A couple of weeks from the end of 2020, it is more than essential to stop for a moment, breathe and reflect on this very complicated year, so full of changes, so unstable. This year seems to have come out of a Kafka nightmare, or if we put it in a more contemporary context, out of a chapter of Black Mirror.
This 2020 will undoubtedly go down in history as a year of reality surpassing fiction. In economic terms, we are witnessing a damaging oil price for the first time. We also saw businesses stopped, hopes dashed, and increased poverty only comparable to a great war. A virus killed the heart of human civilization. A small, tiny, and invisible virus has stopped individual and collective dreams, hopes, and aspirations.
The virus was able to bring out the worst in us. The poor became poorer. People who struggled to achieve a dream ended up being overtaken despite their tenacity to defend it. Psychological ailments emerged like ghosts at midnight: depression, anxiety, emotional pain. If the epidemic managed to change the economy’s course, it does not compare its impact on many families who lost someone to individuals who had to lose their jobs, to live in the shadow of helplessness. And, above all, to the wound it left in our psyche: we were afraid, a visceral, animal, dark fear of the future.
Everyone, absolutely everyone, lost something. Covid-19 took a part of what we were individually and collectively. The confinement forced us to stop evading with parties and social contact what is behind human nature: its terrible weakness in the face of change. Now we did have to look in the mirror, a metaphor for introspection. The emotional pain, poorly closed duels, conflicts at the family level, frustrations of all kinds, everything, were mixed in three months in which time stopped.
Behavioral Economics explains what we live as humanity, understanding that our animal irrationality exploded in our faces. All the certainties we had disappeared. We chose to live in the moment, so day by day, we tried to intoxicate our senses to avoid the pain. We began to see the tragedy’s impact on social networks: friends, family, people we once knew began to get sick. We get scared.
For example, in the United States, high-cost liquor consumption levels always fell in times of economic downturn. In 2020, by contrast, an unprecedented increase in high-priced wines and drinks was reported. The same happened with the consumption of goods. In all the economic crises of the 20th century, the purchase of clothing or luxury items always decreased.
This year, Amazon and other e-commerce platforms experienced levels of consumption never seen before. The hours-consumption of Facebook, Netflix, and video games rose to stratospheric levels. Simple, we did not want to see ourselves inside and avoid to look at our shadow, paraphrasing Carl Jung.
Our human nature was trying to evade, escaping, getting some rewards, diminishing the fear of uncertainty. We can go to the moon and explore the seas, yet the place humans are most afraid of is their minds.
As an economist, I permanently followed the Stock Exchanges charts to understand the impact of the Pandemic. But not even the fall of the Dow Jones for the entire month of March compared with the image of Pope Francis in Vatican Square, all alone. Rome, the eternal city, frozen by time. Rome, lonely, more alone than when Hitler invaded it. Rome, in complete silence, just like when Emperor Marcus Aurelius faced the Antonine plague. Rome, empty, gloomy, silent.
Humanity can be divide into three groups; those who were directly suffering loss and illness; those who longed not to live it and used the time to intoxicate their senses and evade; and finally, those who tried to rationalize and explain the process.
Throughout this tragic path, I can make a special mention of doctors, nurses, and nurses, who in some cases gave their lives to save other lives. And to the scientists who, with all the social pressure on their shoulders, strove to create a vaccine.
December arrived, and fortunately, the Vaccine came. And besides, Trump left. The world is trying to find a course, although it is not known which one. All we have right now is that we were able, in record time, to create an antidote to the virus.
Yes. Politics failed, and with it, exhibited the immaturity of societies. As Bauman warned, the human despises what he does not understand. We assigned to fantasies a relevant role. Never like now, it is crucial to control this human impetus to simplify the complex. Conspiracy theories have come to emasculate the ability to deal with complex events. Populisms have taken it upon themselves to disperse cartoonish versions of reality. Its danger today more than ever has been visible: we have social groups that begin to think regressively, as if the future, the economy, science, and government were an act of simplicity.
And, after all this, what’s next? Many things. On an individual level, above all. At this time, each one individually is obliged to pause and remember forever what they learned. If all this happened to stay the same, then we knew nothing.
Next year is the year of rebuilding. 2021 will mean redesigning a society that is hurt by the failings of populism (Biden, for example, has already called for turning the Trump chapter around). It is also going to be the year in which we have to begin to resize the social gaps (which have widened), and, besides, we will now have to face our responsibility in climate change.
The virus did not come alone. It is the consequence of a system of decisions, hierarchies, and power relations that will have to change radically. The design of a new power relations system will determine that science and not financial interests are future architecture.
Likewise, a process will come in which the economy will have to configure its new social intervention dimensions. Digital platforms, the role of fake news, and markets will have to adjust to the new reality. Global companies have already begun to understand this mechanism: they are decentralizing their supply chains. On the other hand, they are also raising their digital narrative that goes beyond selling on platforms. It means accompanying their brand with specific values to manage in crisis (Burger King, for example, inviting them to buy from their competitors to sustain jobs ).
Markets are beginning to look to scarce resources that respond to increasingly complex moral dilemmas, such as water. It will also be necessary to work on social leveling alternatives to education, such as technical education, philosophical training, art development, scientific creation.
Entrepreneurship is going to go from using apps to having to design concepts. The business models that come can only be built from a multidimensional and abstract perspective, capable of uniting and understanding different and complex concepts in a single set of ideas but reproducing them quickly.
Individuals will have to adjust to a world of predictive, but probably corrective, algorithms.
Cities will have to build a new organizational model that transcends dependence on the car and prioritizes the pedestrian's role. The circular economy comes to destroy any conceptualization of waste. Feminism, probably the most disruptive social movement of humanity, will find an echo in the intention of building an egalitarian society. In short, the world we have to design will not be anything like what this generation or the previous three lived through.
The change is not minor, and it is not aesthetic: it is conceptual.
It is neither easy nor straightforward. This generation has the responsibility to shape the world for the next 50 years. But, as established by Jonah Berger, in his book “The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind,” the effectiveness of human beings in organizations will no longer be measured by their ability to maintain their status quo, but by their speed to transform them, to remove barriers, to level the social game scenario where all individuals will work for the future.
2021 is the year of challenge and also of creation. After the storm of 2020, it is time to assess the damage, fix things, and make ourselves stronger with what we learned. Quoting the great Shakespeare:
“Sweet is the fruit of adversity, which, like the ugly and poisonous toad, wears a precious jewel on its head.”
It is up to us to determine the jewel that we found to wear in 2021, if prudence, if perhaps temperance, if, besides, hope.