Cool Leaders · Media

We are witnessing the emergence of a new media economy

By Hamish McKenzie

In 2010, at 29 years old, I came to the US as a freelance journalist. My previous job had been as a writer for an entertainment magazine in Hong Kong, and I had no connections here. That first year, living in Austin, Texas, I scrapped for stories about cartel murders, human relationships, and, um, the World Beard and Moustache Championships. I sent them to magazines and newspapers in Hong Kong and New Zealand. For extra income on the side, I wrote entries for ad agencies that were submitting their work for awards. At the end of the year, I tallied my pre-tax earnings and found I had made $35,000. 

That amount seemed small to some of my friends. Despite two advanced degrees and six years of journalism experience, I earned a lot less than peers who had gone into other careers. But I was so proud of myself. I didn’t care about getting rich. I cared only about earning enough money to keep doing work that I felt was meaningful – in ways big and small. A phone call I received a few years earlier during an internship for a New Zealand newspaper had stuck in my mind. I had written an article about a group of World War II veterans who were raising funds for a memorial trip to Crete, where some of their friends were laid to rest. It was a short piece buried in the middle of the paper, and I had thought little of it. But after it was published, a daughter of one of the veterans called to thank me, profusely, because the article meant so much to those men. I would go on to write much bigger stories in my career, but I was forever in search of the feeling I had on that call. My storytelling had made a positive difference in someone’s life. It was the best kind of pay a journalist could hope for.

Were I starting as a freelancer in a similar position today, I don’t think I could scrape together $35,000 in a year – even with corporate side gigs. An industry that once sustained so many writing careers is now in a freefall accelerated by the pandemic. I have been watching in dismay as news organizations of all sizes from around the world have been laying off journalists and slashing freelance budgets. My friends are losing their livelihoods. Writers I have respected for years are getting desperate. These people aren’t just in despair over losing their jobs; they’re scared that the very profession might disappear. Will being a journalist ever be financially viable again? Most of them have never sought riches; they just hope to earn enough money to cover the bills so they can do the work they believe is important. To many, that’s starting to look impossible. 

One of the most painful aspects of this situation is that journalism itself isn’t broken. People want and need trusted storytelling more than ever, and there are many capable journalists ready to do the work. But the business model that supports journalism is broken, with devastating repercussions. In recent weeks, we’ve seen mass layoffs at The Economist, Condé Nast, Quartz, BuzzFeed, Vice, and Protocol, to name a few. There will be thousands more. These losses come on top of years of retrenchment and consolidation, including the sales of once-vaunted and now-distressed publications to legacy-burnishing billionaires, and the bankruptcies and mergers of giant newspaper groups such as McClatchy, Gannett, and GateHouse — a crushing blow to local news in particular.

Some in the news business hope that Facebook and Google, under the right pressure from regulators, will send them rescue money. But no matter how much money can be squeezed out of the tech giants, it will never be enough to fix the broken parts of the support system that once sustained the free press. Instead, to find a way forward, those who care about the future of news need to play a different game – one that puts writers in control of their own destiny.

This is one of the key reasons we started Substack. We’re attempting to build an alternative media economy that gives journalists autonomy. If you don’t rely on ads for your revenue, you don’t have to be a pawn in the attention economy – which means you don’t have to compete with Facebook and Google. If you’re not playing the ads game, you can stop chasing clicks and instead focus on quality. If you control the relationship with your audience, you don’t have to rely on outside parties to favor you with traffic. And if you own a mailing list, no-one can cut you off from your readers. 

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about what might come along to “save” the news business from the ravages of the internet. But I think that’s the wrong framing. It’s better to ask: How can we use the internet to reinvent the entire business? We’ve defaulted to ads as the dominant business model for so long that we’ve failed to fully explore other options. I don’t accept that an ad-supported model is the best possible way to unleash humanity’s ability to produce and disseminate trustworthy storytelling. I don’t believe that we’ve seen the full potential of how good the news business can be. And yes, now we are in a crisis. But that crisis is an opportunity for reinvention. It’s a chance to build a new system where writers are well compensated and communities are well served. The internet might have helped get us into this mess, but it can also get us out.

