I'm going to be telling you about our predictions at The Economist for what's going to happen in 2022. So I'm going to show you, I'm going to give you my Top 10. This is derived from our annual which I edit, it used to be called The World In… we've just renamed it this year to The World Ahead and you can see some previous entries are in the series there.
So essentially, this is written by my colleagues at The Economist, and this is the 36th year we've been doing it. We're joined by leading figures in politics, business, and the art. So we've got people like Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa. I know we've got lots of people from South Africa on the call today and he calls for an end to vaccine apartheid for example.
We also have the cofounders of BioNTech telling us what they think's going to happen with mRNA vaccines next, and so forth. So we have lots of different predictions and analysis and opinions from different people, both inside The Economist and outside and what I'm going to do today is just sort of draw those together. I do this within the annual itself, there's a Top 10 trends in the Editor's Letter that I have at the beginning and I'm essentially going to do you a sort of summary of that.
There are various things that we know are going to happen next year. This is what we journalists called diary stories. So we know that, you know, Olaf Scholz is going to have taken over, probably in the middle of December, we know we're going to have various elections and anniversaries and sports tournament. So those are the sort of big tentpole things that we know are going to happen. The question is, what are the sort of things in between what are the big themes, so I'm just going to quickly take you through 10 of those.
Democracy vs autocracy
A really big theme that plays out in lots of areas is the rivalry between America and China in particular, and democracy and autocracy more generally. And this is a sort of reassertion of a longer-term mega trend, we hope we can see the light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic.
And so you know bigger trends are sort of reasserting themselves, I think, like this, and like, the need to deal with climate change.
And next year is going to be particularly interesting, because we're going to have this very clear contrast between America and China and the way their political systems work. So we're going to have the midterm elections in the US, and we're going to have the Communist Party Congress in China.
And the midterm elections are going to be quite messy, there's going to be you know, all sorts of, it's going to be a sort of carnival of the way American democracy works, or doesn't work, depending on how you look at things.
And in contrast to that, we're going to have this very heavily stage-managed Party Congress in China, where Xi Jinping is going to be confirmed in power for several more years, normally he would be handing over to someone else at this point but he's not doing so.
And so you're going to have this sort of chaos of democracy in America, where the Democrats are very likely to lose control of the House and probably the Senate too and will have even less scope to do things and get things done.
And this will just sort of reinforce the Chinese Communist Party's position that democracy is dangerous and unstable and of course, Donald Trump is waiting in the wings and wants to come back and he will no doubt be heavily involved in the midterm campaign next year as well.
And this is all just proof as far as the Chinese are concerned that democracy is a bad way of doing things. And that actually having a central party with centralised control is the way to go. The East is rising, and the West is declining, as officials like to put it.
And I think we're going to see other elections around the world were, particularly in France, Brazil, and Hungary, where they're going to be seen as litmus tests for the health of democracy and the state of populism.
We're going to see this sort of French Donald Trump, Eric Zemmour as a contender in the presidential election, how much support will he get? How's that going to go? What's going to happen to Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, again, a sort of test of whether populism has run its course. And then of course, what's going to happen with Viktor Orban in Hungary, where for the first time he faces a unified opposition.
So I think this whole kind of broader question of how whether democracy or autocracy are sort of better ways of running things. Joe Biden, in his first press conference as President earlier this year said that there's essentially a battle underway between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies. And he says, we've got to prove that democracy works.
People are worried not just about whether democracy works or not, or whether it might even be under threat, whether its survival is in question in the US, and it's not about just surviving, it's about showing that democracy is superior. So I think there's going to be a lot of this sort of reading into these political set pieces in 2022, wider points about whether democracy or autocracy is the better system for delivering growth, stability, and innovation.
Let's move on. One final thing to say there actually, is that there are potentially things where America and China could cooperate on things like trade, on things like climate, on things like cybersecurity or nuclear non-proliferation, but it seems quite unlikely that cooperation in those areas will happen in 2022 in particular, because it's in both countries interests not to.
