Relatively short-lived ups and downs like this are far less important than the long term trends: the growth of emerging economies, the impact of global warming, the changing age structure and disease patterns across the world. Like a hurricane, a financial crisis reminds us of how vulnerable we are, and how the most vulnerable are the least well protected. But just as a single hurricane doesn't tell us much about the climate, this episode of financial crisis doesn't tell us much about the longer term forces that, in the end, shape our collective destiny.
When I think about my own area of interest, the health sector, it has always been striking to me how much less able the international health actors are to deal with emerging threats than is the financial sector. While its true that tremendous problems have emerged in banking and investment institutions in the recent past, and that there have been many negative consequences, it's also clear that the Fed and other countries' central banks are working together very effectively and rapidly to shore up the system that protects us all. They have a remarkable ability to contain the contagion, compared to what would happen without massive injections of cash into the banking system, major bailouts, insurance guarantees for mutual funds, and more.
In the health sector, we have no similar sorts of mechanisms in place to deal with something like avian influenza, which has the potential for both large-scale loss of life and profound economic losses throughout the world. I wrote about this -- the difference between the ability of the health and financial sectors to respond to emerging threats -- a couple of years ago in the Journal of Biosecurity and Bioterrorism. My commentary -- A Cure for the Asian Flu -- seems especially relevant now.