The internet makes distribution frictionless and free – what used to take hours in trucks now takes milliseconds on the web. It makes a writer’s potential audience global instead of local. And it makes it easy to get paid. With a tool like Substack, you don’t need a complicated setup to manage the flow of information and money. When you don’t have to worry about a tech stack, design, back-office admin, or advertisers, you can spend all your time and energy on the most important thing: the journalism itself. 

With the subscription model, the numbers don’t have to be huge to produce meaningful revenue. If you can persuade a couple thousand people to pay you $5 a month, you’ll make $100,000 a year. It’s not easy – it takes time, dedication, and care – but it’s more doable than ever. In 2007, when I was hired as a reporter for a new trade magazine in Hong Kong, the assumption was that magazines like that took three years to become profitable. With the Substack model, the time to profitability can be reduced to months or even days, since you don’t need to staff up, build a sales operation, or stand up the technological infrastructure. 

Look at what Polina Marinova, formerly of Fortune, is doing with The Profile, where she focuses on deep-dives on fascinating people; or what Tony Mecia, formerly of the Weekly Standard, is doing with business news publication the Charlotte Ledger; or how Richard Rushfield, a former editor of HitFix, is covering the business of Hollywood with The Ankler. Matt Taibbi left Rolling Stone and is using Substack to put a spotlight on corruption in politics. Matt Elliott is covering Toronto’s City Hall. Judd Legum is exposing miscreant corporate giants with Popular Information

These journalists are doing the work they find most meaningful, having an impact, and making good money along the way. Emily Atkin, formerly of the New Republic, launched her climate change publication Heated in late 2019. A few months later, she is doing better by all measures than in any of her previous journalism jobs. “I was so scared when I left the New Republic that I would have to fight so hard to make my work have an impact because I lacked this institutional support,” Emily told an audience of writers in New York earlier this year, adding later: “I can’t believe how wrong I was.”

“I’ve never seen the type of impact that I’ve had in a 10-year reporting career than what I’ve had with such a smaller news audience, and that’s because these are passionate people. These are people who are there because of you, and they’re invested in you, and they take what you do and they yell about it.” 

Even though Emily is just getting started with Heated, it’s already working out financially, she said. Her income is comfortably in six figures. “I make more money now than I had at any salaried journalism job.”

Today, Substack publications are like islands on their own, with little communication between each. But over time, we aim to build Substack into a network, where writers can support each other and readers can find millions of deeply satisfying media experiences. As the network grows, there’ll be opportunity for cooperation, community, and innovation. We’re already starting to see people work together to take advantage of new opportunities with Substack. The writers who used to staff Gizmodo Media Group’s Splinter have started a new project called Discourse Blog. The Weekly Standard’s former editor-in-chief, Steve Hayes, teamed up with Jonah Goldberg and David French from the National Review to create The Dispatch, which crossed $1 million in revenue in a matter of weeks. A team of basketball writers who love the Golden State Warriors left SB Nation and created Let’s Go Warriors. Dan Shipper and Nathan Baschez have jury-rigged a bundle for their business-strategy publications, Divinations and Superorganizers

I’m wary of selling false hope to journalists who have been burned many times over by grand promises from technology companies. It is true that this new model won’t immediately work for everyone. But there are early signs that we are witnessing the emergence of a new media economy. The top writers on Substack are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and there’s a rapidly growing middle class, with writers and podcasters netting incomes that range from pocket money to high five figures. There are now well over 100,000 paying subscribers to Substack publications. We are learning from the activity in these early days and building resources and programs — such as fellowshipsworkshops, and grants — to help as many people as possible succeed.  

As I reflect on my career as a journalist, I feel compelled to do everything in my power to help. I can’t guarantee success to just anyone who starts on Substack, but I can guarantee our support. If you’ve been affected by this crisis and are interested in exploring what’s possible on Substack, please get in touch (hello@substack.com). Our team is focused on taking one-on-one coaching and development calls to talk about editorial strategies, how to think about launching paid subscriptions, and offering best practices for getting started. But we also know that the best guides are other writers on Substack who are succeeding with the model. Below is a list of Susbtack writers who have volunteered to offer advice. Fill in this form and we’ll set you up on a call. 

I believe that we’ll get through this together, and one day we will look back at this time not as the end of days, but as the start of a transition that transformed journalism for the better. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported Substack, and Substack writers, so far. There’s so much more to come.


