The last five years have seen a roller coaster ride to a new growth spurt on world markets, following the 2020 coronavirus crash. The boom-bust-boom cycle has been characterized by supply chain disruptions and both shortages and surpluses of critical components and products – from vaccines to silicon chips to rubber tires.
On the other hand, the world has never seen such an abundance of choice in consumer products and digital services. Ubiquitous connectivity has given most consumers instant access to personalized products and tailored financial goods. Pent-up demand following lockdowns, and new tech-enabled ways of working have unleashed a flood of niche market opportunities, innovative startups and craft industries.
Which is why governments are scrambling to re-impose some controls and sense of order on the ensuing chaos. China quickly cracked down on its tech giants, like Alibaba and Tencent, that were threatening to escape its sphere of influence, while the US under Biden sought to rebalance world trade by investing heavily in ‘infrastructure’ – code for bringing production capacity back to America.
The stage is firmly set for a new cold war, an economic war, with the US-led liberal democratic, climate conscious, socially aware western bloc facing off against China’s success in convincing its citizens to forgo liberty in exchange for prosperity and achievement, both nationally and internationally. Jack Ma’s acquiescence when he was brought to heel should leave us in no doubt that most Chinese are happy (or a least obliged) to keep the bargain.
As we say goodbye to pre-2020 globalization, and view the emergent new world order, perhaps apprehensively, the question we need to consider is this: Where will power gravitate, and how will other big players like India, Russia and Brazil align themselves? How will we do business, in the face of inevitable conflict – even if it’s cold?