The world is doing better han most people think.

Author:O'Neill, Jim
Position:Viewpoint essay

I have three, somewhat contradictory, elements to my answer. First, it is far from clear to me that there is something especially unique about the supposed "cauldron of global political uncertainty." I suspect what is really new, and I believe a major challenge for many aspects of our society, is the constant 24/7 media and communications aspects of our lives, and in particular the role of social media. What has also become clear is that most of us now realize there are huge uncertainties out there. I suspect before we entered this world of mass information, a lot of us simply didn't think the world was so uncertain, even though it probably always was. So what is new, I would argue, is that we all now simply know the future is uncertain and there are lots of risks out there.

Let me give some examples. I was born in the late 1950s. Social commentators now look back on that period and describe 1957 as the happiest year of any time going back to the previous century and indeed since. This was little more than a decade after the end of World War II, and while it is easy to understand why so many people were hopeful about the future, it is hard for me to entertain seriously the idea that there was less uncertainty. Indeed, we know that there wasn't. The Korean War began in 1950, the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and we saw the showdown between the United States and Russia in Cuba in 1962.


I entered the financial markets at the start of the 1980s and there were frequently huge shocks. What is different from today is that a lot of them were pretty unexpected--except to the very astute few--and certainly ones that people didn't talk about much in advance. The utter chaos surrounding the breakdown of the European Monetary System in the late 1980s and early 1990s caught many by surprise, and soon after, the so-called Mexican tequila crisis caused major disruption. The decline of the Thai baht in 1997 was initially regarded by many as a one-off, and the fact that it appeared to trigger a series of escalating traumatic crises in a number of Asian countries in the following months and years was not something many predicted. That was followed by the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management in the late 1990s, and especially given that this was a firm driven by the brains of some of the most widely respected finance academics, it was not a subject many talked about with anything other than admirable awe in the years before.


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