Substack writers who have volunteered to offer advice calls 

To schedule a call, please complete this form.

(Want to add your name to this list? Email hello@substack.com with “Volunteer” in the subject line.)


Hamish is co-founder and COO of Substack.

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Cool Leaders

This is a global crisis and for millions of children the impact will be life long

By Greta Thunberg

Very honoured to receive Human Act Award. The prize money – 100 000 USD – will be donated to @unicef . Human Act will match this donation with an additional USD 100,000 for the total sum of USD 200,000.

So today we are launching a joint global funding campaign – Let’s Move Humanity for Children in the Fight Against Coronavirus – to support UNICEF´s efforts to protect and save children’s lives during the corona crisis.

The poorest and the most vulnerable people are always the hardest hit by a crisis.
Just like the climate crisis, the consequences of the corona pandemic will be most damaging for children in poor countries, in the poorest neighborhoods and for those already in disadvantaged and vulnerable situations.

More than 1,5 billion children are today affected by school closures.
This has a direct effect on millions of children and young people’s possibilities to learn, to a lunch meal and get access to water and sanitation.

More than 300 million school children rrely on schools as a source of daily nutrition.

Millions of children do not have access to distance learning. The digital divide is an example of global inequalities that affects the most vulnerable children.

Even if children so far generally have been spared the most severe symptoms of the Covid-19 virus, children’s lives and heath are already at risk. This is mainly due to lack of access to healthcare services – both for children and pregnant women – because of vaccination campaigns being suspended as well as lack of nutrition.

With the global health care services becoming overwhelmed there will be many additional child deaths in 2020.

This is a global crisis and for millions of children the impact will be life long. We need to act now – for the sake of every child.

The time is now, and we need your help to protect children. Donate today here . Thank you!

Cool Leaders

BIG 3D printing 10,000 face shields a week

By Kai-Uwe Bergmann

BIG is now producing 10,000 face shields a week supplying much needed PPE to all our communities where we have offices. This effort spearheaded by BIGster Bernardo Shumacher a month ago has now involved dozens of BIGsters in a 24 hour 7 days a week operation.

All face shields are being donated to local hospitals and health care facilities as well as at risk citizens.

We will continue to contribute to this crowdsourcing effort within the architecture and maker communities as long as there is a need.

Posts

Facebook and Instagram about COVID-19

By Mark Zuckerberg

I want to share an update on the work we’re doing to connect people with accurate information and limit the spread of misinformation about Covid-19. On Facebook and Instagram, we’ve now directed more than 2 billion people to authoritative health resources via our Covid-19 Information Center and educational pop-ups, with more than 350 million people clicking through to learn more.

We’re also continuing our efforts to reduce misinformation. Since the beginning of March, we’ve expanded our fact-checking coverage to more than a dozen new countries and now work with over 60 fact-checking organizations that review content in more than 50 languages.

If a piece of content contains harmful misinformation that could lead to imminent physical harm, then we’ll take it down. We’ve taken down hundreds of thousands of pieces of misinformation related to Covid-19, including theories like drinking bleach cures the virus or that physical distancing is ineffective at preventing the disease from spreading. For other misinformation, once it is rated false by fact-checkers, we reduce its distribution, apply warning labels with more context and find duplicates. In March, we displayed warnings on about 40 million posts related to Covid-19 based on 4,000 articles reviewed by independent fact-checkers. When people saw those warning labels, 95% of the time they did not go on to view the original content.

We’re also launching a new feature called Get The Facts, a section of our Covid-19 Information Center featuring articles written by independent fact-checking partners debunking misinformation about the coronavirus. We will also soon begin showing messages in News Feed to people who previously engaged with harmful misinformation related to Covid-19 that we’ve since removed, connecting them with accurate information.

Through this crisis, one of my top priorities is making sure that you see accurate and authoritative information across all of our apps. I hope all of you are staying safe, healthy and informed.

Curated Content

This is not a war: Coronavirus pandemic presents unique opportunity to rebuild a sense of common good

By Michael Marder, IKERBASQUE Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. He is the author of numerous scientific articles and 15 books, and contributor to the LA Review of Books, The Guardian, New York Times, El Pais, and other international publications.

