The world needs to get used to that feeling. The pandemic’s legacy will be crisis and chaos—and the trajectory of human civilization has shifted in ways that will test political leaders and economic policy makers more severely than anything since World War II. This is partly because the return of great-power competition introduces new risks and complications into the international system. More fundamentally, it is because the information revolution is beginning to disrupt the world as profoundly and traumatically as the Industrial Revolution disrupted the 19th-century world.

The transformation of the workplace by information technology has been a bright spot in the pandemic, allowing many businesses and important institutions to continue functioning even as key employees stay home. But the same transformation is also driving many of the forces destabilizing society: declines in stable manufacturing jobs, whole regions hollowed out by economic change, the collapse of professional journalism and the rise of social media, the implosion of traditional retail, and looming job threats as self-driving cars and other new technological innovations move into the marketplace.

A host of 21st-century problems threaten to overwhelm the institutions of both national and global governance: the emergence of China as a new kind of economic and geopolitical challenger, the escalating arms races in cyber and biological weapons, the global surge of populism and nationalism, and the growing risks from poorly understood vulnerabilities and relationships in volatile and rapidly changing financial markets. Any one of these could push the world into a cycle of crisis and conflict resembling the first half of the 20th century.