[ Question ]

Pre-Hindsight Prompt: Why did 2021 NOT bring a return to normalcy?

by mike_hawke1 min read6th Dec 202013 comments

22

Covid-19FuturismHindsight BiasWorld Optimization
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Feel free to modify the prompt into something like "why was 2021 even worse/more intense than 2020". Also go ahead and substitute 2022, if you think "the direct effects of the pandemic continue into 2021 for a while" is too boring of an answer. 

 

Pre-hindsight rules/guidelines:

  1. Both vague and specific answers are welcome. 
  2. If you answer a modified version of the question, please state this clearly. Don't leave people to infer it from your answer.
  3. If you just want to defend the thesis that 2021 will in fact be a return to normalcy...then this is not the post for you. 
  4. Address the prompt, try to give more than 140 characters, don't be annoying, etc. (This is sort a generalization of #3)

 

Motivation:

- Various comments on social media about how 2020 was a dumpster fire--with the apparent implication that 2021 will be normal-ish.

- Misremembering this tweet in which EY says, "I'm predicting that 2019 will be a relatively normal and boring year."

- The New Year's Wariness that was burned into my mind by this comic:

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9 Answers

I'll relegate the "obvious" failures to 2021, and them modify the prompt by forecasting for a few more years.

2021

  • Trump continues to fight for control of the white house. 
  • He continues to have the support of a significant fraction of Americans.
  • We see more political protests which may border on riots or become outright riots, on either the right or the left or both, on familiar issues or new.
  • The virus mutates and vaccines can't respond quickly.
  • Hospitals continue to be overwhelmed.
  • The legislative branch and the executive branch fail to cooperate, perhaps to the point of another government shutdown.
  • We continue to see unusually high numbers of fires and hurricanes.
  • The murder hornets spread.

2022

  • Humanity has broken the yoke of facebook and youtube media outrage porn, by replacing it with a new media trend. At first, there is a high degree of optimism and excitement, but with time it will be clear that this is somehow even worse for humans.
  • The internet is filled with "generalized kickstarters" to allow supercharched coordination; for example, it is now much easier to arrange protests. People no longer have to start cults by hand; people with similar beliefs are matched automatically, dating site style, and radicalize each other. 
  • Trump's crusade continues in an increasingly polarized political environment. His 2024 bid has begun in earnest.
  • Mass protests. It has become impossible for the news to keep up with what is going on.
  • COVID continues due to mutation, although vaccines appear to be fighting a winning battle as we develop the capacity for rapid adjustment (as we have for flue vaccines).

2023

  • The rev-up for the election continues. It feels physically unsafe to talk about politics with people you meet on the street.
  • The government is shut down for months in a row.
  • There is an incentive to join militias just for physical safety.
  • By the end of the year, the US resembles a failed state. There is great doubt about whether results of another election could ever be accepted by the public. 

2024

  • GPT-5 convinces everyone to return to business as usual.

Needless to say, these are not high confidence predictions, even conditioned on "no return to normalcy".

That looks even better with Dark Reader.

The following is a pretty weak form of "2021 not a return to normalcy" but also a pretty high-probability one, even ex ante: Many institutions will turn out to have been permanently damaged by the Plague and its consequences, and will not make a full recovery in 2021 (or perhaps not at all).

A couple of examples:

  • Orchestras, concert halls, playhouses, restaurants and other things to which people (used to) go in large numbers for recreation -- all have taken huge financial hits, and some have died. Musicians, actors and chefs may have had to take other jobs, and some of those people will not be returning after the Plague is over. There may be a long-term reduction in the amount of performing arts etc. in the world.
  • In some industries it is now common knowledge that people can work from home something like as effectively as they can work in an office. A lot of people like it a lot better. Some businesses may turn out to prefer it too, since office space costs money. This may have all sorts of knock-on effects on commercial real estate. It may also change the nature of relationships at work for people in these industries (everyone's spending much less time in one another's company), with consequences I could guess but not with much confidence.

[EDITED to fix a typo.]

Low grade smouldering domestic insurgency instigated by the de facto Shadow President In Exile.

Rural hospitals continuing to be overwhelmed after urban hospitals as vaccination is not taken up sufficiently in rural areas (see the rates of flu vaccination in urban versus rural areas)

Or perhaps the first case of a treason trial and conviction for sedition for some high ranking political persons and the great recognition that rule of law and use of institutions necessarily imply no one ever gets everything they want -- losing must be an option in a viable democracy. One takes the L and goes back to prepare for the next game rather that living in the past?

