Looking back at 2021, the corona crisis has not inspired any dramatic societal or political shifts. Nevertheless, weak signals of fundamental change are visible, putting in place the building blocks of a future society. 

The muddled view of the post-corona society

When the pandemic started in 2020, our colleagues at Freedomlab used their proprietary scenario method to paint a picture of what the world might look like when the pandemic is over. Looking back on the scenarios presented in the Resilient World, a clear ‘winner’ has not yet emerged. In many aspects, we are merely muddling through and, so far, the crisis has not inspired any dramatic societal or political shifts. Perhaps it is too early to tell, but one “problem” might be that this crisis simply lacks a clear and unambiguous cause and, hence, does not supply us with a “manual” for structural change. Nevertheless, weak signals of fundamental change are visible, putting in place the building blocks of a future society. In that society, we will likely see a stronger government, a relative cutback in unbound consumerism, and a more critical stance towards technology. Getting there, however, will be a long-term process that ties in with ongoing trends and drivers that might have little to do with the virus.

Broaden Your Horizons

  • Download Freedomlab’s Retroscope to read how one scenario that was not foreseen seems to be the most likely to emerge after the pandemic.
  • A 25-year old bet between techno-optimist Kevin Kelly and Luddite-loving doomsayer Kirkpatrick Sale about whether tech will have destroyed society comes up a draw (or not?). A long-read from WIRED.
  • It is a very natural human impulse to long for the endpoint of a crisis, to know when we are finally out of this pandemic, but as this Fast Company article explains, a crisis has no clean end; rather we have power over how we move through a crisis.

World powers are turning inwards

China is one of the few countries maintaining a zero-COVID policy with very strict quarantines and closed borders. It reflects and accelerates how China is turning inwards, leading to more nationalism accompanied by international tension between leaders and more hostility to foreigners. That hostility is mirrored in the U.S., where a cold-war-like tone towards China remains in place. The EU, meanwhile, alternated between cooperation among policies and vaccines on one hand and hostility over the corona bonds between northern and southern member states on the other hand. These examples show how the pandemic laid bare that we live in an era defined by planetary challenges and diffuse global power. To prepare for future global shocks, nations are putting more effort in a more regional and “project-based” approach. Globalization thus becomes regionalization. This is visible in “nearshoring”, protectionism and in new forms of industrial politics. The mission of the EU and the Chinese idea of the Belt and Road initiative are examples of increasing regional integration.