Will things be better in 2021? Read on…

I write this in December 2020, as one of the most difficult years in living memory draws to a close. Globally. It’s rare that virtually the whole planet shares a crisis. Usually it’s due to war. This time, it’s a pandemic, and the whole has been buoyed on an unprecedented swirl of social media.

The result has been a sense that 2020 has been a disaster. What surprises me is the amount of material I’m seeing which suggests that, come 1 January 2021, all will come right – I mean, 2021 couldn’t possibly be a worse year than 2020 – er – could it?

Actually, history tells me that it ain’t over until it’s over. Crises of this nature don’t shut down because the calendar’s rolled into a new year. Nor do they come out of a vacuum. If we dig beneath the surface we find that ‘2020’, in all its dimensions, has been brewing up for a generation. And it will, I suspect, take as much time to really resolve.

Let’s take another year of specific crisis, 1848 – the year when Europe’s major governments collapsed, one after another, at the hands of rioting poor who – once we strip away some of the proximate issues – were tired of being punished by economic systems that transferred all their money to the rich. The revolutions themselves were over within that year, but the issues that drove them stretched back a generation or more. Nor were these wider socio-economic issues resolved: they were still playing out in the twentieth century.

A beautiful picture of Earth from 1.6 million km sunwards. NASA, public domain.

My take on ‘2020’ is that the pandemic has brought deeper issues to a head, all given voice and power by social media. In particular, there is the way neoliberalism has been playing out. It’s the prevailing economic approach across much of the current world, and we’re into the second generation of it: even current policy-makers were brought up within the system. The problem is that it’s also reaching its end-game. A system that structurally transfers wealth from the poor to the rich, that takes no genuine account of environmental damage in the quest to profit the rich, and where money – of itself – has become a tradable commodity, can’t last forever. The General Financial Crisis of 2007-10 showed that up, but nobody did anything to change the system that caused it. As a result, economists have been warning for some time that a fresh economic crisis is looming.

Into this has come a new phenomenon: social media. It has been a leveller, enabling free communication between people globally, to unprecedented scale. But it’s been framed by the constraints of the short messages and visual memes to which it leans. It’s exposed a good deal about human behaviour in large societies along the way: particularly our tendency, as a species, to believe what validates our specific self-view. And so social media has provoked an explosion of conspiracy theories about the pandemic.

The pandemic, in short, hasn’t alone made 2020 a crisis; it’s been a touch-paper. Take any of the deeper issues away, and the pandemic would have been bad – a crisis and tragedy by any measure. But I suspect it wouldn’t have had quite the scale of what unfolded. In this mix, the normal things that happen to people have also gained dimension: personal issues that would ordinarily have been difficult but manageable have become much more problematic.

What all this tells me is that the crisis of 2020 won’t go away in a hurry. First step, of course, is to deal with Covid-19. I expect it will take much of 2021 to manufacture enough vaccines and to get them rolled out to the world’s populations. But that won’t make the other problems go away. The global economy will continue to teeter. The social issues that follow from structural transfer of wealth will only intensify. Environmental problems won’t go away. And so it goes on.

I suspect 2021 will not be the end of the crisis. Could we call it the end of the beginning? Maybe. Thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2020

21 thoughts on “Will things be better in 2021? Read on…

  1. I agree, Matthew, it’s going to take more than one year to get back on some sort of balance.
    Then, there are other questions that need answers:
    Will we need yearly inoculations worldwide, if so, how the hell do we manage them and who pays for them?
    Is there another (different) pandemic waiting in the wings, or will it be a variant?
    Will governments and big business make sufficient progress, or even bother to try, tackling Climate Change?
    Is it even possible to stop the next extinction?
    Stay tuned to ‘The World in Jeopardy’ Station.
    The only certain thing, in my opinion, extraterrestrials won’t go out of their way to save the human species.
    I know I wouldn’t if I were them…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Given the news of the past few days from the UK over the new strain of Covid-19 I have a feeling we’ll be entering a generation of annual vaccinations – all, probably, scrabbling to keep up with the pace of viral mutation, but needed anyway because I expect immunity won’t last. What worries me is that this situation has been thrown into a world that is already unstable, because of the fundamental economic inequities hard-coded into the neo-liberal paradigm. The rich can take money off the poor only for so long. Then something happens… Ouch. A very large human own-goal.