Just as previous wars on poverty, drugs & terrorism, a new ‘war on COVID-19’ is doomed to failure if a similar militaristic approach is used. We can only win if we restore the common good ruined by decades of neoliberal policies.

When speaking about the current coronavirus pandemic and a concerted response to it, we should say unequivocally: “This is not a war.” It’s true that this will directly contradict the stance of many world leaders, who have declared a war on the virus. But by denying the necessity of a militaristic framing, we don’t turn a blind eye to how critical the situation is. On the contrary, this will help to search for an alternative way of grappling with the coronavirus crisis, of inspiring people for collective and individual action, and – ultimately – of bringing about a better world after the current pandemic winds down.

Militaristic medicine

Modern western medicine is prone to indulge in militaristically inflected discourses and actions. We say that someone “fights an illness,” that the deceased has “lost a battle” with a lethal affliction, that tumors may be “aggressive” and that, therefore, they should be “aggressively attacked” with chemotherapy. This way of conceptualizing and practicing medicine lends itself easily to a “war on the virus.”

Prehistory of ‘the war on the virus’

Since the 1960s, governments around the world (beginning with the United States) have been extending the discourse of war beyond the context of military hostilities traditionally understood. In 1964, US President Lyndon Johnson announced the start of a “war on poverty” as he attempted to lay the foundations for a welfare state. In 1971, President Richard Nixon called drug abuse “public enemy number one” and declared a “war on drugs.” In 2001, President George W. Bush sounded his call for a global “war on terror” in response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. The 2020 ‘war’ on the coronavirus should be seen in the context of these declarations.

Invisible enemy

With each new declaration, the presumed enemy became more and more invisible, lacking recognizable outlines. It — rather than she or he — could be just about anywhere. With the enemy not easily localizable and potentially ever-present, war became total, engulfing all reality.

The logic of war

The invisible enemy that figures in a war on the coronavirus totalizes war by erasing a clear front line. While the line is erased, the front does not disappear: it is drawn between each of us and even within each of us, given the uncertainty of whether or not one is infected with the coronavirus. 

Another element of war that becomes distorted under present circumstances is the real possibility of killing and being killed. Neither the virus itself, nor those it infects, have the intention of killing anyone. So, in a war paradigm, the role of the virus is ambiguous: Is it an enemy or a weapon? Is a potentially infected human body the virus’s weapon, or itself an enemy? Leaders who fall back on militaristic metaphors have the responsibility of thinking through their logic and consequences.

Victory

In wars extended beyond the sphere of armed conflicts between human communities, victory is unattainable. So is defeat. Not only do wars on drugs, terror, and now a virus become all-encompassing; not only do they erase the front line and a discernible enemy figure, but they also have no end in sight, no definite cessation of hostilities. An inflated concept of war runs the risk of becoming a fight for a cause lost from the get-go.

Peace

Assuming that one could declare one’s victory or admit to being defeated in such wars, what would the peacetime that follows look like? In fact, peace is not at all contemplated in hostilities against terror or a virus. The maximalist objective they have is the complete elimination of the enemy, its total annihilation. These are wars without peace and, therefore, without the end that would limit them, in time or in conceptual space.

Destruction of the common good 

After decades of neoliberal policies that have resulted in the privatization of utility companies and pension funds, erosion of workers’ rights, divestment from public healthcare and other vital sectors and services, the experience and the notion of the common good have been rendered hollow. As a result, appeals to a population to act for the common good will fall on deaf ears and will not produce the same desired, emotionally charged effects as a declaration of war, implying the need to mobilize, to combine individual efforts and to make sacrifices.

A unique opportunity

Terrifying and tragic as it is, the coronavirus pandemic presents a unique opportunity — to rebuild a sense of common good, and breathe new meaning into it, grounded on experience. 

We would need to concentrate on the small acts of kindness and solidarity all around us. That includes people offering older neighbors help with buying food, provisions or medicines, caring about the most vulnerable. That is not to mention the enormous risks that medical personnel take in treating people who have contracted the virus. Combined with some government actions, such as abolishing the difference between public and private healthcare systems, these experiences may reinvigorate the notion of the common good. 

