these numbers realistic? Let’s look at a previous pandemic — the Black Death — which lasted for seven years starting in 1346. The wiki notes that it
… was the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history, resulting in the deaths of up to 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa … The plague created religious, social, and economic upheavals, with profound effects on the course of European history. … The Black Death most likely originated in Central Asia or East Asia .., and is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population. In total, the plague may have reduced the world population from an estimated 475 million to 350–375 million in the 14th century. It took 200 years for Europe’s population to recover to its previous level.
The massive reduction of European population is believed to have had a profound effect on the power relationship between the lords and their serfs. Because of the huge reduction in labor supply, the wages went up, thus raising the average incomes of the poor. The Black Death came as a blessing to those poor who survived it.
In summary, here is what I believe. In no particular order —
- This is WW3. It began in December 2019 in China.It will not be over before 2023. Forget getting back to normal in a few months or even a year. Make adjustments to your plans and your activities accordingly. Forget non-essential travels for two years at least.
- Testing and vaccines will take at least two years. Expect that will be available at the end of 2021.
- The politicians and bureaucrats are loving this. They will increase their power and consequently the wealth they capture.
- The government-induced panic will persuade the people to give up their freedoms without protest.
- The world economy will be set back around 20 years. Global economic output in 2050 will be what it would have been around 2030 without WW3.
- The automation of the economies of advanced industrialized nations will accelerate. This will reduce labor needed in manufacturing, and thus manufacturing will shift closer to home locations. Meaning, manufacturing will become “decentralized” and China will no longer be the manufacturing center.
- Extreme poverty globally was on track to be entirely eliminated by 2035 or so. Now extreme poverty numbers will increase, especially in India which I believe the number will go up from around 70 million to around 200 million.
We were born after the two world wars of the last century, the last of which ended 75 years ago. People are used to wars around the world but have become accustomed to a world without a world war. We just don’t think it is possible that we will have to suffer a world war, or that global progress will be halted and reversed.
But that has changed. China has forced the world into a global war. The Chinese Communist Party will be held as the initiator of WW3. The world has paid a heavy price for communism so far but that will pale in comparison to what’s in store now. Marx and the Chinese Communist Party will be judged by posterity, thousands of years hence, as the greatest mass murderers in all of human history.