2021 Will Be Volatile

Yves here. Even though Richard Murphy’s look at 2021 is UK-oriented, a lot of his observations apply to the US. If anything, the breakdown in health care has the potential to be even more severe than what is underway at the NHS. See the new ProPublica story, “Those of Us Who Don’t Die Are Going to Quit.” It’s about the VA, but you have similar scenes underway at under-resourced hospitals in high Covid areas.

The US, unlike the UK, is facing an eviction wave that is set to increase homelessness. That has the potential to increase the incidence of other diseases, such as Hep A, typhus, tuberculosis, and cholera. More hunger will have long-term costs on the health and development of the young.

There’s no reason to think the US will see any improvements in policing, so expect to see more killings of people of color that the gens d’armes can’t ‘splain away. We’ve now had years of documented abuses, thanks to cellphone videos, yet even after a year of large-scale protests, both Presidential candidates defended the police. Biden even called for increased budgets. As Lambert would say, it’s been wonderfully clarifying. Will we see more protests? It depends on the triggers, but the lack of major elections this year means pols will feel insulated for now.

Expect more random acts of violence. Individuals who are desperate, don’t have ways to get their grievances addressed and lack support networks can do harm to themselves and those around them.

And we already know, from the disgraceful failure of Congress and the Administration to commit itself to alleviating the suffering of Americans who’ve taken financial hits (and Biden’s too obvious signals not to expect much better from him) that the beatings will continue until morale improves.

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

I have reviewed the last year, both from the perspective of this blog and from that of the political economy. But what of 2021? Knowing that 2020 proved how foolhardy any form of production might be, what do I think 2021 might deliver?

The truth is, of course, that I do not know. What precisely will pan out cannot be known, but some over-arching narratives can be foretold, and that is what interests me. So let me get the obvious likelihoods out of the way and then consider the consequences.

First, there is Covid. It is here to stay for some time. Indeed, it is going to get a lot worse before anything gets better. And right now the government still seems intent on creating a disaster. A great many people are going to die unnecessarily as a result. The NHS will be stretched to its limits. Vaccines will only have a limited impact for some time. I strongly suspect that we will still have restrictions on behaviour in place when 2021 comes to a close. Whether that is because transmissibility still exists, or because anti-vaxers refuse to participate in immunisation programmes, or because of new variants, makes little difference; there will still be restrictions. Let’s get used to it now and brace ourselves for the losses to come.

Brace ourselves too for NHS failure – through no fault of those involved but because of failure of leadership now and over the last decade.

And at the same time, those expecting economic recovery in 2021 should, I believe, think again. People living in jeopardy (and that is what 2021 is going to feel like) do not spend. Their ‘animal spirits’ will be subdued, and the economy with them. Past evidence suggests that this will be the case for some time to come. In which case expect more job losses, more corporate failures, and more distress. What 2020 taught was that a summer relaxation of measures was a big mistake. I hope the same mistake will not be made again in 2021, and I know the price of that.

In that case, any idea that this will be the year when the government begins to plan for the post-Covid recovery are hopelessly misplaced. This will be a year of continuing substantial government deficits driven by low tax receipts, in particular, whilst demand on services will remain high, and will need to be met. Talk of austerity, tax increases and and such issue are all a long way from what will really be on he government agenda.

And Brexit will not go away. Talks on the many unresolved areas will drag on. The costs will become very apparent. Services will begin to appreciate how hard they are hit. Northern Ireland will realise that its supply chains now have to come from the south, and not from the rest of the UK. There will be recurring reports of jobs and investments lost as a result of Brexit related departures of business from the UK.

So, that’s the background. What does this mean?

First, Covid, plus Brexit will mean very limited, if any economic recovery in the year. The OBR suggested that growth might be 5% or so assuming no Covid second wave. That now looks to be fanciful. Presuming we are in lockdown for several months from mid January onwards, as Covid deaths exceed 1,000 a day, the likelihood of any recovery is remote. Brexit simply adds to the likelihood.

Furlough will continue to April, but the gross unfairness of a scheme that provides considerable unemployment benefit if you happened to be in a particular type of employment at some point will become too unjust to maintain. Those who have lost their jobs, the self employed and others who fell through gaps, will demand change. I suspect Marcus Rashford will extend his demands to encompass this. Then reform will happen. The idea of some form of basic income may arrive in the UK sooner than anyone expected if tourism and hospitality have the year I expect.

Significant measures to support business will be required. Loans are now seen to be fraud ridden. So, apart from extended rates relief I also foresee compulsory rent reliefs, with landlords able to make partial recovery claims from the government.

With luck, strategically important businesses, large and small, will begin to get capital injections. But measures to prevent cronyism will be key. The stresses in the economy in 2021 are already potentially incendiary; it will not take much for anger to erupt. Failure to provide fairness will deliver it.

Second, the risk of cronyism will remain high. But the seeds of dissent will grow the longer it remains apparent. If it breaks out of the PPE sector I am not sure the anger will be contained.

Third, freeports will begin and be a feature of local government campaigns this May. Counter-arguments are essential, now. The freeports themselves will prove to be a damp squib.

Fourth, the change in relationships in Northern Ireland will be rapid. There is a real risk of stress as unionists realise just how badly they will think they have been treated by the UK. Ireland will continue careful diplomacy, backed by the EU.

