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World

Urge to purge 2020 from memory should be resisted

  • Governments around the world must figure out how to wind down their massive stimulus packages.
04 Jan 2021

ZURICH: When will 2020 end? That was a familiar lament across the globe as humanity shut down almost everything to cope with a common threat. The arrival of Covid-19 threw all our plans - not to mention predictions - to the wayside. Almost nothing that markets, investors or companies anticipated one year ago proved prescient.

For 2021, at least one thing is certain: the world will be trying to emerge from this hopefully once-in-a-lifetime public health shock and return to some new version of normalcy. Old appetites and excesses will return, but the divisions the pandemic exposed in our societies can't be forgotten.

The new year is on the horizon with markets supercharged by the unprecedented pace and success of vaccine science. Billions of people need to be inoculated to ensure the virus no longer threatens vulnerable members of society or poses an existential threat to renewed economic growth.

Governments around the world must figure out how to wind down their massive stimulus packages.

In the United States, the turbulent four-year presidency of Donald Trump is ending, with Joe Biden taking over. And the UK faces the real moment of Brexit, to name just one more landmark. It's for once a genuine turning point.

At Breakingviews, notwithstanding the folly of fortune telling, we are once again launching our annual effort to guide readers through the trends and events that we believe will shape behavior, economies and asset prices in the coming year.

As we embarked on this project, Breakingviews editors robustly debated the title. We looped in the marketing folks at Reuters, our parent company, to help us. Our first proposal, "Living with it", was deemed too pessimistic.

"Making the best of it" had a somewhat more upbeat ring. But marketing wanted something still more positive. "The world emerges" does the trick. The runners-up serve as chapter headings, which also include the Brooklynese "Fuggedaboutit" for some mid-crisis levity.

The temptation after any annus horribilis is to move on, forgot about it, make the best of it and get back to living life. That was the experience after the Spanish flu of 1918: the economy slingshotted into the Roaring Twenties.

In a more cultured example, the Black Death that swept through Europe in the 14th century gave way to the Renaissance. Many of Breakingviews' predictions - really more like ideas we hope our readers will find provocative - are prosaically centered in the world of business, corporate finance, mergers, economics and such.

But hopefully we, like everyone else on the planet, can draw useful lessons that will guide all of us - especially policymakers and business leaders - in building communities that are healthier, more resilient, more equitable, and more conscious of safeguarding the planet for future generations. It will be in everyone's talking points. We shall see who walks the walk.

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