Joe Biden won't want to do any deals with China that will make him look weak, being tough on China is one of the few things that Democrats and Republicans agree on. Xi Jinping is going to want to keep everything as stable as possible next year to ensure his own you know, transition to this the next few years of his rule. That said the need to preserve stability does at least mean that we think conflict over Taiwan or in the South China Sea is unlikely.
The pandemic in 2022
Okay, let's move on to the pandemic. Obviously, the Omicron variant is the big unknown here, but we think that generally the trajectory from a pandemic towards an endemic disease that is sort of broadly you know dealable with and liveable with will continue.
This chart here shows you the impact of the vaccines in breaking the link between cases and deaths and this is just data from the US and Israel but obviously they were countries that vaccinated quite quickly early on.
And you know, that's what we're seeing in the UK, we're seeing quite high caseloads, but this is not turning into equivalent numbers of deaths and hospitalisations as we saw in previous waves.
We don't know yet whether Omicron will break through more, you know, the nightmare scenario is that it's much more spreadable and much more virulent, so causes a lot more disease and death. We don't know, it's too early to say the sort of happy scenario at the other end of the spectrum is that it is more spreadable and outcompetes Delta but is actually milder.
And that would be sort of the next step along the road to this becoming an endemic disease that can be treated and is not life threatening and sort of moves it closer to being something like seasonal flu.
That said this is very, very uneven, we've got uneven access to vaccines, and it may be that Omicron is controllable if you have a good level of vaccination but is a real problem if you don't.
We should have some better vaccines next year second generation vaccines and also vaccines that could be delivered in new ways through for example, skin patches or inhalation.
And I think also very significant to watch out for next year are these new antiviral treatments from Merck and Pfizer. These are essentially pills that can be given to people who test positive, you take them for a week like a course of antibiotics, and you're then 90% less likely to become seriously ill or die.
And what's really interesting about these anti virals, the way they work is they essentially stop the ribosomes in the cellular machinery from replicating RNA, which is what vaccines do, they are RNA, and they just basically programme the machines to reproduce themselves.
And by blocking that mechanism, this is not something that is specific to particular strains or variants of Coronavirus. So there's quite high levels of confidence that those pills which seemed to work extremely well against the existing variants will work just as well against Omicron. So that could become a really important new weapon in our fight to suppress the virus and the new variants of the virus.
And I think, you know, a year ago, if you remember where we were, that we knew that vaccines were coming, we had these very promising results and we also knew that fast at home testing was going to be widely available, as it now is in many countries around the world. And both those things sort of sounded like sci fi, in November and December of 2020.
And we’re now in many parts of the world used to vaccination, you know, many of us in Britain have had our booster jabs now, we've got piles of tests downstairs, and you know, whenever we've got people coming round, or we're going out, we can do tests quite easily. And I think that's become quite normal for people in many parts of the world.
I think the things that are going to change next year, that sound like sci fi now, but, you know, we could see quite widely are these new forms of vaccine and these new antiviral pills. So fingers crossed that this will help us to move down the road, what this will probably mean, I mean, what does success look like here?
The sad truth is that there are still enormous inequalities here, as there are with many other diseases. And, you know, if you think of a disease like malaria, malaria is a minor inconvenience to people from the rich world, maybe they pick it up when they go to the tropics on holiday and if they notice it when they come back, then they get given some pills and it goes away.
Malaria, meanwhile, affects hundreds of millions of people around the world and kills millions of people every year. That is a reflection of inequalities in income and in health systems.
And I think the trajectory we are on is for Coronavirus to become just another disease in the sense that it's deadly and can be deadly if you're in the poor world and not if you're in the rich world. Sadly, the same is true of many other diseases.
What Omicron reminds us though, is what the Head of the WHO likes to say, which is none of us are safe until all of us are safe. And the danger of pockets of the world where new variants can still emerge really does remind us of the need to get vaccination coverage very, very widely distributed. And then to ask ourselves why it is that you know, if we can do it for one disease, we can't do it for others.