Fifth, The SNP will win a landslide in Scotland in May. Johnson will still refuse a referendum. He will even refuse discussion on any real increase in devolved power, backed by Labour in Westminster. An intensely volatile situation will develop quite quickly. It may be a very tense summer. Scottish demands will not go away, and the SNP might have to grant what Westminster will seek to describe as an illegal referendum to keep the lid on stresses. A nation that has decided to be free, as Scotland almost certainly has, is not eventually stopped.

Sixth, the NHS will have a ghastly year. It will be overwhelmed by COVID. That is now almost unavoidable. Staff will suffer, considerably. It will be stressed beyond limits. The demand from the right that it must be broken up will becoming very strong. Labour will be left floundering, triangulating as ever. And the rise of new political sentiment around a revived commitment to public service is entirely possible. I cannot predict how that will happen. I think that a desire to support the NHS, care and education will underpin it when the essential nature of all three, and the lack of existing political support for them, becomes apparent.

Seventh, this concern will align with that on climate. COP 26 might happen, but what will be apparent is that it will be a cop out: the chance that business as normal will prevail in the face of the need for fundamental change will become very obvious. After the extended period of changed behaviour Covid will have already delivered many people will be open to new ways of thinking, and will appreciate that whatever there had been is no longer the answer to where we will be. It is just possible that this will be the year for the demand for real environmental change to become apparent. Increasing weather issues will fuel that. I expect flooding.

Eighth, the mainstream right wing media will do all it can to fight the NHS, teachers, care workers, the unemployed and those who want environmental change. The mantra that change will be unaffordable will echo around the country, and world. But the reality that money has been created for cronyism, the folly of Brexit and the gross mismanagement of PPE will make it clear that is not true. This will be the year for new economic narratives. These will not be called MMT. That is too hard to explain. Green and social QE will be what is demanded. That is, the money will not just be created now: its use will also be directed. The need to maintain economic discipline in a changed environment, and to tackle rising inequality will, in any case, demand this.

Ninth, although this will be the year of the delivery van, it will also be a year for new and local business as people consciously seek to support their communities.

And tenth? I think the threat of disruption in society will be so great that measures to tackle inequality will have to be taken by a government seeking to keep control when the risk of it losing it will be high.

In summary, this is going to be a year if very high political tension. The media will demand suppression. I very much doubt that will be possible when the reality of the next wave of Covid and all that follows from it is appreciated. Containment is the best this government can hope for, having failed to control the virus over the next few months. And that containment may not be possible. The idea that Covid was just a blip will disappear in 2021. The reality that Covid will change everything will arrive. And the politics of that are unknown, but presuming fascism can be prevented (and it is an ever present risk) then the foundations for real change may be laid.

2021 may go down in history.

And I could, of course, be completely wrong.

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  1. efschumacher

    I wonder how long it will be before even the Unionists in Norhern Ireland realize their lives will run more smoothly by Reuniting Ireland? Not 2021, but 2022 is a particuarly auspicious year, being exacly 100 years after the partition.

    Brought to you exclusively by the Conservative “and Unionist” Party. Such a Reunification will only ratchet up the angst in Scotland ….

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, there has been a fundamental change in NI, and the WA has changed the relationship forever. Northern Irelands economy will become far more tightly bound to Irelands, via the EU, although it will take time for the practicalities of this to settle in. Unionists backed the wrong horse in Brexit, and they know it now (the moderate Unionist Party saw the danger, but they were trampled into the ground politically by the DUP). NI is also likely to get the worst of austerity, as the Tories will focus all their spending on political battlegrounds in the north of England.

      The Irish government will play things very quietly, the last thing they want is to stir things up (and deep down, Dublin is terrified about the prospects of Unity, they far prefer the status quo). Sinn Fein know they are winning, and know the best strategy is to keep their mouths shut now while the DUP run around making lots of noise hoping nobody notices how badly they screwed things up for their voters. Quietly, the NI business establishment (strongly Unionist) is filling out its Irish (EU) passport applications. There will be lots of quiet lobbying, with a sympathetic ear in Dublin, for the extension of EU support schemes to NI.

      Its in everyones interest to let the Scots go first, so things will be quiet until things boil up there, which seems very likely either this year or 2022.

      Watch out for Bidens first visit abroad as POTUS. Its widely rumoured he wants to visit his ancestors birthplace, in County Mayo (in the Republic). If he, as is possible, takes the opportunity to humiliate Johnson for his support of Trump, then it could be the catalyst for all sorts of changes.

      1. The Rev Kev

        If there was a vote for reunion, PK, how would it work? Any idea? There must have been some talk about a mechanism to do this. Maybe a majority of people on both sides of the border voting yes, a majority of counties on both sides of the border also voting yes, or perhaps a combination of the two. But if Brexit has not taught anything else, the Irish would be wise to have all their ducks lined up with the EU tradewise before going ahead.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          There is a mechanism in the Good Friday Agreement for a ‘border poll’, which must be agreed by all sides. There is nothing to say whether it would be a ‘either/or’ poll, or something a little more sophisticated.

          The current demographics and voting intentions would say that there would not be a majority for a united Ireland – probably something like 45% to 55%, but obviously if there was a more sophisticated deal worked out, the vote could be different. Going by the last couple of elections (be careful about interpreting general election results in NI as there is a lot of tactical voting), about 40-45% of the electorate are straight up ‘Unionist’, 40% are nationalist/republican, with the rest falling into the ‘status quo, could be persuaded either way’ category (in reality, soft Unionist).

