Issue 23: from Europe's vaccine politics to Biden's blitz

UK's vaccine success, EU's vaccine failure, sublime Utopias, climate blitz and Biden's China course

Dear reader,

Welcome to this week’s issue of the Anti-Apocalyptus newsletter. Each week I send you five links about some of the most important challenges of our time: climate change, weapons of mass destruction, emerging technologies, mass causes of death and great power wars. If you haven’t done so yet, feel free to subscribe at the button below, hit the heart button or share this email with anyone who could be interested.

This edition is heavily geared towards politics. Two articles discuss what’s happening around vaccine politics in Europe, and what we can learn about the trade-off between speed and fairness. Two other pieces go into the early actions of the Biden administration on climate and China.

In between I found an interesting, more abstract piece on Utopias, and why such futures might be much stranger than the literature would suggest.

Hope you enjoy them, and happy reading!


Bloomberg - Covid-19: How Did Britain Get It So Wrong and So Right?

Long-time readers of this newsletter will know that one of my pet topics is why certain countries did better on COVID-19, and whether certain political regimes are better suited at dealing with such big challenges. The answer is complicated, something the UK’s track record shows. The country botched its initial response, racking up one of the highest death rates in Europe in the process. But on the side of vaccines, somehow it managed to do well, vaccinating its people much faster than the rest of Europe. The answer seems to lie in the actions of the Vaccine Task Force of the UK government, which managed to show a degree of operational effectiveness not seen in other elements of the UK government’s response. (an interesting Twitter thread on that response you can find here, I also recommend this Noema piece on why state operational effectiveness seems to be the key determinant for a good COVID-19 response)

Politico - How Europe fell behind on vaccines

Great background article that puts the UK’s success into context. They take a deep-dive into the vaccine politics of the EU, and why, for now, the union managed to fall behind and fumble so much, this week even calling for export controls on vaccines produced on the continent. It seems that the EU prioritised solidarity between member states (not letting poorer countries fall behind on vaccination) and taking a tough position on pharma companies (for example in terms of liability and price) over speed, which in turn has resulted in slower starts to the vaccination campaigns and supply problems as pharma companies have been slow to speed up their production. In the long-term, if problems show up with vaccines, this might not be a bad decision, but for now the trade-off between fairness and speed seems to be on the side of speed.

Hands and Cities - Actually possible: thoughts on Utopia

This newsletter is fundamentally about bad futures, things that could go wrong and significantly derail our future as a species. Nevertheless that type of thinking also invites an opposite: futures where we don’t destroy ourselves, and things go pretty well. Which is why Utopias are so interesting, and why I liked this blogpost. Joe Carlsmith from Open Philantrophy points out how most Utopias are what he calls discrete: essentially just copies of present society, but with less oppression (they might have communal property relations, or liberated sexuality) and maybe a new aesthetic. Utopias (besides dystopias) unsurprisingly tell us more about the society they were written in, than about the future. Most Utopias would in reality, however, be sublime, and be rather incomprehensible to our present selves, in the same way a Homo Erectus (or even a pre-modern peasant) probably couldn’t understand modern-day industrial society.

Volts - Biden is blitzing

Interesting newsletter from journalist David Roberts about the climate actions of the Biden administration. Turns out they are doing a ‘blitz’, rapidly implementing a range of new measures, a lot of which are focused on climate. This has been met with calls of un-democratic-ness, but in reality it might be a good political move. Slowly building up policy and the political capital to push it through, might just be met with an hysterical response from the Republican right in the media and in politics. By pushing through a mass of new policies as fast as possible, Biden can outmanoeuvre his opponents, and not give them a chance to mobilise.

Axios - Biden sets his sights on China

A good overview of what the new US Biden administration is doing on China. Somewhat predictably we’re not seeing a deep change in China policy compared to Trump. The US remains confrontational compared to Chinese ascendancy, and key themes, such as technological autonomy, remain on the table. The differences between Biden and Trump on China seem to be more about style and details than about fundamentals. Biden for example seems more pre-disposed towards multilateralism than Trump, and has raised more social accents in regards to trade.

I hope you enjoyed this newsletter. Feel free to send me comments or remarks by responding to this email. If you haven’t done so yet, please subscribe at the link below, hit the heart button or forward this email to anyone who could be interested.