My answer is very broad. Basically, I am somewhat persuaded by this 7-minute monologue from Eric Weinstein on Coronavirus and the Accelerating Future.

…surveillance, monopolies, automation, telecommuting, next generation warfare, UBI, the future of work, the retail apocalypse, online dating, antivaxxers, the student debt crisis, supply chain vulnerability, green tech and climate change, urban homelessness. College equivalency certificates, biohacking, the retreat from globalization, collapse of mainstream journalism, Chinese ascendance, social engineering, Saudi modernization and the move away from fossil fuels in the kingdom, inclusive stakeholding, political realignment, and the problem of gerontocracy and the end of naive capitalism underpinned by U Chicago style economics…

It seems to me that even if only a handful of those things are pushed past a tipping point, it could make for a very wacky year (though not necessarily in a bad way). I don't buy Weinstein's conspiracy theory, but some of his reasoning in the monologue made me feel noticeably more uncertain about the near future.

So if 2021 and/or 2022 keep pace with 2020 in terms of wackiness (which I personally doubt), I think it will be for reasons that at least partially overlap with the above. :::

Okay, now that we're a few months into 2021, I feel like updating a bit.

Most notably, there was the insurrection at the Capitol. Political violence of this reference class was mentioned in a couple other users' answers, and I wish I had explicitly mentioned it in mine. I remain perplexed by the weak response to the insurrection by law enforcement--I certainly would not have predicted that aspect. I think there might be a couple more incidents of this sort, but probably less intense--the peak of organized fervor has passed. More likely is a contin... (read more)

I predict that the sharp rise in unemployment and economic uncertainty has increased in incidence of some mental illnesses, in particular major depression and substance use disorders.

This will continue to negatively impact the real economy for some time: depressed people are too anhedonic to consume things they don't truly need, and the newly minted alcoholics won't be as productive as they were pre-2020.

If we're comparing things to 2019

  • Movie theater revenue will not rebound completely
  • Commercial real estate revenue will not rebound completely
  • Professional sports ratings/revenue will not rebound completely
  • I don't know how to measure this, but I believe political discourse will get even more bitter and pointless as more and more people scream "fake news" at anything they don't want to hear.

I predict that there is a lot of pent up demand on account of people being shut up in their homes and distancing themselves. There's consumption-like stuff like eating out and going out for drinks. Then there's stuff like museums, live music, festivals, conferences, etc. that are somewhere between consumption and production. Then, there's the productive stuff like writing workshops, hackathons, jam or improv sessions, and all the other events where brains can come together to make something together. The increase in unemployment will mean more time-rich, money-poor people. Taken together, I think mid-to-late 2021 will produce a lot of new, interesting stuff: books, companies, music, ideas, etc.

Then, underneath, there's also a large changing of habits happening. People are cooking more, communiting less. In the beginning of the pandemic, most people in my group spent a ton more time watching netflix, but now it seems they're sick and tired of it and into stuff like microcontrollers, cooking, home improvement, etc. I imagine this is happening on a larger scale and will lead to a more permanent change of habits, a sort of "reset", a reevaluation of priorities, and a more accepting attitude toward non-standard lifestyles.

I predict anti-vaxxers will be a loud minority that will cause further politicization of COVID. This politicization will make it take longer to reach herd immunity and will result in bitter conflicts between people who won't (or can't) be vaccinated and businesses/institutions trying to operate safely.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate will continue to be bad and the number of people this affects will continue to grow. Housing evictions and personal bankruptcies will continue to rise, leading to a real estate market that further exacerbates the K-shaped recovery where the wealthy buy up the cheap assets that the poor must liquidate at a loss. This recession-for-the-poor will eventually trickle up to the financial markets to a lesser extent as discretionary income increasingly dries up for the large swathes of the population in dire financial situations.

1 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 10:37 PM

Stepping away from the current situation, am I far off by seeing the underlying sentiment being akin to the "good old days" type view some have of the past? At it's core it seems the view is that the old status quo is what defined a better "normal" than what we see as part of the required changes.

For example, just how terrible would it be that masks become a normal wardrobe item and soon becomes integrated into overall fashion designs?

Dining and bars stop being open areas where we all share the same space and air and turn into smaller, private spaces -- be they for groups of not more than X for dining and perhaps even individual  or much smaller for bar "stool" settings? Infrastructure changes to allow either the larger space to function as a bar setting for a larger group and the individual bar units include the ability to directly video chat with anyone at the bad -- so you can effective watch the big game together. Is that really a worse new normal that the prior one?

Or are you just thinking of the transition period to something that gets everyone back to what they would say is the equivalent of the old "norm"?