          Sinn Feins calculations are that political and demographic changes means that there would be a clear majority for unity by around 2030. Demographically, catholics will be a majority by then, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they would vote for unity.

          The key constituency to look for in my opinion are the urban professional middle classes, mostly protestant. Right now, they vote Alliance or Green or UUP – i.e. they are Unionist, but not to the extent that they’d grab a gun to defend the Union. They are perfectly happy to wave an Irish flag if the rugby internationals are on, and are increasingly happy to wave an Irish passport for their holidays to Provencal or business trips to Frankfurt. If they flip, then a united Ireland is inevitable. The precedent is in 1921 in Ireland, where the urban middle classes of Dublin and Cork (catholic and protestant) saw which way the parade was going, and pushed themselves to the front.

          1. The Rev Kev

            Thanks for that. I should have thought of the Good Friday Agreement here. So, it it a lot more complicated than a simple yes/no vote and depending on who backs it and when. Maybe another factor is how the UK goes under Brexit for the next decade and if Northern Ireland starts to feel neglected out of the deal. I suspect that we will be hearing more of Ireland in the future.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Yes, I think the process will be quite slow. Its not in Republicans interest to press for a border poll unless they feel they are certain they can win it. Dublin politicians want a united Ireland for when they retire and don’t have to deal with it. The EU knows its a headache and they’d really rather not have to pay for it. London doesn’t want the security concerns. Unionists are terrified that someone will notice how vulnerable they are, and have belatedly realised that they don’t actually have any friends, least of all in England. Oddly enough, I think its in the US that there could be more enthusiasm for it, a lot of US politicians (Biden included) would love to be seen as the delivery vehicle for a united Ireland.

              So if things are forced, it will be through some sort of external circumstance, probably in Scotland or in London, but it does seem certain that the situation can’t go on indefinitely, especially as the economic logic of a United Ireland (to Britain as well as everyone else) becomes more apparent.

          2. James E Keenan

            As of today, what is the status of EU passports held by UK citizens resident in Northern Ireland? Are they now invalidated — or will they be? If so, would it be possible for Dublin to offer EU passports to residents of Ulster?

            1. Savita

              Hi James. As you know ( correct terminology helps comprehension) There is no such thing as an EU passport. Northern Irish are entitled by default to two passports if they choose to apply – a UK passport and a Republic of Ireland passport, this has been the case prior to Brexit. And what of a ‘resident’ of Northern Ireland that is not Irish? I suppose that smaller sub-set would need to apply for citizenship just like a permanent resident of any other country would need to. Incidentally. A republic of Ireland passport is much easier to be applicable for than many other countries, if one has ancestory. so much so they are willing to leapfrog the ‘become a citizen’ step and just straight to issuing one a passport. I know this from the ROI government website that deals with such matters

            2. Dermot M O Connor

              They already do.


              QUOTE: Since 2005, you are considered an Irish citizen if you were born on the island of Ireland (i.e. including Northern Ireland), so long as one of your parents was born on the island of Ireland (or you are born abroad to a parent who was born in Ireland before 2005). This criteria did not apply before 2005.

              If you were not born on the island of Ireland, you may still be eligible for Irish citizenship (and eligible to apply for an Irish passport) if your grandparents or great-grandparents were born on the island of Ireland.

      2. David

        This has always fascinated me. There’s a well-known phenomenon in politics where you suddenly panic because what you have always been demanding rhetorically looks like it’s actually going to arrive. I’d be interested to know whether any Irish government has ever done any contingency planning for unification: I suspect not; it would be far too sensitive. They will, I imagine, be very concerned to make the process as slow and controlled as possible. They are going to inherit, perhaps in rather different form, a whole set of security problems in NI that British governments have struggled with for the last century, and I can’t imagine they’ll relish deploying police onto the streets of Belfast to keep rival demonstrator apart any more than the British have.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    Predictions are of course almost always wrong, but fun to make anyway.

    I’d agree generally with what Richard writes, although if I was in the UK I would not be quite so worried about the NHS or austerity in general. I think this iteration of the Tory Party is far less ideologically tied to austerity than previous ones, and for all his idiocy, Johnson knows full well that he cannot allow the NHS to collapse on his watch, and I suspect the same applies to most of those who may step in if he is pushed out (as seems quite possible). The exception might be if a genuine sociopath like Priti Patel gets into power. I think the Tory Party will always do just enough to keep the NHS tottering on, while waiting for their chance to sell it off. Even Thatcher knew it was too popular to kill.

    My guess is that the Tory Party will double down on the new northern power base and make a series of eye-catching announcements on Freeport’s and roads/rail investments – for England of course. Given what we know of this government, they will be implemented with a mix of gross corruption and incompetence, but the implications of that won’t be clear for a few years. They will be like the Development Corporations of the 1980’s, just on steroids.

    Johnson has been repeatedly warned that he should not rule out another referendum in Scotland – by doing so he is solidifying support around the SNP. But he’s doubling down on this, which could set off a process that will spin out of control. If he is sensible, he will change course and say that if the SNP wins, then a referendum on Scottish independence will follow – this could take some of the wind out of the SNP’s sails, as plenty in Scotland hate the Tories but are hesitant about opening the Indyref can of worms. Perhaps Vlade can wade in on the historical example of the breakup of Czechoslovakia – I think the UK is increasingly looking like its sleepwalking to that type of ‘accidental’ breakup (I say ‘accidental’, because I don’t think the SNP leadership really want true independence, the existing situation suits them fine). And yes, I know that the practicalities of splitting Scotland from England/Wales is orders of magnitude greater than that for the old Cz.

