We seem to always live in uncertain times. I’m old enough to remember Chernobyl. I remember being glued to my TV screen for three days straight after 9/11. The 2008 financial crisis didn’t have the same psychological effect on my life as those moments did, although it probably had a more profound, lasting effect on all our lives as a whole.
The Cuban missile crisis and Communism in general were just as impactful on human psyche. They were all however, fairly manageable crises through tactile diplomacy and the cooling of heads. Millions of people died (Communism killed at least 65 million people between 1917 and 2017) but ultimately the world kept spinning.
The Current Coronavirus Situation is Unprecedented
The set of circumstances we are now dealing with as a result of the coronavirus are chilling. While the previous crises were ultimately managed, we are now as a civilisation, pretty much fucked.
Before we talk about the coronavirus, let’s acknowledge that the people making the biggest decisions are quite frankly demagogues. Populist leaders more interested in stock market prices than the health of their citizens. Trump, Bolsonaro, Ali Khamenei. The list is endless. Old white men with only one intention in mind: power.
So, how bad is the virus? With more than 160,000 confirmed cases worldwide, it’s not crazy bad. It won’t kill 97% of us. It’s not the first pandemic that’s threatened the world, and it won’t be the last. However, it will, and already is, paralysing our moral, financial, health and societal systems. Will the world be depopulated and die? No. Will the institutions we have spent hundreds of years building up break down? I firmly believe that’s a 100% yes.
This is also one of the first global pandemics (including Ebola in 2014) that’s playing out everywhere we look on social media. While governments are using this to educate citizens on health & safety, public fear and panic spreads faster when it’s being broadcast in live updates to your phone.
Where Does This Leave Us Now?
I think we are currently in Stage 1. Stage 2 involves banks failing (due to 12 years of over-leveraged loans) and Central Banks printing money. Oil wars breaking out, civil disobedience and riots.
The Middle East has been on a knife edge for years but Iran’s blatant cover up and clear pandemic will tip a region into chaos. Satellite images published by the New York Times show that Iran has built mass graves amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Adding fuel to the fire, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday that the virus could be part of a “biological attack”.
This will be the tinder box for a region that’s already on edge.
Taking into account all of the above, the coronavirus could be the biggest threat since WW2. In 1927, the Nazi party in Germany won less than 3% of the vote. After the USA’s Great Depression in the 1930’s (which the coronavirus-caused stock market crash has striking similarities to), they swept to power when Germany’s industry and economy collapsed. The rest is history, with the resulting tragic fatalities showing that stock markets have an effect that goes beyond bonds.
Now, as global economies such as Italy nosedive towards recession, the stock markets hit levels not seen in 32 years and entire countries go into lockdown mode, we’re entering a new way of living in globalisation that we need to figure out to navigate – and fast.
Solutions Will Be Found, But Could it Be Too Late?
Where will this end? My view is that we’re looking at the middle of 2021. A vaccine will be found, with several drugs currently undergoing expedited trials. Not as many people will die as we think, but that’s still too many. The global economy is already collapsing and will do so even more.
The biggest airlines in the world will go broke, as will some of the biggest companies. Banks will go under. Very serious wars will start, as we rush to battle the virus and in doing so battle each other. Xenophobia will increase and borders will stay tightened. Cybersecurity company Recorded Future is of the opinion that both cybercriminals and nation-state actors will increasingly exploit the crisis as a cyberattack vector.
Let’s think about Italy for the moment. And the already fragile Eurozone. Remember when Greece nearly brought the world to its knees over financial crashes? Greece is a small player, but Italy is the world’s 8th biggest economy. Travel and flights banned to the nation. All shops, bars and restaurants closed. This is the clear epitome of contagion. But, it’s the financial contagion that could take the whole Eurozone down. Will you see the 100 Lire coin again? Probably, and soon.
Ultimately, everything about your reality is about to change; just like WW2 the world will be completely reshaped. That is already happening. But, as ghastly as WW2 was, we came back from it. It will take a while this time around, but we can and will rise again if only nations would unite and treat coronavirus as the once-in-a-lifetime issue it clearly is.