Recession and flu show borderless world
The flow of capital and travelers across international borders has accelerated in recent years, presenting new challenges.
First, it was toxic financial assets. Now, it is a new kind of flu virus. For many nations, the lesson learned may be the same: In today's interconnected world, borders offer only a false sense of security against modern varieties of contagion.Skip to next paragraph
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Last fall some governments, particularly in the less-developed world, thought their economies were decoupled from that of the US, and that they therefore might escape the effects of the US financial meltdown. For the most part, they were wrong.
Now authorities around the world are facing the question of whether to restrict travel or close borders to try to isolate themselves from the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu. Given the ubiquity of modern air travel, and the course of the outbreak, hard restrictions just won't work, say experts in the US.
"There's no utility to closing the border," said secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on a Thursday webcast coproduced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services.
International cooperation required
Movement between nations needs to continue in part because items used to help fight the flu come from many places around the globe, say officials. Like the recession currently gripping the world, the H1N1 virus is a global problem, and fighting it is an international effort.
"This is an opportunity for global solidarity as we look for responses and solutions that benefit all countries, all of humanity," said Margaret Chan, director-general of the United Nations World Health Organization, in a statement released Wednesday.
In important ways, the analogy between the financial meltdown and the current H1N1 crisis is inexact. The meltdown has led to an economic downturn so deep that total world output is expected to shrink this year. The flu virus, meanwhile, is a potential pandemic, not an actual one.
But in both cases, the growth in global interdependence in recent years has presented new challenges.
Borders now more porous
The flow of capital across borders has inextricably linked banks and other financial institutions around the world. The flow of travelers across borders for jobs and tourism has had something of the same effect for public health.
Securitized mortgages, credit default swaps, and other new financial instruments became so complex that even experts did not understand how their toxic interaction might pull down national economies. Meanwhile, the genetics of the H1N1 virus are something that scientists haven't seen before. As yet, they have not developed a vaccine that is considered fully effective .
The world understands the recession requires an international response, even though not all nations agree on what to do. At the recent G-20 meeting in London of leaders of the industrialized world, the US pushed for more stimulus spending. European leaders called for more financial regulation, to prevent a meltdown recurrence.
Likewise, many nations understand that prevention or control of a possible pandemic will require all to pull together.