Inflation is higher than it has been in four decades. A global pandemic has erased two years of our lives, broken supply chains, and damaged globalization irreparably. War has returned to peaceful Europe and brought with it the possibility of nuclear conflict. Wages have been stagnant for decades. The cost of living has soared after steadily increasing for years. Political divisions are deeper than they have been in over a century. A housing crisis grips the world’s largest cities and forces millions into rent purgatory. Hospitals have lost massive chunks of their workforces who have quit due to exhaustion. We will be heading into this next winter with record fuel prices and energy shortages. Climate change is still going strong.
The good times are over. You may have missed them when they were here.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re part of the generation that spent the last few years before COVID eagerly awaiting the return of the good times. (And you spent the COVID years on Zoom or listening to sea shanties.) Those storied days of our forefathers where work was plentiful, a home was affordable, and the future was bright. You didn’t face every day knowing that you will live with the specter of debt hanging over your head until you’re old and gray. You weren’t worried about foreign powers tampering with your elections or whether or not the grocery store would in fact be stocked with food. It was just around the corner, those good times, all you needed to do was vote or organize or march or support.
That was it though. The period of peace (your childhood spent watching the Iraq War aside) and prosperity (stagnant wages and affordability crisis notwithstanding) that you were merely enduring was actually the bountiful harvest. You might point to several market downturns and the ongoing death spiral of our standard of living thanks to crushing debt at both the personal and national levels as evidence of a problem but I’m here to tell you that you really should have enjoyed yourself. Next up is the famine.
We still have the problem of low wages even with the labour shortage that should be pushing salaries up. But it already did, and that’s all you’re getting. The mass dropout of people from the labour force didn’t change much because employers can just wait you out and, thanks to the power of technology, probably replace you with a machine. Those employers have a lot of money and don’t mind short term pain before welcoming the newly poor back with open arms and lighter paycheques. Those were actually peaceful times. Even if your country had troops abroad in active combat zones with the occasional Humvee falling prey to a roadside bomb, that’s all you’re getting. A few warlords came and went, slaughtering their way across the region and reinstalling a barbaric feudal theocracy but, that aside, things were pretty good. You may have noticed that foreign troops left Afghanistan entirely, watching as the psychotics retook their still-warm seats of power and reversed decades of progress overnight. We may have set a record for a new failed state, but it’s peace in our time. And that’s all you’re getting.
Let me be the first to welcome you to the new normal. Soon you’ll wish it was 2017.
Housing will not be getting cheaper thanks to purposeful scarcity and an influx of rich foreigners speculating on homes. Our everyday items like food are going to get pricier. Companies will continue to point to supply shortages and labour issues to cut benefits and hours while increasing costs — your costs. Ivan is coming with his decade old tanks, right across the Pacific. Surely you can’t expect us to defend ourselves with a defence budget of only seven hundred and forty billion dollars. That healthcare you’re looking for will have to wait. Are you seriously asking for a credit toward the purchase of an electric vehicle in these conditions? Are you that selfish? Climate change isn’t a priority, these are tough times and jobs are on the line. To demand a higher wage when there are so many who are without work and have given up completely. Practice some gratitude.
Inflation, recession, war, and shortages. These will be the next decade’s battle cries trumpeted from the highest parapets whenever the idea of reform is raised. Your leaders and their cronies have a full hand of aces to play at their whim and they will do so liberally.
The real problem isn’t necessarily what’s coming our way. Good times tend to wax and wane and you will see more than one worldwide downturn before your time is done. What should concern us is the new bargain bin version of the good times that we’ve accepted. The last decade has been a period of economic growth and stability. Yet we still saw a decrease in the average lifespan and only some have enjoyed that economic growth. Portfolios have grown by leaps and bounds, but not everyone was able to even start one. We’ve been at peace on the homefront but more at one another’s throats than we have in recent memory. Constant war has become our version of peace. The grass isn’t greener on the other side because you never had anything but a dirt lawn.
Our focus needs to be more than just getting through the tough times ahead. It needs to be on shaping what’s on the other side into a world we might actually enjoy. Don’t let them force you into settling for anything but this.