The economy in 2022
On the economy I'm not going to say very much because we've heard quite a bit. But yes, I would totally agree with this analysis that what we're seeing now with these higher prices and the spike in energy prices, is this rapid bounce back from the pandemic.
This chart here shows you the extent to which spending in the US shifted from services to goods. Essentially, consumers couldn't spend on services like holidays and going to restaurants and going to the theatre because of lockdowns so they spent the money that came through whether it was stimulus money or money they would otherwise have spent on services, they spent it on goods instead, that kept the economy going. But it meant that we had this massive shift towards goods and that has strained supply chains and pushed up prices.
And so you know, I think I my colleagues, who are economic experts would agree with the analysis that this is probably temporary and that these supply chain problems will ease. They point out that the factors that kept rates and inflation low in the past will you know, they still pertain and should reassert themselves next year.
The country we're actually most worried about, though, with a with stagflation or sort of wage price spiral is Britain. It is uniquely exposed to labour shortages, having closed borders to EU workers because of Brexit. We're also uniquely exposed to high energy prices, because we're particularly dependent on natural gas and we've just heard, you know, the price of gas has really shot up.
And we're also very exposed to the price of imports because we're a very open economy, we're very dependent on imports. So even before Brexit and the pandemic British inflation was higher and more volatile. And I think we're now uniquely vulnerable in the UK, to the forces that are dragging down growth and pushing up inflation. And that's even before you put Omicron into the picture.
Going back to the global picture, I think the real concern with Omicron is that once you've done that trick of firing stimulus at people and having them spend money on goods, instead of services, you can't do that trick again in 2022, because the supply chains for goods are already maxed out.
And that's what's really worrying that you know the movement the freedom of movement that there is to stimulate economies, you know, that we've pulled that lever once you've pulled that lever once it's not a lever you can pull again.
So 2022 really is a pivotal year in this and a huge amount hinges on what we learn about Omicron in the next few weeks. Because you know, switching to a world where we have sort of permanently higher spending on goods and less on services would be very painful.
The future of work
Let's move on to the future of work. Interesting to hear there's a general consensus that we're going to see hybrid working so more in the future where people are splitting their time between home and the office. But that's about as far as the consensus goes. There's an enormous amount of disagreement about the details.
Now I should preface all of this by saying that only about 50% of the population, even in rich countries can work from home. But for those people who can, there is a disparity between what their bosses want and what the workers want. Bosses generally like people to go into the office, bosses have nicer offices, bosses like being in the office, they get to tell everyone what to do, and workers are less keen on going it and so there's a disparity there.
And then there's also a disparity between what people say they want and what they actually do what their revealed preferences, when they are given a free choice.
So a lot of workers in surveys have been saying that they like the idea of you know, maybe work at home two days a week, and in the office three days a week, something like that, but you give them the choice, they actually stay at home four days a week, or five days a week, in some cases, go into the office much less often.
And all of this assumes that workers are sort of all the same and have similar preferences. And they don't, if you look at this chart here, this is from a survey of American workers. But you can see that there are disparities by gender and by ethnicity on whether people want to go back to the office or not.
There was an extraordinary survey by Slack that found that 3% of black knowledge workers in America want to return to the office full time versus 21% of white knowledge workers.
You can also see whether people have children or not affects whether they want to go back to the office, if you are involved with juggling childcare and work then flexible working, working more from home is something that appeals to you a lot more. And so the risk here is that there's a danger of unfairness if some workers go back to the office more than others and are more visible to their superiors.
And the sort of nightmare scenario here is that it's basically the young white childless men all rush back to the office and get the face time with the managers then they get all the pay raises and the promotions and then we see things like broader gender pay gaps, we go backwards on diversity, and so on.
