CAPITAL: Mr. Fukuyama, the United States has become the epicenter of the corona crisis. How will this crisis change your country?
FUKUYAMA: Everyone is looking at the consequences for the November elections. There are increasing signs that Donald Trump will not be re-elected. Before the crisis started, his chances were pretty good because the economy was booming, unemployment was low and the majority seemed happy. Now we are in the biggest downturn since the Great Depression. The Democrats set up a good candidate in time.
Many people are angry and angry, that will have consequences. Have you become more pessimistic in the course of the crisis?
The US problem is not who is president – it is deep polarization. Even if a Democrat wins in November, this polarization will continue. A third of the country is extremely conservative, these people mistrust the government. And every Democrat in the White House will be more suspicious.
So will trust in the elites erode even more?
It depends in part on how effectively the government gets the economy going again. The focus is now shifting from how to deal with the pandemic to the question of opening: will the economy grow again, will jobs come back? And then there will be a big, maybe years-long dispute over the distribution of state aid. Congress approved over two trillion. This creates an incentive for corruption, for favoritism, for clientelism and disputes about how this money should be distributed.
Inequality was a big problem in the US anyway.
The crisis has exposed many problems in American society – in terms of inequality, but also in terms of the social security network. It’s hard to argue now that we don’t need some form of universal health insurance. There should be some big changes. This question shows the vulnerability of the Republicans. Another issue is taxation. We have tripled our deficit. So there will have to be higher taxes. The crisis could be used to redistribute wealth in the country.
In the past, the United States has often emerged as a winner or strengthened from crises. So it was after the dotcom crash, after the financial crisis. Could it be different this time?
If our country is reasonably united, it can generate tremendous political and economic power. But the government and Congress are paralyzed. The recovery therefore depends on another leadership that is able to unite the country. Usually, the country gathers around the president in the event of a national threat. In the protests against the shutdown, I remember a poster that said, “We’re not in it together.” That says: Some countries are not so affected by the virus, why should we sacrifice ourselves for national interests? As long as there are such currents in society, it will be difficult to mobilize our resources.
Let us look a little beyond the USA: Will there be tectonic shifts in power – also in the relationship between the USA and China?
The struggle for supremacy has shaped the past few years anyway. I don’t know if it will be a tectonic shift. But the shift of central economic power to Asia will continue or even accelerate. China will be an important player, but not alone. Asian countries like Taiwan and South Korea have coped with this epidemic better than Europe or the United States.
Asia could emerge from this crisis stronger overall?
It looks like this is already happening. I think more Asian countries will be able to get their economies back on track. However, there are still many uncertainties because we do not know whether the virus will come back and whether there will be a second wave of infections.
What other consequences do you expect after the global lockdown?
A big change is likely to be a rethinking of companies. Worldwide, the goal has been to maximize efficiency. If you had to relocate supply chains to a small, distant country and save money, it was done. Resilience was not a big issue, not even buffers or the protection of critical supply chains. All of this has to be reconsidered.
Mr. Fukuyama, you have analyzed many crises and new political orders. This is a crisis that came from nature – it has become an economic crisis. Is it already a political crisis?
Even before the outbreak of Corona, there were fears about the rise of nationalism, populism and protectionism. Many countries are now being incited to close their borders, block food exports, or pursue other self-destructive policies reminiscent of the age of nationalism. On the other hand, if societies are able to learn rational lessons from the crisis, there could be positive impacts. Some countries may be frightened of complacency and change deep-seated behaviors. However, I tend to see the dangers and negative consequences overlay the positive ones.