A year ago, 2020 was named ‘The Advent of Virtuality’ (retrospective below). What was 2021 about?
Considering the imbalances created by COVID-19 and their mismanagement, I propose to call 2021 ‘The Great Dislocation.’ Supply is chasing demand across industries, sustainability concerns are shaking established products and services, monetary policy is out of sync with macroeconomic trends, fiscal policy is out of control, geopolitics is playing with fire, and social dynamics are explosive. It is as if the world has lost its way.
Due to these circumstances, 2021 has been subject to a fair dose of ‘absurdism,’ a concept linked to existentialism. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) pioneered the existentialist movement in the middle of the 20th century. The tenant of his philosophy relies upon the idea that ‘existence precedes essence.’ Individuals are first thrown into the world to exist or be. Then, they realize their being. i.e., determine their essence through their actions and engagement in the world: ‘People are nothing but what they make of themselves.’
The refusal to engage and act is seen as the abnegation of freedom and the expression of ‘bad faith.’ According to Sartre, ‘[people] are condemned to be free.’
But it is not easy for individuals to exert freedom of action, especially in today’s dislocated environment. According to existentialists, anxiety, a condition individuals fall into when overwhelmed by the responsibility of their freedom, prevents them from engaging in the world. As people lose the opportunity to define themselves, they flirt with ‘nothingness’ and the world appears absurd.
Hopefully, 2022 will find a way to move away from a state of dislocation, allowing the world to regain a sense of direction.
2021 vs. post GFC history
2009 – The Great Recession (MSCI index for global equities +30% after a terrible ‘08)
2010 – The BRIC Hope (+11%)
2011 – The European Meltdown (-6%)
2012 – The ‘Whatever-It-Takes’ Moment (+16%)
2013 – The Hypocenter of the ‘Lower For Longer’ Syndrome (+26%)
2014 – The Oil Price Crash (+10%)
2015 – The (Nitro) China Wobbles (+2%)
2016 – The Industrial Recession (+10%)
2017 – The Global Synchronized Recovery (+20%)
2018 – The Geopolitical Attack On Economics (-11%)
2019 – The Wager on Sustainability (+24%)
2020 – The Advent of Virtuality (+14%)
2021 – The Great Dislocation (+12%)