And this would be the exact opposite of what people in some quarters were predicting when the great work from home experiment began in 2020. There was a lot of optimism back then, that it could lead to fairer and more equal workplaces, people talked about a Zoomocracy, where we're all equal in our little tiles in a video call, and where the pandemic was a sort of opportunity to address discrimination and inequality and revisit sort of processes and assumptions on lots and lots of levels.
It's now clear though that the hybrid workplace of the future will be unfair unless it's designed not to be. And that's going to take a while to work out it's going to require a lot of discussion and dialogue and we're going to sort of embark on that in earnest in 2022 I think.
There are also lots of other things about the future of work that need sorting out employment law needs updating, there are big questions about how much surveillance of people working from home people working remotely is appropriate.
You know, these programmes that monitor how many keys you're pressing or how much you're moving your mouse, and people are buying devices that make it look like they're moving their mouse when actually they're out walking the dog or whatever.
Health and safety requirements need looking at. I'm sitting in rather an old chair here if I get a bad back as a result, whose fault is it? And then there are tax rules, all of those bankers in New York who are no longer going to Manhattan to work but in adjacent states and those states are now starting to say well hang on a minute, maybe the tax revenue belongs to us and not to New York State.
And so I think there are an awful lot of arguments and questions and debates about the future of work that we need to work out and we'll be sort of moving down that road in 2022.
Let's move on to the techlash. Techlash is a sort of backlash against big tech, is a term coined by The Economist, in fact in the annual a few years ago. And yet despite the lawsuits and the fines, the tech giants march on, and their growth and their profits seemed to be undented and I'm sure we'll see more lawsuits and more bosses being hauled up in front of government committees next year, and more scandals about bad behaviour.
But what's really interesting is the way that the discussion about techlash completely changed in 2021, because the Chinese government launched a brutal crackdown against its tech industry halting IPOs, banning video games during the week for kids, banning celebrities from social media in some cases, deciding that the entire online tutoring sector needed to be non-profit. And this has wiped about one and a half trillion dollars off the value of Chinese tech firms all under the cover of the pandemic and this was clearly something the government was planning, and the pandemic has provided sort of useful cover.
And Xi Jinping wanted to remind people who was boss, to some extent after some tech firm bosses got a bit too big for their boots. But he also essentially wants to change the direction of the Chinese tech industry and have Chinese tech firms focus more on hard tech, like artificial intelligence and quantum computing and robotics that give China a geostrategic advantage rather than frivolous things like food delivery or new kinds of online shopping.
And I think the big question is, will this work? If you look at the numbers, you can see that start-up funding for Chinese companies in the US it's shooting up and in China it's going down. We think it's much more likely to stifle economic dynamism, hamper innovation, reduce entrepreneurism.
Meanwhile back in America, America's politicians would never admit it, but they would love to be able to clobber their tech giants the way that China has. You can't do that in a democracy of course. Again, this is along with bashing China this is the one thing that Republicans and Democrats agree on that tech firms are bad and need to be clobbered.
So I think we'll probably see gradual tweaks of the rules in 2022, seems the most likely outcome, maybe new rules on privacy, on consumer data, online protection of children, tweaks to Section 230 on content moderation, the extent to which data can be shared between apps, and I think a lot of that actually, like GDPR in Europe, I think this could steer the tech companies away from some of their more egregious misbehaviour. But I think the threat of action is probably going to prompt as much change as action itself.
I mean, look at the way Apple is making it easier to repair its devices. And in fact, in the competition between these companies, it's the other tech giants that the tech giants are most worried about, and shifts in the technology, longer term shifts, that I think is more likely to reshape the tech landscape of regulation.
Crypto and the future of finance
Let's move on. Crypto and what's happening with the future of finance. I think crypto is sort of growing up the fact that regulators are trying to stifle it, shut it down and sort of domesticate it is a sign of it's being taken more seriously.
