It was Ernest Hemingway who said in respect of bankruptcy that it happens ‘bit by bit, then all at once’. Societal change can sometimes seem similar. 2022 has felt like a fast forward button pressed on our lives: everything appears to be occurring helter-skelter, and at breakneck pace.
The state of play geopolitically has been accelerated by Vladimir Putin’s tragically stupid invasion of Ukraine. This, in turn, has sent the economy spiralling, as inflation has gripped the UK, partly due to the legacy of Covid-19, and partly due to successive administrations’ failure to produce a plausible and independent energy policy.
The economic turmoil has been exacerbated by an incompetent Bank of England interest rate response, which piled on unnecessary pressure on homeowners. Add in a dicey shift to the Truss administration, and the death of a beloved monarch, and the world looks very different at the finish of 2022 to what it looked like at its start.
But what period of history is without turbulence? In truth, no age is without its anxieties and shocks, its disasters and its queasiness.
Besides, political turbulence always has an inner meaning. To take a historical parallel: when Joseph Chamberlain and Winston Churchill were tearing apart the Conservative Party over the question of free trade, in a way which might remind us of the 2022 summer battle between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, few could have known that this would lead to the redistributive Asquith pre-war administration, and the beginning of the birth of the welfare state. One order was ceding to another: and that would mean, in time, opportunity for workers previously undreamed of.
Similarly, as Keir Starmer’s Labour Party seeks to pivot – not always convincingly – to the right, and as sizeable swathes of the Conservative Party argue for higher taxes, and not, as used to be Thatcherite orthodoxy, a smaller state, then it can seem as if some new alignment is struggling to be born. It will have its opportunity alongside the uncertainty.
That’s because turbulent periods always house creativity – and creativity leads to economic activity. The period in the leadup to the Asquith administration saw an enormous amount of invention from air conditioning (1902), to radar (1904), radio broadcasting (1906) and the electronic washing machine (1907). Even World War One engendered numerous inventions we still use today from daylight saving time to Kleenex, zippers and even sanitary pads.
Ingenuity and perception sharpens in times of crisis. Most economists agree that technology is inherently deflationary insofar as it saves business costs and reduces labour requirements. It was recently noted by chief executive of Ark Investment Management, Cathie Wood that in 2022 companies are rapidly increasing innovation across a range of areas including adaptive robots, autonomous mobility, blockchain, gene editing, and neural networks. And these technologies, once they are introduced and widely adopted, will either lead to jobs, or free up human capital for further invention.
The world, especially as it is portrayed by today’s media, might be full of vicissitudes, crises and sudden shifts, there are in reality certain constants which don’t get reported.
The first is human creativity. Consider this array of geniuses in the 20th century: the Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Charlie Chaplin, Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, TS Eliot, Igor Stravinsky, Pele, and Nelson Mandela. All were undeterred by the grim news of the day, and of course, another list might be compiled at will – and another and another – until it filled up the whole of this explanation simply with the names of high achievers – without even enlarging on the actual content of their exploits.
Now consider that they all operated in the same centuries as Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, and numerous genocides and disasters.
That brings us to the second reason for optimism: opportunity. While opportunity isn’t evenly distributed across society at any one time – an inequality which has led us to create the Finito bursary scheme – its overall quantity is clearly on the increase as education broaden, and as the standard of living rises.
These considerations ought to buttress job seekers against despair and make us realise that however the economy or the world might look at any one time, the next development is round the corner, and it’s just as likely to be a good one as a bad.