Writing And Then Forgetting the Pandemic Playbook

What happens when the federal government’s transition goes awry and a highly contagious, lethal pandemic arises? Michael Lewis unfurls the narrative in his latest book, “The Premonition: A Pandemic Story.” The author of “The Undoing Project,” “Moneyball,” “The Big Short and many other books explains, as the latest guest on the Masters in Business podcast, how the U.S. was the best prepared nation in the world for a pandemic, yet allowed a variety of its institutions to fail.

Deploying the approach that has made all his books so readable, Lewis tells the story through quirky and fascinating characters: Charity Dean, the head of Public Health for Santa Barbara (and later, California); Carter Mescher, the Bush administration alum who created the pandemic response playbook; Joe Derisi, the MacArthur Fellow who heads the CZ Biohub research lab.

How the government manages a collection of existential risks as it transitions from one administration to the next is detailed in his prior book, “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy.” After completing that book, Lewis said he waited for some disaster to occur. Over the next three years, the Trump administration fortunately avoided major snafus, but in 2020 their — and our — luck ran out.

His books are here; A transcript of our conversation is available here.

You can stream and download our full conversation on iTunesSpotifyStitcherGoogleBloomberg, and Acast. All of our earlier podcasts on your favorite pod hosts can be found here.

Be sure to check out our Masters in Business podcast next week with Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. His empirical findings with Amos Tversky challenge the assumption of human rationality prevailing in modern economic theory, and established a cognitive basis for common human errors. His book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” was a best-seller. His latest book is just out, “Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment,” co-written with Oliver Sibony and former Bloomberg Opinion columnist Cass Sunstein.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Barry Ritholtz is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is chairman and chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management, and was previously chief market strategist at Maxim Group. He is the author of “Bailout Nation.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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