I recently listened to an interview with Felix Salmon on CBC radio. Salmon is Chief Financial Correspondent for Axios and has done a lot of reporting on how our world is being transformed with the pandemic. In the interview, he noted that most areas of the economy are still in flux. One example he gave was supply chains. For a while there were shortages, of things like shipping containers and microchips, and now those things have arrived en masse and we have a glut of them. While everyone was in lock-down, we also ordered at l0t of stuff and that drove up the price of goods. Now that we’re free-er, we’ve turned away from stuff and toward travel and experiences––driving up hotel prices and creating restaurant worker shortages.
Salmon used these and other examples to describe a kind of giant roller coaster effect, with every economic sector experiencing its own unpredictable ride. No one knows how wild the fluctuations will be, how they intersect, where any of it is going to go next, or what kind of end point it will all settle at some day, if at all. That pretty much describes every area of our lives today, doesn’t it? Economics, climate, government, social conflict, virus mutations, work and school environments. Plus all of the variable human reactions to each one of those. Clearly, we are living in a time of instability.
Salmon has written a book about the economics of this. It’s called The Phoenix Economy: Work, Life, and Money in the New Not Normal (Harper 2023). I was really struck by the concept of ‘The New Not Normal.’ There is no baseline anymore. There is only Not Normal. Salmon noted that the last big upheaval like this occurred following WWII and took at least 50 years to recalibrate.
Unpredictability is our new state of affairs. If I’m expecting things to stop changing, either by settling down or going back to some previous state, I’m just setting myself up for anxiety and depression. It’s important to be able to step back from my attachment to my own small world and acknowledge that this is happening to everyone right now. It’s happening and it’s going to keep happening. Might as well get used to it.
As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.”