If an appeal to the common good were to make sense again, if it were to guide our behavior in a state of crisis, then it would be significantly more effective in overcoming an emergency situation than the frames of war that are again being thrust upon us.

Curated Content

Yuval Noah Harari: the world after coronavirus


This storm will pass. But the choices we make now could change our lives for years to come.


March 20, 2020 by Yuval Noah Harari


Humankind is now facing a global crisis. Perhaps the biggest crisis of our generation. The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come. They will shape not just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture. We must act quickly and decisively. We should also take into account the long-term consequences of our actions. When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of world we will inhabit once the storm passes. Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive — but we will inhabit a different world. 
Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. Immature and even dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. What happens when everybody works from home and communicates only at a distance? What happens when entire schools and universities go online? In normal times, governments, businesses and educational boards would never agree to conduct such experiments. But these aren’t normal times. 
In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity. 


Under-the-skin surveillance


In order to stop the epidemic, entire populations need to comply with certain guidelines. There are two main ways of achieving this. One method is for the government to monitor people, and punish those who break the rules. Today, for the first time in human history, technology makes it possible to monitor everyone all the time. Fifty years ago, the KGB couldn’t follow 240m Soviet citizens 24 hours a day, nor could the KGB hope to effectively process all the information gathered. The KGB relied on human agents and analysts, and it just couldn’t place a human agent to follow every citizen. But now governments can rely on ubiquitous sensors and powerful algorithms instead of flesh-and-blood spooks. 

In their battle against the coronavirus epidemic several governments have already deployed the new surveillance tools. The most notable case is China. By closely monitoring people’s smartphones, making use of hundreds of millions of face-recognising cameras, and obliging people to check and report their body temperature and medical condition, the Chinese authorities can not only quickly identify suspected coronavirus carriers, but also track their movements and identify anyone they came into contact with. A range of mobile apps warn citizens about their proximity to infected patients. 


About the photography


The images accompanying this article are taken from webcams overlooking the deserted streets of Italy, found and manipulated by Graziano Panfili, a photographer living under lockdown
This kind of technology is not limited to east Asia. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel recently authorised the Israel Security Agency to deploy surveillance technology normally reserved for battling terrorists to track coronavirus patients. When the relevant parliamentary subcommittee refused to authorise the measure, Netanyahu rammed it through with an “emergency decree”.
You might argue that there is nothing new about all this. In recent years both governments and corporations have been using ever more sophisticated technologies to track, monitor and manipulate people. Yet if we are not careful, the epidemic might nevertheless mark an important watershed in the history of surveillance. Not only because it might normalise the deployment of mass surveillance tools in countries that have so far rejected them, but even more so because it signifies a dramatic transition from “over the skin” to “under the skin” surveillance. 
Hitherto, when your finger touched the screen of your smartphone and clicked on a link, the government wanted to know what exactly your finger was clicking on. But with coronavirus, the focus of interest shifts. Now the government wants to know the temperature of your finger and the blood-pressure under its skin. 


The emergency pudding


One of the problems we face in working out where we stand on surveillance is that none of us know exactly how we are being surveilled, and what the coming years might bring. Surveillance technology is developing at breakneck speed, and what seemed science-fiction 10 years ago is today old news. As a thought experiment, consider a hypothetical government that demands that every citizen wears a biometric bracelet that monitors body temperature and heart-rate 24 hours a day. The resulting data is hoarded and analysed by government algorithms. The algorithms will know that you are sick even before you know it, and they will also know where you have been, and who you have met. The chains of infection could be drastically shortened, and even cut altogether. Such a system could arguably stop the epidemic in its tracks within days. Sounds wonderful, right?
The downside is, of course, that this would give legitimacy to a terrifying new surveillance system. If you know, for example, that I clicked on a Fox News link rather than a CNN link, that can teach you something about my political views and perhaps even my personality. But if you can monitor what happens to my body temperature, blood pressure and heart-rate as I watch the video clip, you can learn what makes me laugh, what makes me cry, and what makes me really, really angry. 
It is crucial to remember that anger, joy, boredom and love are biological phenomena just like fever and a cough. The same technology that identifies coughs could also identify laughs. If corporations and governments start harvesting our biometric data en masse, they can get to know us far better than we know ourselves, and they can then not just predict our feelings but also manipulate our feelings and sell us anything they want — be it a product or a politician. Biometric monitoring would make Cambridge Analytica’s data hacking tactics look like something from the Stone Age. Imagine North Korea in 2030, when every citizen has to wear a biometric bracelet 24 hours a day. If you listen to a speech by the Great Leader and the bracelet picks up the tell-tale signs of anger, you are done for.

