Famed historian Niall Ferguson speaks at COSM 2021



Historian Niall Ferguson will speak about Doom: The Politics of catastrophe at COSM 2021 in Seattle (November 11, 12:00 p.m. – 12:45 p.m.).

His talk is based on his new book, Downfall (Penguin, 2021), which offers a disturbing but topical proposition: “Disasters are inherently difficult to predict. Pandemics such as earthquakes, forest fires, financial crises. and wars are not distributed normally; There is no historical cycle to help us anticipate the next catastrophe. But if a disaster strikes, we should be better prepared than the Romans when Vesuvius erupted or the medieval Italians when the plague occurred. After all, we have science on our side. ” (from the publisher)

But we are not better prepared. Any thoughtful person who has lived through the panic of the ever-changing bureaucratic response to COVID-19 and the enormous collateral damage it has caused knows this. We all have stories; few can trace back the historically significant causes.

Ferguson can help with many books here. It offers “not just a story, but a general theory of disasters that shows why our increasingly bureaucratic and complex systems are getting worse and worse when it comes to dealing with them”. (from the publisher)

We get an impression of Ferguson’s approach through an interview at Open minded,

… Some critics have confronted you for letting leaders like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson get away with it too lightly.

The book doesn’t let the populists go lightly. For example: “Trump made things worse. He downplayed the risk. He extolled quacks. He made bad appointments. He despised masks. He tweeted outright lies. He struggled with a callous disregard for the health of his fellow man. ”But if we tell ourselves that it was his fault that 600,000 Americans died prematurely, we are not going to learn the right lessons at all. In fact, we’re going to pretend that just choosing Joe Biden we solved the problem. But the mistakes that caused most of the deaths weren’t made by Trump, but by the public health bureaucracy: for example, the CDC’s failure to ramp up testing last year, the lack of an effective contact tracing app, the failure to keep people in of elderly care to protect homes. Just like in other western countries without populist leaders, where excess mortality rose even higher than in the USA.

Sudeep Paul, “Niall Ferguson: ‘Covid exposes the sclerosis of the administrative state'” at Open minded (June 18, 2021)

From a review at The guard,

Sooner or later there will be a realpolitical crack in Ferguson’s work, usually with a kind of hierarchy of world powers. It would be wrong to say that he is obsessed with China’s growth – it’s the great story of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, after all – but all roads seem to lead to Beijing.

Of course, all roads that Covid has taken ultimately lead back to China, and Ferguson will of course not lose this confluence of politics and pandemic. The pandemic, he writes, “only exacerbated Cold War II and at the same time revealed its existence to those who previously doubted it”.

Andrew Anthony, “Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe by Niall Ferguson Review – Information Deluge” at The guard, (May 17, 2021)

Here is a TV interview with Ferguson on the subject of Downfall:

The early adopter fee is available until September 15, 2021.

To update: All participants in COSM 2021 will receive a free copy of Downfall. Ferguson will also debate tech philosopher George Gilder.

You may also want to read: Peter Thiel speaks in person on November 10th at COSM in Seattle. As a world-class venture capitalist, he’s known for being open about what works and what doesn’t. COSM 2021 is focused on the converging technologies that are reshaping our world. Thiel asks whether new technologies will emerge or break in?


Kai-Fu Lee, inventor of speech recognition, speaks at COSM 2021. Lee is one of many technological geniuses performing in Seattle this November. Lee’s references are diverse and impressive, including Ph.D. Work that spawned speech recognition and senior positions at Microsoft and Google. (Caitlin Bassett)



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