On March 27, 2020, the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs launched its Virtual Discussion Forum series on the COVID-19 crisis and its far-reaching impact worldwide.

The panel discussion, “COVID-19 and Global Affairs: Health, Politics & Economics in an Uncertain World,” featured four Jackson Senior Fellows whose backgrounds ranged from public health to government and finance, including: Dr. Vanessa Kerry, Director of the Global Public Policy Program, Harvard Medical School; John Podesta, former White House Chief of Staff; Stephen Roach, former Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia; and Dr. Howard Dean, former Governor of Vermont.

Kerry kicked off the discussion with a brief overview of where things stand in the U.S.

“We are all shared in the vulnerability of COVID[-19]… [but] New York now though is not only the epicenter of the United States but the epicenter of the world,” Kerry said.

The dire situation unfolding in New York City was not inevitable, Kerry said. “In an age of globalization and at a time when population is much more dense than it has ever been in human history, spread was inevitable,” she said, suggesting that the United States should have done more initially to stop the spread through securing American borders and significantly ramping up testing. Now, in order to effectively contain the virus as South Korea and China have done, there must be aggressive testing, quarantining, and social distancing measures put in place across the United States as a whole in order to “flatten the curve.” 

Dean echoed Kerry’s remarks about the direness of the current pandemic, blaming the decentralized American governmental system and a weak executive office response for the slow movement towards mandatory national social distancing. 

“This is going to take a lot of social distancing, it’s going to take a lot of money to prevent our economy from a complete collapse. It’s going to take national leadership which we are not going to have any of until January at the earliest but we do have some strengths: the states are strong,” Dean said.

John Podesta, who served as White House Chief of Staff during the Obama Administration, was asked to comment on the role of executive leadership and engagement in times of crisis. “You have to give honest, direct, credible information to the public,” he said.

Steve Roach emphasized the drastic differences between the current economic crisis and the Great Recession of 2008. The legislative stimulus package created in response to this downturn will “not lead to a rejuvenation of consumer spending and aggregate demand,” Roach said, until the pandemic has been fully handled. 

The four panelists fielded questions from the audience on a variety of topics, including the leadership challenges this pandemic poses, the public health and national coordination necessary to tackle COV-19, as well as the geopolitical consequences of the virus.

More than 250 people tuned in to the discussion, which was held via Zoom Webinar.

Watch a recording of the discussion