You could, of course, make the case for biometric surveillance as a temporary measure taken during a state of emergency. It would go away once the emergency is over. But temporary measures have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies, especially as there is always a new emergency lurking on the horizon. My home country of Israel, for example, declared a state of emergency during its 1948 War of Independence, which justified a range of temporary measures from press censorship and land confiscation to special regulations for making pudding (I kid you not). The War of Independence has long been won, but Israel never declared the emergency over, and has failed to abolish many of the “temporary” measures of 1948 (the emergency pudding decree was mercifully abolished in 2011). 
Even when infections from coronavirus are down to zero, some data-hungry governments could argue they needed to keep the biometric surveillance systems in place because they fear a second wave of coronavirus, or because there is a new Ebola strain evolving in central Africa, or because . . . you get the idea. A big battle has been raging in recent years over our privacy. The coronavirus crisis could be the battle’s tipping point. For when people are given a choice between privacy and health, they will usually choose health.


The soap police


Asking people to choose between privacy and health is, in fact, the very root of the problem. Because this is a false choice. We can and should enjoy both privacy and health. We can choose to protect our health and stop the coronavirus epidemic not by instituting totalitarian surveillance regimes, but rather by empowering citizens. In recent weeks, some of the most successful efforts to contain the coronavirus epidemic were orchestrated by South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. While these countries have made some use of tracking applications, they have relied far more on extensive testing, on honest reporting, and on the willing co-operation of a well-informed public. 
Centralised monitoring and harsh punishments aren’t the only way to make people comply with beneficial guidelines. When people are told the scientific facts, and when people trust public authorities to tell them these facts, citizens can do the right thing even without a Big Brother watching over their shoulders. A self-motivated and well-informed population is usually far more powerful and effective than a policed, ignorant population. 
Consider, for example, washing your hands with soap. This has been one of the greatest advances ever in human hygiene. This simple action saves millions of lives every year. While we take it for granted, it was only in the 19th century that scientists discovered the importance of washing hands with soap. Previously, even doctors and nurses proceeded from one surgical operation to the next without washing their hands. Today billions of people daily wash their hands, not because they are afraid of the soap police, but rather because they understand the facts. I wash my hands with soap because I have heard of viruses and bacteria, I understand that these tiny organisms cause diseases, and I know that soap can remove them. 


But to achieve such a level of compliance and co-operation, you need trust. People need to trust science, to trust public authorities, and to trust the media. Over the past few years, irresponsible politicians have deliberately undermined trust in science, in public authorities and in the media. Now these same irresponsible politicians might be tempted to take the high road to authoritarianism, arguing that you just cannot trust the public to do the right thing. 
Normally, trust that has been eroded for years cannot be rebuilt overnight. But these are not normal times. In a moment of crisis, minds too can change quickly. You can have bitter arguments with your siblings for years, but when some emergency occurs, you suddenly discover a hidden reservoir of trust and amity, and you rush to help one another. Instead of building a surveillance regime, it is not too late to rebuild people’s trust in science, in public authorities and in the media. We should definitely make use of new technologies too, but these technologies should empower citizens. I am all in favour of monitoring my body temperature and blood pressure, but that data should not be used to create an all-powerful government. Rather, that data should enable me to make more informed personal choices, and also to hold government accountable for its decisions. 
If I could track my own medical condition 24 hours a day, I would learn not only whether I have become a health hazard to other people, but also which habits contribute to my health. And if I could access and analyse reliable statistics on the spread of coronavirus, I would be able to judge whether the government is telling me the truth and whether it is adopting the right policies to combat the epidemic. Whenever people talk about surveillance, remember that the same surveillance technology can usually be used not only by governments to monitor individuals — but also by individuals to monitor governments. 
The coronavirus epidemic is thus a major test of citizenship. In the days ahead, each one of us should choose to trust scientific data and healthcare experts over unfounded conspiracy theories and self-serving politicians. If we fail to make the right choice, we might find ourselves signing away our most precious freedoms, thinking that this is the only way to safeguard our health.


