It took Apple 42 years to reach $1 trillion in value and 20 weeks to get from that point to $2 trillion. In that same amount of time, Tesla became the most valuable car company globally – worth more than Volkswagen, Daimler, Honda, and Toyota combined.
The global economic output has increased fivefold since 1950. Per-capita income is three and a half times more than it was then. The world has acquired 2 billion more people than it had just two decades ago. By 2050, the global population will be four times larger than in 1950.
It seems like everything has scaled up in such a short time – cars, planes, roads, houses, cities, entertainment venues, hospitals, post-secondary institutions, etc. Perhaps the greatest rise of all has been in our expectations. Things our parents never dreamed of now fill our homes and communities. There is no slow lane anymore, and our wants grow exponentially, year after year.
Our politics has not been able to keep up effectively with the sheer speed of life. Governments appear increasingly bewildered by developments that are global in scale, and the best that opposition parties can do is oppose and promise better, whatever that means. If holding and wielding power is the fuel that drives government, it is now scrambling to keep legitimacy in a world where power itself is slipping through political fingers.
When COVID first arrived a year ago, the world appeared to magically slow down, giving millions, including politicians themselves, time enough to reflect and talk about running public affairs better. In general, government was there for us, when Canadians faced calamities too many to count. The three great consumer categories – healthcare, education, groceries – were disrupted as never before, but government interventions and direct payments rounded off the rough edges of the new COVID reality.
For the past twelve months, there has been a lot of talk of a different world coming, with greater appreciation for more meaningful public service, citizen sacrifice, and community collaboration. None of us liked what we endured in these pandemic months, and we’re right to look for something better, more equitable, more secure. For this, we will require a better, more cooperative and respectful politics than we’ve had for decades. What are the odds of it happening?
They aren’t good. In fact, Jonathan Wheatley, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Oxford Brookes University, writes that the signs are already apparent. Great disruption will come from the pandemic, but little will change in terms of what people were hoping for.
First will be the divide in values. For this, just look at the growing distance and anger in regards to economic values between the left and the right, and in cultural values between liberal internationalists and conservative nationalists. While quite dissimilar to America, it is nevertheless a division widening in Canada, and it is bound to pressure us into increased alienation from one another. Regionalism will be tested. That vaunted Canadian hegemony will be challenged.
Wheatley’s second great sign regards gender change, and is best put in his own words:
The lockdown has affected the family and the roles of its members in a number of ways. The closure of schools has led to a massive increase in domestic childcare needs, including home schooling, and there is evidence that women have mostly picked up the slack. Moreover, more women than men have lost their jobs during the crisis. At the same time, a majority of frontline healthcare workers are women, meaning that in a number of households, childcare responsibility passes to men. This also has the potential to make the essential work carried out by women more valued.
Much of this sounds positive, until we consider that lack of advantage for women in what Canadian economist Armine Yalnizyan terms the “she-covery”. In the aggregate, Canadian women have fallen further behind in hopes of an economic recovery. A great gender disruption is about to assault our culture, economy, and workforce, and the outcome isn’t at all clear.
On the other hand, Wheatley’s recognition of the quality of female political leadership in places like New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, Finland, and Taiwan remains a sign of hope for a troubling global future.
Canada has been fortunate in escaping the pandemic extremes frequently seen in other nations, but as it emerges on the other side it confronts its old problems and a more disruptive world. Worse, the pace of change will intensify. So many of our historic practices haven’t so much been cast aside as left behind by a future coming towards us at warp speed. COVID gave our politics a bit of breathing space, but that advantage is quickly ending just as even greater disruption breaks upon our shores. Is our politics up for it? We’ll know soon enough.