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The Economist: The next catastrophe - No.26 - 27th Jun 20

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Chi tiết sản phẩm

The Economist: The next catastrophe (and how to survive it) 


Politicians ignore far-out risks: they need to up their game

In 1993 this newspaper told the world to watch the skies. At the time, humanity’s knowledge of asteroids that might hit the Earth was woefully inadequate. Like nuclear wars and large volcanic eruptions, the impacts of large asteroids can knock seven bells out of the climate; if one thereby devastated a few years’ worth of harvests around the globe it would kill an appreciable fraction of the population. Such an eventuality was admittedly highly unlikely. But given the consequences, it made actuarial sense to see if any impact was on the cards, and at the time no one was troubling themselves to look.


Asteroid strikes were an extreme example of the world’s wilful ignorance, perhaps—but not an atypical one. Low-probability, high-impact events are a fact of life. Individual humans look for protection from them to governments and, if they can afford it, insurers. Humanity, at least as represented by the world’s governments, reveals instead a preference to ignore them until forced to react—even when foresight’s price-tag is small. It is an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of the future.


Underestimating the risks of annexation

Nine men and one woman have led Israel since the six-day war of 1967 brought the West Bank under its control. Nearly all thought it too risky to annex any of the territory beyond East Jerusalem. True, Israel has built scores of settlements since the war, so that more than 400,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank, alongside 3m Palestinians. But its leaders calculated that annexation would bring global opprobrium, destabilise the region and doom the two-state solution—the idea that a Palestinian state and a Jewish one might one day peacefully co-exist.


Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister today, thinks he knows better. Last year he wooed hawkish voters by vowing to absorb a handful of settlements and the entire Jordan Valley. Then, in January, President Donald Trump released a peace plan that would give Israel 30% of the West Bank. The Palestinians, unsurprisingly, rejected it. But Mr Netanyahu wants to proceed with annexation (see article). He is underestimating the costs and moving Israel closer to a fateful choice about its future.


Investors’ love affair with commercial property is being tested

You may not realise it, but a growing share of your savings and pensions pot has been wagered on the commercial buildings in which you work, shop and sleep. The original idea was that these investments would provide a steady stream of earnings for decades into the future, rather as government bonds did before interest rates fell so low. But now the virus has thrown that assumption into a cement mixer.


Across the world millions of tenants have stopped paying rent, leading to chaos among shopping-mall and office landlords (see article). In the longer term, a renewed appreciation of the threat from pandemics, and of the potential of new technologies, could lead to a sharp shift in how commercial buildings are used. Savers and fund managers need to be alert. A safe, slow-moving asset class has become an unpredictable one that demands scrutiny and active management.


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