      As you say, ET won’t save us. I sometimes wonder if the reason we haven’t found aliens is because they already found us and we’ve been quarantined for the good of the rest of the universe…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. History tells me we’re on the cusp of a significant period. I’d guess two or three generations to play out – by which time, of course, the seeds of the next major crisis will have been planted.


  2. The thing in England is we’re now in the worst recession on record. Having not at all recovered from the 2008 one. After 11 years of austerity. And we have Brexit in 12 days. God save the Queen!

    Yeah, my concern is for the poverty crisis this has all created (capitalism on a wider scale) and the aftermath of feelings. Often misdirected. Read the tabloid newspapers and this is all due to foreigners, apparently. And liberals.

    At least Trump lost, that’s something positive. And if the vaccines work then there’s maybe a positive evolution, And your NZ pm is cool. She’s welcome to run England any day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The problem with Ardern is that she has a great appearance from outside NZ, but internally she flat out isn’t tackling the key structural issues that have led to much of the disparity of income, etc, in the first place. There’s no evidence that she is even aware there might be a different view from the neo-liberal orthodoxy that frames current government. She has no vision for a better society or future. It’s all pixie dust and fairy wands – she’s waving the memory and image of Michael Joseph Savage, NZ’s first Labour PM, who had a very strong vision for a better world – and who actively implemented it in 1935-39 particularly. But she isn’t herself doing anything other than continuing the failed system.

      It’s a pity; her party – Labour – has a clear majority in the House for the first time in a generation. There is a small window of opportunity to act. But she hasn’t – as I say, even the vision is lacking. Sigh… My take, incidentally, is she needs to (a) get rid of the Resource Management Act and replace it with something fit for purpose. This will fix the housing problem because it’ll rectify the supply-side issue that’s sent prices skyrocketing (and which is a device for transferring money to the rich through rents). And (b), she needs to get rid of the Reserve Bank Act 1989, same deal – all it’s done is embed a monetary system in place geared to control late twentieth century problems, coupled with an ‘independence’ that was implemented in the late 1980s purely because of the behaviours by a specific politician, Rob Muldoon. I was working for them when it happened – it gave monolithic powers to the Governor of the central bank, with no mechanism for holding him to account other than a potential wet bus ticket waved by the Minister of Finance. Part of the accountability problem was fixed in 2000, but the Gov’s still essentially the most powerful individual in New Zealand. The problem today, aside from that, isn’t CPI inflation.

      As a kicker I’d want Ardern to get rid of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, a piece of deeply puritanical legislation put in by the original neo-libs that was, again, directed personally at Muldoon and which means government has to run itself in the same manner as a bankrupt corporate under statutory management, trying to trade out of its deficits on cash-flows alone. At a time when real interest rates are well into the negatives all it’s doing is squashing the potential for fiscal impulse to really get the economy cranking – all at negligible cost, because, just now, borrowed money actually turns a small profit for the borrower. And sure, that’ll change – but not in a hurry, and in theory the economic boost produces returns that enable the debt to be paid off in due course.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hmmm yes we have a very positive view of her here. I know there’s a housing crisis in NZ though. Eek. It’s all rather alarming on a global scale. I keep disappearing into escapism.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I keep seeing Northgrad advertised. I tried a demo. Too many games to enjoy at once these days! If you get a Nintendo Switch I highly recommend Breath of the Wild.

