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The World Returning to Normal? Think again!
There are changes afoot that could add up to a whole new different
Life seems to be returning to some kind of post-vaccine normality. People are back on the streets, restaurants and bars are busy, and the price of petrol is crap again - which means business must be motoring. We posthumously push Covid aside convinced that Pfizer or Moderna have our backs against the mutations - or is it mutants? The future looks a little brighter.
And yet, the recent images from Afghanistan transport us back to a previous crisis, reminding us of changes rung up twenty years ago when two small planes destroyed so many innocent lives along with New York’s iconic skyline. With it went the Western world as we knew it. West to Middle East. Like some kind of a zenith in the battle for middle earth.
The previous terror symbol of destruction brought about a resounding acceptance that ‘times are a changing’: The demise of the Western world and the consequent rise of the East. The very force that spilt the towers in two seems to have separated the world. US versus China. UK versus EU. Fossil fuel versus Greta and Trump versus everyone.
Reactive security measures and political factionalism became 9/11’s legacy. Remember the days when going through an international airport didn’t resemble a weekend away at Guantanamo Bay?
The ensuing paranoia established a new kind of middle class, suburban fear - driving opportunity and oppression. It’s as though increased national extremism led to even greater concentrations of wealth and power - funny that. And when Covid hit, it came to remind us of our fallibility: The West decadent - the East efficient. Stale Big Mac and fries up against shiny noodles and rice. Hopefully not the forbear of a Roman Empire style collapse of western democracy.
The last time we saw images of the American flag wilting before our eyes it ushered in a 1970’s a push for freedom and independence which somehow repudiated the abandonment of Saigon. It leaves us wondering if it will be the same this time around. Or have we just got too dull and boring. Sixties style student demo’s packed with live-action fire and bedlam replaced by a quickie iPhone swipe in the name of ‘cancel culture’.
Life, at least, is different to the way it was pre-Covid. Much of it is subtle but, as change can, gradually creeping up on us until it adds up to something more profound. But the evidence trail is already there. A ‘Tom and Jerry’ for disruption.
We shop more online. We work more remotely. The word on the street is that people are starting to look for a different kind of job and a new kind of home. The retail and hospitality sectors are struggling to find workers - which is a little counter intuitive given the number of people unemployed and the agony of student loans. Yet, it seems, workers have taken the Covid opportunity to rethink and re-skill. They have figured out that life might be better working freelance for Upwork, Uber or Amazon instead of Costa or McDonald’s.
It may be that the new generation of ‘Gen Z’ workers will seek a new kind of western employment - one that is digital, freelance and part time. You know - paying more than suck-all per hour. The concept of one full time job at a time starting to look a little yesteryear. The consequence for more established employers could be far reaching.
But businesses are changing as well. The switch to digital is going full tilt - presumably so they won’t need employees any more. Next will be the switch to sustainable. And human resource structures are transitioning. Which is HR for - what?
At the same time, the consequence of a more nationalistic style of politics has altered the dynamics of international trade - shifting supply chains and financial structures in the process. Interest rates are slowly increasing, while investors continue to sit on huge amounts of cash. This, combined, with the climate challenge will see money flows and investment strategies affected. Which is mumbo jumbo for ‘hang in there with your new greentech thing cos the funky money’s coming over the horizon’.
Quantitative easing will gradually unwind while Covid support schemes melt away faster than a polar ice cap. Less efficient or overly-geared businesses will suffer. Some governments will boost their economies with growth programmes and green initiatives. Others will introduce austerity measures to reduce ballooning public debt. Western economies will return to growth faster than developing nations. Some things never change.
The world has, at least, sought a new set of villains - for a next set of challenges. For the US it is China. For workers it is retribution (from nasty employers). For students it is climate change. And for James Bond it will be Safin.
Daniel Craig finally returns to remind us that all good things must come to an end. The end of Covid, when it comes, will likely reconcile us with the errors of our past: Fossil fuel, workplace practices, warfare, poverty, greed and corruption - laced with smatterings of digital surveillance, unequal opportunity, poor healthcare, broadband… need I go on?
We have faced our mortality for the first time in 75 years and are bound to come out a little different. Soon we will discover just how different, different can be. Sorry McDonald’s.
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