I continue to be overwhelmed by a sense that something very basic is happening in and to our world. But I cannot quite put my finger on what that may be or, of course, what to do about it!
I find that the best way to start thinking about questions like this is to make an inventory of the important subjects that are involved, and there are a lot of them, so permit me to be VERY brief.
PUBLIC HEALTH—the whole world is engulfed with a pandemic potentially as widespread as any before in history?
ECONOMIC HEALTH—fragile the world over, for good guys and bad guys alike.
POLITICAL HEALTH—democracies are simultaneously confronting deep divisions and authoritarian wannabes eager to exploit those divides for personal power and enrichment.
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS—As the U.S. has undermined the post-war order, allies no longer fully trust us, and enemies are eagerly recasting regional and global ambitions.
EDUCATION—It’s dangerous to send kids to school and harmful to keep them away. We need to find new ways to address the educational, social, and health needs of our kids – fast.
ENTERTAINMENT AND SPORTS– apart from (old) TV and outdoor showings of (also old) movies, it is hard for people to enjoy their down time.
SUPPLY CHAINS—are becoming more and more attenuated and are gradually limiting consumer choice by absence and pushing prices higher.
FINANCIAL MARKETS—are acting VERY strangely with fixed-income securities yielding virtually zero and stock/equity markets booming as if we might be on the brink of a brave new world?
That is a good, if incomplete, summary of where our world is at this moment.
The real question is, what are the signs that might point to where we’re headed.
They are NOT blindingly visible.
At one moment, I see the end of humanity as we have known it. In the next, I sense that the stage is being set for dramatic change that results in a new and better world.
Both possibilities have characteristics that point in BOTH directions –good and bad – perhaps more distinctly than ever before.
BAD- chaos generally leads to more chaos but also may enable a great leader?
GOOD- just turn around bad above?
In both cases IF we respond intelligently, adroitly and quickly, things could work out quite well and we could learn a lot more about our world going forward.
But, if we do not respond well –as we have not yet done this year so far—we could be in BIG trouble. Another reason for a new President.
That dichotomy suggests to me that what we DO see now may determine the path ahead for a long time – which might not be your old-fashioned forever which maybe is never?
First, I do suggest that we stop assuming things will work out fine if we just leave them alone. Everything that “works out fine” has multitudes of people who toiled, often invisibly and at great personal cost, to making that “fine” ending possible.
Second, I suggest that we begin to worry more about massive inflation and/or deflation which would rearrange all the wealth and human behavior on earth in very different and major ways. Inflation to get rid of the debt; deflation to squeeze out the poorest in society. The distribution of wealth is a serious problem, one that should be addressed directly rather than as an unintended consequence of economics.
Third, we simply can’t go it alone. Our own fate is intertwined with friends and foes across the globe, and many of the challenges are bigger than any one of us.
Finally, after the November election, we must immediately convene a major global conference to figure out how to address these questions, hopefully before the whole apple cart has already turned over!
We have too many slippery apples to pick them up one at a time.