            Otherwise, have an excellent Christmas. And if Northgrad fails, there’s Half-Life 2.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Spot on, Matthew! But then people like us would say that, wouldn’t they?
    If circumstances are allowed to deteriorate too much there will of course be more revolt, as in 1848. But these physical acts usually resolve little, eg Arab Spring. What is needed is a change of zeitgeist, so that the good of people and nature is no longer trumped by the economics of self interest, ie neoliberalism. The encouraging thing is that more and more people are moving in this direction, but it’s difficult to be too optimistic, what with the accelerating effects of global warning and probable future covids ratcheting up the scale of the challenge.
    I will reblog your piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too true – and I fear that if things carry on another generation the world will be entering another ‘1848’ era, one way or another. A pity. Revolutions don’t solve things – they just trigger destruction and an instability that is hard to stop, as one revolution begets the next. Ouch. As you say, a new zeitgeist is needed. In a way I find the current neo-liberal version of capitalism kind of ironic. When the Cold War ended, Francis Fukyuama proposed his ‘end of history’ idea, in which ideological conflict was now over and the world could look forward to a Permanent Future of unregulated free-market big business – the Randian nirvana had been achieved. A ridiculous idea; societies always change, usually generationally. A generation or so on, that’s showing up. Yet – and yet – in a way he was right, because the neo-liberal revolution of his day succeeded in embedding that vision very thoroughly, squashing debate and killing any exploration of alternative forms of capitalism. To an extent, governments have pegged back from the more extreme neo-liberal excesses of the late twentieth century, but the fundamental structures that transfer wealth from the poor to the rich have not been addressed. But they have an obvious end-point. The systems that demand constant economic growth, merely in order to keep the system running smoothly – and with it, constant exploitation of the world’s limited resources – by definition cannot continue indefinitely. A new vision will resolve it; the question is whether one can be found in time.


  4. Reblogged this on I can't believe it! and commented:
    In this post, Matthew Wright gives a sober reality check on whether things are likely to get back to ‘normal’ anytime soon. The real problem is that the neoliberal so-called ‘normal’ was not working and needs a global ‘reset’ to address sustainability of our natural world and a just economic system for all people.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this provocative insight. As you say, there have been many greater upheavals than COVID-19. We are prone to see our own as disproportionately huge because of instant global communication. As you point out, the signs have been there a long time, but the foxes are still running the chicken-coop!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Every new years brings with it the hope of change for the better, and 2021 will be no different. Sadly, like all the years before it, 2021 will disappoint as politicians bend over backwards to re-establish the status quo. My hope for 2021 is that we /not/ get ‘business as usual’. Normal is killing us. We have to do better or end up like your Dodo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect 2021 will be a repeat of 2020 – more lockdown scrabble, new strains of Covid-19 and so forth; all underpinned by the neo-liberal ‘status quo’ scrabbling to hold on to their system. This sort of thing has happened before historically, of course… and as you’d guess, it never ended well.

      The way out is to have a bold vision of a society that can be brought to reality – a society that is equitable, prosperous, kind and where people have opportunity and hope. I believe it to be possible: Michael Joseph Savage did it here in NZ from 1935. Obviously his specific policies won’t work again – society has moved on – but the idea of a bold vision and positive action worked then, and it will work now if anybody is brave enough to try.

      This is why I’ve been so terribly disappointed with NZ’s current government. The PM has been associating herself with Michael Joseph Savage – pictures prominently on her desk or behind her, etc – but there is no sign of any structural change from the neo-liberal orthodoxy that continues to siphon money from the needy to the rich, of late through the mechanisms of the housing market. I expect it’s because she picked up a lot of the centre-right vote in the last election and is pandering to them. A pity. For the first time since 1990 NZ has a majority Labour government, and there’s a window of opportunity unhampered by political compromise. Until a new vision and orthodoxy can be found and applied, I fear there is no real chance of long-term survival – either for New Zealand or the wider world in general.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ouch. Matthew…that is a gloomy prospect indeed: if the virus doesn’t get us, our politics will.

        To be honest, I’ve been seeing signs of decline elsewhere in the Western world but was hoping NZ and OZ would somehow muddle through. ‘isms’ and empires all end eventually, but we haven’t had our time ‘at the top’.

        Perhaps we’re too small to ever become prominent players on the world stage, but both our countries could show what can/might be done. I guess neo liberalism has to fail in spectacular fashion before an alternate vision is given the space to bloom. -sigh-

        We live in interesting times.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes it was – it’s extraordinary how those mid-19th century trends shaped so much of what followed, as you say right through to the end of the twentieth century. To me that’s one of the best sides of history, in that it allows us to gain insight into how the past changed into the present – and why the present is as we see it.


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