    Wales will be interesting to watch. There seems to be stirrings there of discontent at a deeper and wider level than before. Their separate approach to Covid seems to have given the independence movement there fresh sails.

    Northern Ireland will be quiet. The WA has essentially cut NI off from the UK economically and administratively, and the Unionists there know it. The Irish government has every incentive to play things very quietly, as does Sinn Fein. Ireland got everything it wanted from the WA (actually, more, if you include the one way phytosanitary trap set for UK food producers), but knows that it must play NI very carefully, it is (as always) a powder keg. It is not in anyones interest to stir things up – Irish nationalists are winning, moderate Unionists are queuing up for Irish passports, and the Tories are completely uninterested. Hard line Unionists have not the slightest idea what to do, but they know they can’t complain too much as it might push things over the edge.

    All this adds up to a decision by the Tories – do they try to hold the UK together, or double down on being an English Nationalist Party in all but name? My bet is on the second option.

    The Labour Party are pathetic. Yes, in normal times, sitting tight while your opponent stabs himself repeatedly in the foot makes sense, especially when an election is years away. But these are not normal times. Starmer is like a general who insists on fighting the last war, not the one facing him.

    Brexit, well, I don’t think anyone will want to talk about it anymore. The EU will play the long game, they won’t stir things up too quickly, but the WA clearly gives them enough rope to gradually strangle any part of the UK economy they want, when they want to do it. 2021 is I think too early for the noose to tighten. They will be happy to let the Tories throw a few billions at Freeport’s before pointing out to them that they are incompatible with the WA.

    Economically… well, its difficult not to see it as a very hard year, but so much depends on how much life support is pumped in by governments and central banks worldwide. The stock market is still doing well, astonishingly. Eventually, something has to give (not just in the UK and US), but I don’t think it necessarily has to happen in 2021. There is still some fuel in the tank. But who knows what the flutter of a butterflies wings might bring.

    In many ways, the fact that Covid won’t go away in 2021 might be good news, in that it will keep politicians worldwide busy for the year so they can’t do anything too harmful. The Chinese and Russians will want to size up Biden and see what a post Brexit EU will look like. I doubt Biden is stupid enough to let the neocons off the leash too early in his presidency. So I don’t think we’ll see a crisis somewhere like Iran or Taiwan in 2021, those potential hotspots will keep bubbling away. But eventually something will break in the Middle East (maybe Saudi Arabias economy), and/or China will eventually decide to do what it will with Taiwan. Then all bets are off.

    The rest of the world? Well, who knows. Brazil will continue to be a mess and might sink into the mire, especially if commodity prices stay low. Japan is doing ok, but has no idea what to do with the Olympics, and there seems growing discontent there with the government. They are spending less on the economy, more on the military. People there are starting to notice. One day the Liberal Party monopoly on power will fall apart, but I don’t think that will happen yet. Korea is doing fine, although there is a very nasty housing bubble blowing up there that could yet spoil things. If Biden is sensible and listens to Moon on North Korea, there could be a cooling down in that region and the RoK under Moon could become a major player and could play a key role in mediating a post US Pacific. China is ascendent, but expect a stunning rise there in authoritarianism and nationalism that could sow its own seeds of destruction, but certainly not next year. The more power focuses on Xi, the less stable China gets, they may well have failed to learn some of their own history lessons. India is… well, India.

    1. David

      Agree about austerity and the NHS. It’s worth recalling that the Tory Party has always relied for its majority on the ability to detach enough of the working-class and lower-lower-middle-class vote in England to get over the top. Traditionally, this was the deference vote and the social climbing vote, which delivered constituencies with a very mixed social makeup to the Tories. Thatcherism was, at bottom, an attempt to continue and enlarge this by appealing to young working-class couples who for the first time could afford to buy rather than rent a house, and swallowed the snake-oil of the ideology of individual success. But it was a close-run thing: the Tories benefited enormously from Labour’s mistakes and sheer luck. They would been out on their ear in 1983 had the Labour Party not then split into two, and given them a decades’s worth of thumping majorities with an ever-smaller share of the vote each time. But that generation of Tory voters (many of whom changed back again) is now in their sixties, with children in their thirties and forties, and grandchildren to worry about. The NHS is a real issue for them, like the fact that their children can’t get good jobs and they never see them because they have to move to the other end of the country to get affordable accommodation. (Thank you Thatcher). The longer the crisis continues, the worse such groups will be hit, and they are going to demand action. I hesitate to say that 2021 could be another 1945, but nothing lasts for ever in politics, and the ghastly ideology that has dominated since the 1980s has been running out of steam for some time now. It’s all very well to claim there is no alternative in, shall we say, peacetime, but this isn’t peacetime and an alternative is already being introduced de facto. Of course a competent Labour Party and a competent leader would do a lot to help, but Starmer, if possible, is an even worse leader than I thought he would be. The party’s problem since the 1970s is that it has had the right leader at the wrong time and the wrong leader at the right time.

