The 20th century—in particular the last half—was the most amazing in all of human history by whatever standard you might choose to measure. If you chart global population growth, quality of life, and technological advances, the line is relatively flat with a slight upward trend until you hit the early 1900s.
But that trend exploded after World War II. We have witnessed the end of diseases that were a plague to humanity for millennia. The equally long dream to walk on the moon was achieved. Goods and living conditions that were only available to the ultra rich a hundred years ago became commonplace.
Half of the world’s population holds in its hand a device that provides communication, information, and even entertainment that was not possible to even the richest of the rich a mere 25 years ago.
The last half of the 20th century saw the world live under the abstract threat of nuclear annihilation. Yet, the “era” of colonization stretching back to Ancient Rome also ended. Never in human history were there a greater number of people “free” and living under self-rule. Also, never in history were ideas and education allowed to flow freely to virtually all social and economic groups. The rights of those classes of people—particularly women and children—traditionally denied by governments were defined, and strong efforts were made to uphold.
Yet the 21st century ushered in a period that is almost a contradiction to the “glorious days” of the 20th century.
War between nations has become increasingly less defined and more brutal. Maybe in response—or maybe not—organized terrorism by many different global groups has shattered the dreams of peace that we thought would come with the end of the Cold War.
This new century also brought a gradual but steady disturbing realization in the people that the economic utopia promised by governments in the last decades of the 1900s was unsustainable and in fact might have been somewhat of a magician’s illusion. While focusing, on the one hand, on supposed wealth creation, the other hand was concealing the trick.
The world economy has always had periods of economic upheaval, but the 2008 Global Financial Crisis was not an event. It was the result— that affected literally everyone on the planet—of a total and complete systemic failure. Most times, a problem can be corrected by changing the guy running the machine. In this case, it turned out that the machine was broken, regardless of who was pushing the buttons.
The year 2020 has proven with little doubt that globalization of production and trade was far from foolproof not only because too many fools were running it. It is the old thought that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. For a variety of reasons, not least of which was a lack of truthfulness and transparency by the Beijing government, the global supply/demand chain was shattered.
The most important lesson of 2020 is that nations, like people, cannot be dependent—or must be less dependent—on others for survival and the ability to prosper. Nations, like individuals, must be able to close and lock their windows and doors when necessary.
But to do that, countries must adopt a variation of Warren Buffett’s “I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years.”
Initially, after the pandemic subsides, there will be an attempt to return to the good old days of 2019. But that will be like getting back with your “ex” after being betrayed and now keeping your guard up and thinking about relationship options. Everything changed. Stay safe.
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