We need a global plan


The second important choice we confront is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity. Both the epidemic itself and the resulting economic crisis are global problems. They can be solved effectively only by global co-operation. 
First and foremost, in order to defeat the virus we need to share information globally. That’s the big advantage of humans over viruses. A coronavirus in China and a coronavirus in the US cannot swap tips about how to infect humans. But China can teach the US many valuable lessons about coronavirus and how to deal with it. What an Italian doctor discovers in Milan in the early morning might well save lives in Tehran by evening. When the UK government hesitates between several policies, it can get advice from the Koreans who have already faced a similar dilemma a month ago. But for this to happen, we need a spirit of global co-operation and trust. 
In the days ahead, each one of us should choose to trust scientific data and healthcare experts over unfounded conspiracy theories and self-serving politicians
Countries should be willing to share information openly and humbly seek advice, and should be able to trust the data and the insights they receive. We also need a global effort to produce and distribute medical equipment, most notably testing kits and respiratory machines. Instead of every country trying to do it locally and hoarding whatever equipment it can get, a co-ordinated global effort could greatly accelerate production and make sure life-saving equipment is distributed more fairly. Just as countries nationalise key industries during a war, the human war against coronavirus may require us to “humanise” the crucial production lines. A rich country with few coronavirus cases should be willing to send precious equipment to a poorer country with many cases, trusting that if and when it subsequently needs help, other countries will come to its assistance. 
We might consider a similar global effort to pool medical personnel. Countries currently less affected could send medical staff to the worst-hit regions of the world, both in order to help them in their hour of need, and in order to gain valuable experience. If later on the focus of the epidemic shifts, help could start flowing in the opposite direction. 
Global co-operation is vitally needed on the economic front too. Given the global nature of the economy and of supply chains, if each government does its own thing in complete disregard of the others, the result will be chaos and a deepening crisis. We need a global plan of action, and we need it fast. 
Another requirement is reaching a global agreement on travel. Suspending all international travel for months will cause tremendous hardships, and hamper the war against coronavirus. Countries need to co-operate in order to allow at least a trickle of essential travellers to continue crossing borders: scientists, doctors, journalists, politicians, businesspeople. This can be done by reaching a global agreement on the pre-screening of travellers by their home country. If you know that only carefully screened travellers were allowed on a plane, you would be more willing to accept them into your country. 


Unfortunately, at present countries hardly do any of these things. A collective paralysis has gripped the international community. There seem to be no adults in the room. One would have expected to see already weeks ago an emergency meeting of global leaders to come up with a common plan of action. The G7 leaders managed to organise a videoconference only this week, and it did not result in any such plan. 
In previous global crises — such as the 2008 financial crisis and the 2014 Ebola epidemic — the US assumed the role of global leader. But the current US administration has abdicated the job of leader. It has made it very clear that it cares about the greatness of America far more than about the future of humanity. 
This administration has abandoned even its closest allies. When it banned all travel from the EU, it didn’t bother to give the EU so much as an advance notice — let alone consult with the EU about that drastic measure. It has scandalised Germany by allegedly offering $1bn to a German pharmaceutical company to buy monopoly rights to a new Covid-19 vaccine. Even if the current administration eventually changes tack and comes up with a global plan of action, few would follow a leader who never takes responsibility, who never admits mistakes, and who routinely takes all the credit for himself while leaving all the blame to others. 
If the void left by the US isn’t filled by other countries, not only will it be much harder to stop the current epidemic, but its legacy will continue to poison international relations for years to come. Yet every crisis is also an opportunity. We must hope that the current epidemic will help humankind realise the acute danger posed by global disunity. 
Humanity needs to make a choice. Will we travel down the route of disunity, or will we adopt the path of global solidarity? If we choose disunity, this will not only prolong the crisis, but will probably result in even worse catastrophes in the future. If we choose global solidarity, it will be a victory not only against the coronavirus, but against all future epidemics and crises that might assail humankind in the 21st century.


Yuval Noah Harari is author of ‘Sapiens’, ‘Homo Deus’ and ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’.


Copyright © Yuval Noah Harari 2020