      For the rest of the world, I suspect we will be taken by surprise again. The two countries to watch, in my opinion, are Lebanon and Ethiopia. I have a bad feeling about each of them, and if they go down they take their respective regions with them.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I’d forgotten about Lebanon and Ethiopia. It would be sadly ironic if Lebanon collapses, just as Syria gets itself back together. It was, of course, Syria that did most work in stopping Lebanon completely falling apart in the 1990’s, not that the Lebanese were grateful. On my brief visit there in 2001, the Lebanese delighted in telling Syrian jokes, mostly around how stupid and scruffy their soldiers were (Lebanese soldiers, while useless in a fight, at least knew how to look cool in Raybans). I honestly don’t know what happens if Lebanon falls apart – perhaps Syria would be able to stop problems spreading, and of course it all depends on Israels judgement as to whether chaos is in its interest or not.

        People forget just how big a country Ethiopia is – its not just an average African country, its vast, and (under the radar) has been an enormous economic success for going on 20 years now. Its desperately sad that what looks like a personal falling out between senior leaders could lead to a very damaging war – and as you say, it has the potential to spread. The Egyptians will be looking on with a lot of interest as they consider the Nile as their own.

        1. The Rev Kev

          I think that the country to watch out for is an expansionist Turkey who wants to carve off sections from other countries for its own occupation such as sections of Syria and Iraq. One map came out in Turkey about a week or two ago showing a Greater Turkey and this map also included a chunk of western China as part of this expansion. I bet that went down like a lead balloon in Beijing.

          1. Massinissa

            Turkey wants to stretch all the way to China? Is that a joke? Wow, people usually joke about them wanting to recreate the Ottoman Empire, but even the Ottomans were never able to extend that far east. I guess they think they should incorporate all the Turkestan countries (the countries north of Afghanistan and south of Russia), since that’s where the Turks in Turkey originally came from centuries ago, but this is some real 19th century style revanchism. I thought Muslims weren’t supposed to drink alcohol? This sounds like it was conceived in a drunken stupor.

            1. The Rev Kev

              Wherever the Ottoman Empire was or their people were located, they want it which also includes the Crimea as well. Not sure yet how this idea is going down in Israel which was also part of the Ottoman Empire but it is a fact that Turkey and Israel are working a lot more together lately so perhaps they decided to split the middle east between themselves.

        2. David

          The Lebanese Army is in pretty good shape these days and has accumulated a lot of combat experience recently. The great thing is that it stays together and doesn’t split, as it did in 1975. If that happens, anything is possible, most of it bad.

      2. Ludus57

        Your assessment of the Labour Party is chilling in it’s accuracy.
        The Labour right are repeating the tricks honed in the 1980s, when they showed preference for a Tory government that was destroying the future of the Northern Labour heartlands than admit the prospect of a left-led Labour government.
        The real laugh here is that they worked against the possibility of reforming social democratic government’s, and not the “Winter Palace storming types” they like to portray.
        Starmer and the vast majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party – the PLP – which is all Labour MPs – have no vision or will to change the status quo. It is only time before PASOKification overtakes them. Just as the Democrats, who have abandoned their natural base, Labour now awaits it’s day of reckoning.

        1. Massinissa

          With the possible exeption of Corbyn, I’ve found it difficult to take any Labour leader after Michael Foot seriously. Pretty much all the labor leaders from Neil Kinnock to Keir Starmer have been neoliberal sellouts barely much better than the Tories themselves.

          To be fair, the PASOKification of Labour has pretty much been an ongoing process since the Neil Kinnock era. Corbyn has been essentially one of the few major exceptions to that trend.

    2. Massinissa

      “China is ascendent, but expect a stunning rise there in authoritarianism and nationalism that could sow its own seeds of destruction, but certainly not next year. The more power focuses on Xi, the less stable China gets, they may well have failed to learn some of their own history lessons”

      If I may ask, do you have any inkling of what instability in China in the next decade or so might look like? I’m not really sure myself.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I’ve no idea, but if you read deep into China’s history, it has a long cycle of periods of fast growth and expansion, with rapid and often catastrophic collapses.

        1. Massinissa

          I’m very much aware of that. It’s just, I don’t expect a civil war (at least not soon), and I’m not quite sure what a non-violent (or less violent, at least) collapse in China might look like.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            I never said it would collapse. But if you want to know what it looks like, it’s had at least two dress rehearsals in the 20th Century alone, both ended up with millions dead.

            1. Redlife2017

              For a violent collapse the 19th century featured the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom which in its war with the Imperial govt ended with upwards of 50 million dead.

              They aren’t anywhere near the conditions that caused that… So I am very cautious of saying much of anything will happen in China besides further consolidation. I mean if I were Chinese and saw how crap the West handled 2020, I don’t think I would be anti-Xi in 2021.

              1. urdsama

                I think this depends on how much additional information comes out about the CCP handling of COVID-19 when it first appeared in China. Xi’s fingerprints are all over this, and if the optics get worse it could fuel the instability PlutoniumKun mentions.

                I think it is safe to say COVID-19 will continue to be a major wildcard for all of 2021.

                1. jsn

                  I’m certainly no expert, but given the success our profit driven, oligarch owned, which is to say systemically (except for the hand of Mammon) uncoordinated media environment in neutering any real threats to established power over the last two generations, I don’t see China spinning out of control until there starts to be intergenerational rot in the leadership or some major fault in the party control of information flows.

                  They seem to be pretty good at controlling those flows and coercing the leaky spots with a particular eye to these risks.

