2021: The “new birth” of the 21st century

Madrid, December 17, 2020.-   It’s being said that the 21st century was born on the morning of  Tuesday 11th of September 2001 with the four coordinated terrorist attacks against the United States. Today, 20 years after the attacks we might see that 2021 bring us a totally new 21st century. No-one and nothing including AI (Artificial Intelligence) knows when and how the COVID-19 pandemic will come to an end but not soon.

If today, after 12 years of the 2008 financial crisis we are still feeling its effects, it might very well be that the consequences of the Coronavirus could extend for the next 10-20 years which is just the period for the current generation of CEOs to start thinking and managing our retirement. However, I am of the opinion that those of us who have been running companies or multinationals during this period of time have been just on “training mode”. The real thing begins now, in the midst of this chaos, the economy needs security, certainties, tranquility, horizons, prospects, experience and added value.

Counting that we do not even know what will happen in the next 24 hours, it’s even more impossible to know the Title to be given to the new year 2021. In times of unknowns we should consult credible, serious and prestigious sources of information. The economic magazine The Economist is my selection today to try to understand the top ten trends for the coming months and to better guess what lies ahead of us for 2021:

1 Fights over vaccines. As the first vaccines become available in quantity, the focus will shift from the heroic effort of developing them to the equally daunting task of distributing them. Vaccine diplomacy will accompany fights within and between countries over who should get them and when. A wild card: how many people will refuse a vaccine when offered? See article

2 A mixed economic recovery. As economies bounce back from the pandemic the recovery will be patchy, as local outbreaks and clampdowns come and go—and governments pivot from keeping companies on life-support to helping workers who have lost their jobs. The gap between strong and weak firms will widen. See article

3 Patching up the new world disorder. How much will Joe Biden, newly installed in the White House, be able to patch up a crumbling rules-based international order? The Paris climate treaty and the Iran nuclear deal are obvious places to start. But the crumbling predates Donald Trump, and will outlast his presidency. See article

4 More US-China tensions. Don’t expect Mr Biden to call off the trade war with China. Instead, he will want to mend relationships with allies to wage it more effectively. Many countries from Africa to South-East Asia are doing their best to avoiding picking sides as the tension rises. See article

5 Companies on the front line. Another front for the US-China conflict is companies, and not just the obvious examples of Huawei and TikTok, as business becomes even more of a geopolitical battlefield. As well as pressure from above, bosses also face pressure from below, as employees and customers demand that they take stands on climate change and social justice, where politicians have done too little. See article

6 After the tech-celeration. In 2020 the pandemic accelerated the adoption of many technological behaviours, from video-conferencing and online shopping to remote working and distance learning. In 2021 the extent to which these changes will stick, or snap back, will become clearer. See article

7 A less footloose world. Tourism will shrink and change shape, with more emphasis on domestic travel. Airlines, hotel chains and aircraft manufacturers will struggle, as will universities that rely heavily on foreign students. Cultural exchange will suffer, too. See article

8 An opportunity on climate change. One silver lining amid the crisis is the chance to take action on climate change, as governments invest in green recovery plans to create jobs and cut emissions. How ambitious will countries’ reduction pledges be at the UN climate conference, delayed from 2020? See article

9 The year of déjà vu. That is just one example of how the coming year may feel, in many respects, like a second take on 2020, as events including the Olympics, the Dubai Expo and many other political, sporting and commercial gatherings do their best to open a year later than planned. Not all will succeed. See article

10 A wake-up call for other risks. Academics and analysts, many of whom have warned of the danger of a pandemic for years, will try to exploit a narrow window of opportunity to get policymakers to take other neglected risks, such as antibiotic resistance and nuclear terrorism, more seriously.