I focused on positive perspectives in the last post but there are multiple ways in which the course of history could turn and I’d like to consider a few other scenarios. They are speculative ideas to visualise the world we might choose. It may not come true but I think it’s good to have thought about it. Thanks to my friends for pointing some of the ideas out to me.
Return to Normal
The economy crashes and in the process the banks and large corporations receives copious amounts of free tax payer’s money to gamble and trickle up to the CEO’s while schools, fire fighters and other vital sectors except the NHS get austerity measures (sounds familiar?). The decision is delayed or completely forgotten to support the most vulnerable and the poorest in our society. Truly monstrous inequality unprecedented in history is endorsed and perpetuated as deflation turns to inflation or hyper-inflation. Eventually, we return to the exact same model of inflationary Keynesian economics that’s based on exponential growth. The population returns to a comfortable position of a consumer, slaving away our lives to pay for goods that we don’t need until automation hits us with the same swiftness of a virus precisely when we begin to REALLY feel the effects of climate change. Check this article out.
There are many things I could unpick here but lets focus on exponential growth. And to really show the absurdity of infinite growth, it’s helpful to understand how our economy works.
Everything we call the ‘economy’ is built upon the primary sector. The timber from forestry in the primary sector is made into Ikea furnitures in the secondary sector while the stocks of Ikea are traded in the tertiary sector. Vegetables grown in agriculture is made into products sold on supermarket shelves while their banks use the money to do fractional reserved lending. Even for digital content creation, the creators must eat, have a roof over the head and move about in vehicles. An economy based on exponential growth, therefore, must regard our natural resources as infinitely extractable. The faster the growth, the more exponential extraction pursues.
But we know our Earth is spherical and finite. We know our eco-systems are collapsing and vital resources, including top soil and water, are becoming scarcer by the minute. That’s idiocy on par with throwing poison into an oasis you rely on or electing an incapable narcissistic liar into position of power with access to an arsenal of thermo-nuclear weapons… oh wait. There’s every chance that this event will be looked back 100 years from now as that turning point where the economy of expansion, growth and extraction turned to dark winters of contraction, decline and scarcity lead by aging demographics and compounded by bad leaderships.
A more realistic outcome is that America will diminish rapidly as its disastrous health care system and lack of bipartisanship accelerate and deepen the effects of the financial crisis. The age of petro-dollar will end and the US will experience gargantuan amounts of currency inflation that they’ve been exporting return to the US within a short time window. A truly horrific thought.
China and Russia, who’ve been hording gold for some time now, will probably try and establish themselves as the next global super power with gold backed yuan or ruble. I suspect they will take some form of gold standard coupled with crypto currency to ensure the supply is limited and try and regain trust again as a store of value.
A self-motivated and well-informed population is usually far more powerful and effective than a policed, ignorant population.Yuval Noah Harari writing on FT
As Harari rightfully states in this article here, many short-term emergency measures will become fixtures for life including totalitarian surveillance. Just look at Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11. If you are not yet terrified of this, you really ought to be. As nations come out of this, they will likely evaluate and incorporate far better draconian tracking systems that proved effective in China which, by default, will infringe deeper into your privacy. The consequences of handing over sophisticated biometric tracking algorithms into the hands of rising authoritarian regimes could be orders of magnitudes more catastrophic than the virus.
Poorer nations without adequate safety nets or health care systems may descend quickly into a state of anarchy with looting becoming the only way to secure food for your family. Some nations, politicians and individuals may see this chaos as an opportunity to strengthen their political, ideological and economic position and use it to check mate their opponent or steal from the more vulnerable. All of this is speculative of course but it’s not beyond the limits of ‘fairly probable’.
A new wave of global solidarity penetrates our collective psyche. As people volunteer and reevaluate the value of our safety nets, we’ll demand reforms in policies which will protect and strengthen the system. We educate ourselves and vote in politicians with empathy and courage who will fundamentally change how the economy works – to a fairer, more resource based economy that recognises the finite nature of our ecosystems.
It took two atomic bombs to bring in the age of unprecedented peace where the cost of war far outweighed the benefits with assured mutual annihilation. Could this virus be ‘the bomb’ which brings the end of divisive populism and mark the beginning of a truly global effort to co-operate? Given the past examples, I’m not as hopeful but these are extraordinary times and extraordinary things can happen.
As did Cuba during the cold war, we may come to practice technological disobedience and mobilise every citizen to grow food organically in every spare space. This will increase the strength of our communities and security against future pandemics, global warming, water wars and the ensuing refugee crisis. Many will rediscover the value of land based living when confidence in our economy and our infrastructures tanks to an all time low.
Some careful forward thinking nations will have deployed UBI at the right level so as not to cause inflation but which covers all the expenses and continue to collect statistics after the pandemic. This data may prove critical in the near future when larger more conservative nations begins to implode due to automation.
If our petroleum supply chain gets disturbed, our shift towards locally produced renewable energy may come faster than we could ever have hoped for. After all, those who were the most resilient and least affected were off-grid homesteaders with a decent community nearby. ‘Fuck being in a city’, many will think and shift to rural areas for more land to grow and to feel safer and supported in times of lawlessness, which we may begin to experience at worrying frequency.
Again, pure speculation here but it’s good to think about the worst case and the best case since the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. And if not, we’ve prepared ourselves mentally.
I believe that as with most things, preparing ourselves mentally for many scenarios will allow us to make better decisions in times of need. Irrationality and fear often creeps in when unforeseen circumstances feels overwhelming and can become a breeding ground for regrettable choices. But not so much if we’ve thought through it already and have an action plan for things that are within our control.
Because we’ve considered the spectrum of possibilities, we should be able to recognise the tell tell signs as history unfolds and hopefully understand where we may be headed. Please do comment below with ideas/links if you’ve come across any convincing arguments. Finally, a quote from Harari for us to keep in our minds.
“Whenever politicians start talking in mystical terms, beware. They might be trying to disguise and excuse real suffering by wrapping it up in big incomprehensible words. Be particularly careful about the following four words: sacrifice, eternity, purity, redemption. If you hear any of these, sound the alarm. And if you happen to live in a country whose leader routinely says things like ‘Their sacrifice will redeem the purity of our eternal nation’ – know that you are in deep trouble.”Yuval Noah Harari – 21 Lessons for the 21st Century