                  And, whatever their failings, by continuing to deliver real, material benefits for majorities they forestall popular radicalism. It’s the “go die” spirit, from “let them eat cake” to “deplorables” that radicalizes significant populations. Right now that’s a predominant neoliberal trait, not an obvious Chinese one.

        2. Halcyon

          I am also by no means an expert – at all – but I think that China’s Faustian Pact type situation is perfectly stable for the time being. That is to say: providing there is still robust economic growth, people are getting wealthy, and most folks are generally better off than their parents were, there will not be widespread opposition to the regime. This is not to say that there won’t be pretty awful problems locally (and we’re seeing them already)

          1. Roger

            Xi is a product of a communist party that is focused on the reinstatement of the Middle Kingdom as the leading power and the survival of the CPC, which requires the continued improvement of life for the average Chinese. The recent crackdown can be seen as a preventative measure given that the US, UK, etc. will do everything in their power to attempt to destabilize China. The legitimacy of the CPC has been greatly enhanced by its responses to the challenges of local air pollution and COVID.

            I wish that the US etc. were as brutal with their rentier elites (that was what Jack Ma was becoming) and put the people and the state above monopolistic corporations and oligarchs.

            1. jsn

              It’s dispiriting how the systemic barbarities of neoliberalism make nationalist authoritarians look good by comparison.

              Xi, Putin, Erdogan, even Orban can all be seen as looking after some demographic chunk other than cronies (though there’s no shortage of those).

              South Korea and New Zealand are the only two places within the neoliberal global monetary empire that seem to be able to do anything for their populations in general except for those residual things done by New Deal systems actively being dismantled.

    3. DJG

      Plutonium Kun: I agree with your ideas, except for this: “I doubt Biden is stupid enough to let the neocons off the leash too early in his presidency.”

      In fact, Biden is diversifying his administration with many re-treads, Russophobes, and not to put to fine a point on it, middle-aged white women (and Neera!) who think that wars are walks in the park. It is important to recall just how sheltered the U.S. upper-middle-class is from military service–even from acquaintance with anyone serving in the military, enlisted or officer corps–and upper-middle-class ladies, doubly so.

      Just as Hillary Clinton was fond of war, so will many of these appointees be fond of war. Don’t count on Mayor Pete, over in the DoT, to be the voice of reason. This crew doesn’t have Trump’s weird skepticism that war is bad for business. This is the crew that refers to computer hacks as a casus belli. We’ve already seen what they have done in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.

  3. topcat

    Interesting thoughts, but unless the rich all die in an earthquake in Davos nothing will change for the great unwashed in 2021. Even the occasionally washed won’t fare any better.
    As Craig Murray never tires of stating, the SNP leadership is more than content with the fat pay chequeues and easy living that they enjoy as MPs in Westminster, they are not in the least interested in independence. The EU it would seem is happy to fudge Brexit until it goes away, and if there is any chance of damage to vested interests then the rules will simply be changed to remove the problem.
    If the hardly-tested vaccines / DNA modifiers turn out to be actually dangerous then there will be serious political problems, otherwise I expect business as usual (Bezos and Gates get richer, everyone else gets poorer and the Amazon rain forrest gets smaller day by day).
    Despite that, all the best for 2001 to the NC crowd.

  4. Larry

    Given a lack of commitment to doing well by it’s citizens at home, I see the US elites itching for a good war to distract the masses from how awful life is at home. There are any number of choices available with Iran and China/Taiwan likely at the forefront. Why, Trump is pumping news that the Chinese are paying bounties for US soldiers in Afghanistan! He’s teeing up the headlines that justify sanctions and saber rattling on his way out the door. And just look how quickly that “defense” bill was authorized while direct aid was left to wither on the vine. Can’t let those shiny toys go to waste now!

    1. jrkrideau

      I see the US elites itching for a good war to distract the masses from how awful life is at home. There are any number of choices available with Iran and China/Taiwan likely at the forefront.

      Worked well for Imperial Russia in 1905.

  5. Tom Stone

    I expect depraved indifference of the US elites will lead to an increase in violence which will be responded to vigorously by TPTB.

    1. Massinissa

      I’m pretty much expecting a Bonus March style military crackdown at some point in the next half decade or so. They’ll replace the cavalry with armored vehicles. Will be interesting to see how a Tiananmen square style crackdown might be received politically over here. Considering how OWS and this summers protests were stopped with force, people might not even notice or care.

  6. WhoaMolly

    Disagree with apocalyptic VA story.

    I use VA regularly as a disabled vet. Have seen systems work well. The system is doing some heavy lifting but it works.

    People without access to VA in our community tell me they wish their healthcare was as good.

    1. Brunches with Cats

      “Disagree with apocalyptic VA story.”

      Something about that story doesn’t sit right with me, either. I don’t doubt that nurse’s word, but it was lazy reporting (not typical for ProPublica) to use her experience to describe the entire VA system. I’ve had serious issues with the VA, so I absolutely am not defending them. However, as I understand it, VA hospital directors can make rules for their individual little fiefdoms, as long as they don’t conflict with agency guidelines. That means that some VA hospitals/regions are worse than others, as the veterans in the commentariat have noted over the years. It sounds like the Sioux Falls hospital has terrible management. Just for the heck of it, I looked it up. Sure enough, the director is a 30-year VA bureaucrat, “board certified in healthcare management” — in other words, PMC all the way, trained in cutting costs rather than serving sick veterans.