Essentially, what we're seeing here is three competing visions for the future of finance, the sort of vision of the traditional tech industry, big tech firms like Google, Apple, and Facebook, who have seen what Chinese firms have done like Alibaba and Tencent, and they've managed to build these big payment infrastructures, and these super apps that people can sort of spend their whole lives in. They can use them for all sorts of things that in the West, we're used to dealing with banks for, so you've got that vision.
Then you've got the kind of distributed finance crypto blockchain crowd who say no, the problem with that vision is it's all centralised. Look at the bad behaviour that you get from these big, centralised tech platforms, centralising everything into super apps is the opposite of what we need to be doing. Instead, we need to be doing all of this decentralised finance. And then you've got the central banks saying, well hang on a minute, if someone's going to issue digital currencies around here, shouldn't it be us. And so you've got Central Bank digital currencies, and China is furthest down that road.
We think that the fight between these three camps will intensify in 2022 and it will be the regulators who decide what the right mixture of these various things is going to be.
You know, this is very active debate about the best way to regulate crypto. Does it need a new regulator, crypto firms say yes, but that's just because they don't like the SEC, because it's boss actually understands crypto and is very, very critical of the industry.
So this is though I would sort of say suggest this is a movie we've seen before. You very often get this with radical new technologies and their supporters say this is going to change everything and then it gets domesticated, and some compromise is found between the old ways of doing things and new ways of doing things.
Central Bank digital currencies are not cryptocurrencies, they don't use blockchains, but they are very interesting, and they would grant Central Bank's superpowers, the ability to see what's going on in the economy, it would be much easier to cut interest rates below zero and much easier to pass stimulus at people if you want to do it. So, you know, there are drawbacks to them as well.
So I think this is a really interesting debate and we are going to see more of it, but it sort of reminds me of what happened with Napster, when Napster appeared 20 years ago and it was like really cool you could call up any music you like, straightaway from the internet. The problem was it was completely illegal.
And what this showed was there was enthusiasm for this idea of the jukebox in the sky and it then took several years for a legal version of the same thing with the same benefits to appear in the form of platforms like Spotify.
And I think that's what we're seeing now that crypto is very exciting because it allows you to, it does address some perceived problems with the existing ways of doing things and the question is, you know, how does that get domesticated?
The climate crunch
Let's move on to climate. We've seen more extreme weather in 2021. We've also seen the COP26 conference not really producing very much. And in fact, just when we're supposed to be cutting emissions, we've been turning coal fired power stations back on again, energy prices are shooting up because post Covid rebound has boosted demand for all sorts of things. So again, how long is this going to last?
Well, we think it will probably be a blip but even if it's short lived, there could be more of these crunches in the future.
And the real problem here is that the investment in new energy infrastructure is running at about half the level it needs to be, we need to be spending globally about $5 trillion a year on new energy infrastructure in order to reach net zero by 2050 and we're only spending about half as much.
So essentially, the answer to both of these problems, the short-term crunch, and the long-term problem of climate change is invest more money in this infrastructure.
That's not enough on its own though, globally we can only make progress if China decarbonises because it's the world's biggest emitter. So I think there's also an interesting question about how the West can cooperate with China on climate change, even while geopolitical tensions are rising. And there are areas we manage to cooperate on things like manufacturing iPhones.
So how can we cooperate in the same way and in fact in our pages in the annual this year, we have an interesting suggestion from Ma Jun, who is a leading Chinese environmentalist. His NGO has built a database that essentially maps the emissions of Chinese factories, and he says the way the obvious point of cooperation between the West and China on climate change is when Western firms who do a lot of manufacturing in China, when they're picking which factory to use, they could pick the lowest carbon producer of a particular thing using this database, and that would then put pressure on other providers to cut their own emissions.
And he's done this game before he produced a database of other kinds of pollution, not carbon emissions and methane emissions, but just other forms of pollution and that was very successful in reducing the amount of pollution from Chinese factories over the course of about a decade. So I think that's an interesting sort of model.