      One thing I can say for sure is that in my region, Upstate New York — which leans red and has its share of anti-maskers — you can’t get near any VA facility without a mask. If you don’t have one, they’ll give you a “paper” surgical mask at the door (not actually paper, but a cheap non-woven disposable material). Refuse to wear it, and the VA police will be on you faster than black flies in July.

  7. Mikel

    RE: “Will we see more protests? It depends on the triggers, but the lack of major elections this year means pols will feel insulated for now…”

    Not if, instead of protests, they are organizational rallies around new candidates and new parties. That type of organization and rallying needs to start BEFORE election seasons to be effective anyway.

    Organizing for change, not protesting for inclusion into a nightmare.

  8. neo-realist

    As far as improvements in policing, a big tell from the Biden administration will be whether or not it re-instates a federal consent decree or something similar to exert some semblance of oversight and change on police departments with problematic brutality issues. If so, it would be a notable transformation from Trump and the GOP, who have no issues with police brutality whatsoever, against POC, or anybody else.

    Other than that, if things likely don’t fundamentally change, we’ll see the increased amounts of poverty, violence and crime, and increased left activism that will probably fall on deaf ears, in the short term at least lest lefties start running, winning offices, and possibly increasing a bit of power and influence (I understand I risk trafficking in fantasy on this site saying this.)

  9. Susan the other

    I think it will all come true, for the US as well as for the UK. One think both Varoufakis and RM have left out – in fact everybody has – is what is going to happen to international trade?

  10. Ignacio

    If what has happened before in Spain (specifically in Madrid), when neolibs go too far regarding healthcare privatization and crapification of the public service, says anything about what can occur in the UK, I think that any serious attempt to break the NHS might find furious and wide opposition. Moreover I believe that it would be really stupid to try while the epidemic is in full swing.

    1. Massinissa

      I agree. They *might* have been able to dismantle the NHS in 2019 or something. But in 2021? Good luck with that. Even if Corona gets wiped out by March like rather optimistic people are hoping for, a major health crisis that widely effects poorer Britons will be too soon in the recent past. Assuming one was a neoliberal that wants to destroy the NHS, would be better to let things wait a few years and get rid of it then.

  11. Jeff N

    I have decided to sell my house and move in with my folks, but I’m too depressed to get my house ready for sale

  12. Gordon

    The proximate target of the neolibs is the BBC, not the NHS.

    The last year has been tough for broadcasters for obvious reasons but its news reporting has been inexcusably weak – only delivering down market tabloid but without the zest the real tabloids manage to inject.

    For example, in the last few days since the regulatory approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine its roll out has been minimal so what’s going on?

    With its huge news budget you would think the BBC would be all over this story but no, it’s been left to the tabloids to do some actual journalism so the first approximation to an answer I came across was last night on the BBC’s late evening review of tomorrow’s (i.e. now today’s) papers.

    Their finding is that all or nearly all vaccine-making capacity has been offshored to countries that want all they can get. There is a suggestion that there’s been an emergency program to build UK capacity, but it is still very limited.

    Of course, none of this explains why, after the government had paid for 100 million doses last April, they didn’t take delivery well ahead of regulatory approval when they must have known it was reasonably certain.

    Meanwhile, a whispering campaign against the BBC licence fee (less than the cheapest Sky alternative last time I checked) has persuaded many on the left that the BBC should be abolished leaving the field clear for the plutocrat media. I despair of the left – we are really hurting for the lack of an opposition.

  13. ljones

    I’m looking at 2021 and as far as politics go I think things might possibly be about to get a lot more unpleasent and I’m not just meaning covid and brexit. Remember that the tories now have at least 50% of their dream – to leave the EU. The other half they don’t have at the moment and that is a big trade deal with the US. Biden may not oblige them in 2021 as well.

    Johnson will claim in 2021 to have finally “healed” the split in his party. It won’t have healed in 2021.

    But the ‘word’ in the uk for 2021, the theme? Nastiness. Nastiness in politics, in debate, in covid blame, in negociations. Expect more of this now that the UK is out of the EU.

    I remember either reading or hearing last year something about boris at the beginning of 2020 talking with others about how they were planning on breaking up the NHS, which bits would get sold off and to whom. I think that is still likely to be the plan and that will start in 2021. Those plans aren’t dead, just resting – more nastiness. The only thing that “saved” the NHS this time was covid 19 which threw all plans into chaos – including selling off the NHS.

    You might say that the NHS won’t get broken up or privatized at all because of the continuing covid chaos. But that would be to assume that the tories actually care. They do not.

    More worringly though I’m not anticipating much beyond a few protests if the NHS were to be sold off. I’ve said it before but it is intresting how at least some of the people who “clapped for the NHS” last year are the same people who brought in the same people from the exact same party and that party is in power now but that same paty a decade ago imposed austerity and cuts for a decade (including the NHS).

    The tories will more than likely use covid as a fig leaf for any disasters that brexit causes. I’m also going to stick my neck out here and suggest that there’s at least a 50% chance of johnson breaking his own deal. He can now claim to have gotten a deal (albeit a rock solid granite brexit which will be unpleasent) but then please his ultras (they will likely start to complain again about ‘the deal’ or even about the WA in 2021) by breaking his own deal.

    Brexit is like a drug as is history – once you’ve taken it, you want more and need more and take more until something goes badly wrong. And brexit won’t be “done” in 2021 either.

    So he’ll break his own deal in one way or another presumably to please once again his ultras – even if seemingly by accident; I’m not convinced he even understands his own deal and what he has signed up to. More nastiness.

    Johnson will also likely pass any sort of legislation without any discussion in parliament too so expect more nasty stuff there too.


  14. Henry

    Really, do you think that the Facebook and Google algorithms along with the media propaganda are sufficient to keep the effectiveness of Vit D (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ha2mLz-Xdpg) out of the population for another year? Yes, the UK has advocated for an ineffective does of 400 IU, which seems to be the standard procedure now used to discredit alternative therapies. While I suspect the vaccines will eventually give those with weak immune systems enough of a boost to keep them from having severe issues with Covid, it does nothing to deal with the underlying issue, which does not appear to be the virus, as far as I can tell almost everyone is able to defeat it in a rather short time period, one or two weeks, but the dysregulation of the immune system (which based on the data seems to be in a large part as a result of low Vit D levels) so if it is not the corona virus that kills them it will be the the flu or cancer or some autoimmune disease, yes Jeff, even depression is influenced by Vit D levels. It’s true that eating processed foods seems to be a key factor in developing an underlying low level of inflammation, which is also a major risk factor, at least here in the U.S. where 60% of our calories come from processed food that change is going to be a bigger ask. Now it is possible that if the Vit D information gets out that NHS could suffer, but from the other extreme, lack of patients, though I doubt it.

  15. Scott1

    Prince William and Kate Middleton apparently announced a 10 year system of prize awarding meant to save the food chain using the same sort of resolve that JFK inspired when announcing to land a man on the moon in 10 years. It is called the EarthShot Council and is composed of 100 nominators. I sense it to be quaintly aristocratic.
    Success of the MoonShot did not come from a prize a year to somebody. NASA was funded and NASA did it.
    The lesson is that the leader states the goal and the goal determines who, what, where and when. Competent people, mostly engineers are paid to put together the rocket ship. Over and over it is about goals. Western capitalistic democracies endure despite class warfare. The capitalists have been sold on privatization. Privatization amounts to Milo Mindebinder cotton candy and taking NAZI money to bomb themselves. (First time I laughed out loud reading a novel was when I read “Catch 22”) While FDR and Churchill’s war with Hitler and Hitler’s war with Russia had the goal of defeating fascism as was the Hitler State of Germany, there was competence centered in the people participating just to make money. People do what they do for Money, Ideology, Compromise, or Ego. It is those primarily interested in doing the work they were destined to do set to accomplish the goals of their leaders that enable a win.
    I could go on about Parties of the Democracies, but what is clear is that it is all about the mission, the goals.
    We live during the days that will be known as the Death Throes of the 100 Years Oil War. Since Reagan tore the solar panels off the roof of the White House the Parties of the multi national Oil Corporations have beaten down the Parties of Human Capital who strikingly maintain ignorance amongst the people, or enslaved by debt.
    To lead for goals is what the greats do and they do it by hiring engineers. For instance the Eisenhower National Highway System modeled along the lines of Hitler’s Autobahns. For what did Hitler’s Germany really need more living space? What they really needed and got, was a write off of the debts they carried for WWI in French Currency. As it was their debts were written off when owed to Nazis and about everyone else considering the outcomes of the Marshall Plan.
    MMT didn’t work for the bankers who wanted war to be profitable. When the enemy can’t pay, you can charge your alliTes.
    But now is the time for a war for changing the entirety of energy sourcing. Twin to that is conservation which room temperature superconducting distribution and motors now offer. Machiavelli said “A conflict with nature is not enough to make a nation.”
    Hence it is human nature that needs the destructions of war to make change.
    There is the international oligarchy that under Putin has bet on oil and gets its fortunes from it. It is an enemy of the people who were born into lives as labor and are charged rent for every breath. Labor will always win in the end as was the case when King John had to give Londoners Commune status. Our problem is that 50 years has been lost.
    If Prince Williams and Duchess of Cambridge Kate want to really save the world in ten years through 100 pound prizes It does not appear to be a truly effective strategy when compared to the Moon Shot.
    Privatization is destructive of governments and it is only governments who create the currency necessary for paying taxes now used to modify behaviors. Bank created money is only allowed. How much of the digital currency will governments allow? It is criminal money meant for outsiders and is finite.
    “Form follows function.” Frank Loyd Wright “Sand & Stone”
    Once you commit to a goal achieving the goal creates the system needed to achieve the goal. My whole thing as anti war seeing impossibilities for the reform of the US and seeing the need of a World Government that is impossible by degrees pursue founding a nation of airports that is “In” all the nations of the world.
    I say that the goal is saving the food chain.
    We have to fight against fascism and the dictators because they do not have as their goal saving the food chain. I’ve simply noticed that under the Communist Dictatorships without any Free Press with active censorship as in Stalin’s USSR & Russia there have been famines. There were famines created by the policies of Mao.
    Here we are in the future. International Oligarchy powered by oil is united within the offices of the banks now zombies because fracking was not abandoned as transitional. Bank created fracking loan money is gone. It is meaningful no matter what write offs and write downs occur.
    As said, I could go on. Cease I say to myself. Thanks for your time. Happy new year. Thanks always to Yves and Lambert and all of you here who write such wonderful columns and comments.
    “When it is either business or government. I always go with government.” Chris Houghton, advisor to governments, husband of astrophysicist Laura Mersini Houghton who turned me on to super conductors.

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