Are there ways that Western companies if the politicians aren't going to do very much yet, are there ways that Western companies can cooperate directly with Chinese companies to try and cut emissions?
The other thing to watch out for next year is this solar geoengineering experiment that the Harvard researchers want to do releasing dust from a high-altitude balloon to dim sunlight essentially, like a volcanic eruption does.
They want to release a whole two kilogrammes of chalk dust, not very much, you've probably been in classrooms with more chalk dust than that but it's hugely controversial, because this sort of sets the precedent that we should be figuring out how to do this.
The Harvard researchers are saying, look this is just a way that we may need to buy more time to cut carbon emissions, if we're not going to cut them fast enough, we should be at least figuring out whether this works at all, what the consequences are. So expect a big fight this experiment keeps being delayed because it's so controversial. But there's going to be another argument about that next year.
Travel in 2022
Very quickly, travel, we've still got some countries pursuing suppression strategies then unwinding them, but we've got lots of countries imposing new restrictions now because of Omnicron so very much up in the air there, we have seen travel starting to come back.
I think the big question in the longer term is we saw business travel didn't bounce back to its previous levels after previous crises after 911 after the global financial crisis, it's unlikely to rebound this time around because we've all got used to using video calling the technology is a lot better.
Bill Gates says he thinks half of business travel could be gone for good, but this is good for the planet, but it's actually bad for tourists because their tickets and hotels are subsidised by high spending business travellers. So again, that could be a sort of reshaping of the economics of the tourism industry.
The other interesting thing is that we're seeing is the sandbox strategy that's been pioneered by Thailand, where you're allowed into certain parts of the country before moving on to others.
So I think we're seeing some quite interesting innovative models here, as these various restrictions are introduced and removed and as we sort of have the whack a mole against new variants and we get new vaccines, and we get new treatments. I think we are seeing some interesting innovation and new ways of looking at things when it comes to travel and tourism.
The space race
Staying with tourism, space tourism it turns out is an anagram of come upstairs. Did you know that I didn't know that 2021 is the first year we've seen a lot of competition between space tourism countries, companies this year? 2022 we're probably going to see more people going to space as paying passengers than as government employees for the first time.
We've got this terrific rivalry between these private space companies, we've also got the more traditional rivalry between superpowers, China wants to finish its space station next year which will be permanently crewed. India is going to have another go at sending a lunar probe to the moon, the last one crashed.
And we've also got this rivalry to make films in space. Russia just sent an actress and a filmmaker to film on the International Space Station in October. Tom Cruise was also supposed to be making a film in space, but nothing seems to be happening with that.
So as with Sputnik, in this particular race it looks like the Russians will get there first and they'll get that movie out more quickly. There's also a real mission happening next year that sounds like a Hollywood movie but is a real movie, which is where NASA is going to crash a space probe into an asteroid to sort of practice defending the earth from rogue asteroids. So that should be a spectacular show later in the year.
Sport in 2022
And finally, sport, we've got the Winter Olympics in Beijing, and the World Cup in Qatar. And these are both obviously reminders of how sport can unite the world and that was wonderful with the Olympics this year. But these particular contests are also going to be reminders of how sport could become a political football. So expect protests and boycotts in both countries, or directed against the host countries in both cases.
We're already seeing some of this, you can't really do anything about protesting against China, they're not letting anyone in from foreign countries to watch the games which is very convenient but they using Covid as a pretext for banning foreign spectators altogether.
So instead, what we're seeing is protests against the major sponsors of the Olympics and they're getting called out in the west, you know are you do you really want to support the Olympics, why are you doing this?
Similarly, for the football, we've seen the Netherlands, Germany and the Norwegian football teams protesting against the choice of Qatar as host country. But in neither case are we going to see national teams actually pulling out of these contests, we just going to see a lot of sort of, I think protests and noise around the edge, particularly directed at the sponsors.
Okay, those are my themes and predictions for 2022. I hope you found that helpful. And now, we're going to open up to Q&A from both of us. Thank you for listening.