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A peep into possible rumblings of Bubble Gut of 2023!

TIOL - COB( WEB) - 849
JANUARY 05, 2023

By Shailendra Kumar, Founder Editor

FOR the majority on the earth, the year 2022 was annus horribilis - lengthening shadow of Corona clan; supply chain disruptions spewing high inflation and rising interest rates; soaring wages and sinking mojo of the global economy, a cascade of climate change calamities, and on top of all, a naked dance of outright war swelling the pitcher of woes to the gunwales! Oof! The world on a knife-edge! Life went out of window into either landslides or floods or to the bowls of mutated viruses! Mankind turned into the meat in the sandwich! So, desperate for a spoonful of sanity, when 2023 knocked on the door, the moon-sodden skylines across the world were lit up by fireworks and people performed a pirouette and did not stop themselves from a boogie-woogie - of course, with a flicker of optimism!

Now, the adrenaline-pumping question is - Are we heading for polycrisis accompanied by polyexcuses even in 2023? Is global leadership, like in 2022, going to wax lyrical about their failures to save their own skin? Is political pragmatism going to be in short supply even in 2023? Is humanity once again going to be lumbered with their 'sagely' advice - People ought to learn the art to love uncertainty? With no definitive answers, all these questions can at best sprout pounding headache! Keeping schtum is perhaps one good option in autocracy but not in democracy! Let me now make an audacious attempt to navigate through the haze and intricate nebula of the months to unfold! Crystal ball-gazing is fraught with risk but fun, too! Some of the macro issues I would like to deal with, are as follows:

COVID / OMICRON

COVID pathogen is perhaps the slimiest from the Corona clan. It is too knotty and tricky to predict its future evolution! The virus is back home in China and let's be optimistic about a newly-mutated variant if one goes by the tsunami of cases! However, it is not that hard to talk about the world's defences against future variants, in the form of vaccines and immunity. The galloping variants either in China or Japan or the US is much less deadly than the earlier variants - no more bloodbath like 2020! And it is because of timely development of vaccines and also drugs to treat it. The death count has plummeted and is now similar to that of seasonable flu. But COVID has not yet morphed into a seasonal bug, millions of people would get it more than once in a year. Some studies reveal that about 30% of global population would get COVID each year as there is no more lockdown in any country. Thus, it would gobble up above one lakh lives annually - twice the number of flu deaths!

What would admittedly make marked difference in 2023 are the next-generation Covid vaccines! WHO data unwraps about 170 in clinical trials. Let's keep an eye on the variant-proof vaccines. Scientific community is sanguine about developing new vaccines which would protect against any variant that may raise its head in the future. Since dozens of clinical trials are scheduled in 2023, the marketable version may be available either by the end of 2023 or early 2024. Second vaccine one should be keeping track of is that of nasal one. It is sprayed into the nose or throat and aims to build first line of rampart in the cells which come into contact with the virus. It moats against its proliferation and pauses its chain of molecular events in the body that triggers infection. This is what the first generation jabs had failed to achieve.

A CASE OF LOVE LOST FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH

Economic growth and good politics are historically Siamese twins! In the hindsight, political leaders in the 80s and 90s were predominantly pro-reform and pro-economic growth. Their propitious policies ignited the twin engines of globalisation - international trade and liberal immigration. The first setback to globalisation came during economic meltdown between 2007-09. Then altered the course of global political wind, and for the modern politicians in the rich economies, economic growth fell out of fashion. Anti-growth and anti-globalisation sentiments became major planks of politics in many countries. Protectionism also raised its opportunistic head! As per WTO data, between 2010 to 2020, developed countries' tariff wall doubled in height and in number. Britain voted for Brexit. Increasingly, guillotine also fell on immigration trend. From close to 60 lakhs in 2007 it plummeted to 40 lakhs in 2019. The trend has further deteriorated post-Covid. The housing boom of 2000s is history now, with most countries opting for tougher land policies. With a good swathe of population ageing in rich economies, more focus is being given on welfare and pension. Hefty allocations as percentage of GDP are being made for healthcare. With improved medical infrastructure and scientific developments, shelf-life has rapidly leapfrogged. Post-COVID, the focus is clearly more on welfare and stimulus.

The downside of such welfare-sozzled trend is less money in hand to gin up economic growth. True, emerging economies like India would continue to aspire for economic growth but G7 economies which account for 30% of the global GDP, have different sets of priorities other than economic growth. This amounts to the end of golden era for globalisation and economic growth. Most autocracies and hybrid-democracies continue to struggle for survival and barely chip in to the global GDP. Given the post-COVID trend of left ideology gaining traction in Latin America and most African countries embracing autocracy, the growth has indeed become an unfashionable expression. In this backdrop, 2023 which is widely projected to be a year of recession, a prominent victim is going to be economic growth. What further complicates the scenario is - As a consequence of consistent sledgehammering on inflation by effecting jumbo-rate hike in interest rates which elbows an economy closer to the cusp of recession, the global economy in 2023 would be much poorer in terms of growth as monetary policy tightening seems to be working by choking off demand. My fear is that in 2023 inflationary pressure may spark concerns about unemployment. And such growing concerns would definitely incentivise the slow-burning currents of political winds blowing in favour of Left or Left of Centre - a subtle trend even in the rich countries with an exception in Italy!

TECHNOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE

In 2023, we will see more transformative technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), blockchain, cloud-computing, mixed reality and 5G. All these tech tools do not stand in isolation from each other. Their hemlines would be fast-blurring to create which is known as 'intelligent enterprise' where systems and processes ride each other to accomplish routine tasks in most efficient manner. It is now inevitable for every business to understand the impact of such technologies in one's business. In 2023, their costs and other barriers will be much lower than ever. Although recession is going to be round the corner and the tide of lay-off in the tech sector may peak to a new high but the global tech spending is going to be up by at least 6%. In particular, AI is going to be a monstrous magnet to attract huge investments as its market is estimated to surpass USD 500 bn in 2023. There is likely to be many more oomph factor like ChatGPT, an AI tool developed by OpenAI, being received worldwide as amazeballs!

DEATH OF PASSWORDS & SIMs

Password is one key for which human civilisations have been rummaging all possible sources for millenniums! Passwords to different hues of life-threatening events or even tunnels of joy! However, with the advent of digitalisation and rapidly-emerging new tech tools, modern civilisations are better acquainted with this tool to enter their digital devices. Alas! The pace of tech-evolution has finally designed its demise! And it is going to be cremated with no fanfare or ceremonial sayonara procession! Passkeys are a new tech tool which will replace passwords with biometrically-approved tokens - incidentally, automatically generated, and cannot be stolen or forgotten even if one may toil hard to do so! Supported by Apple, Microsoft, Google and others, one just need to use a token, stored on one's phone or laptop and protected by a fingerprint or even facial recognition, to log into websites or apps. Many globally-renowned portals have begun using it and in 2023, it would come inbuilt into popular desktop or mobile operating systems. Unlike passwords, passkeys are more effective in shielding users from phishing emails. It would also build a bridge for a user to log in one's system by clicking on one's smartwatch. So thrilling! Oui!

Another noteworthy death in 2023 is going to be of subscriber identity modules - popularly known as SIMs. These tiny chips go into our mobile phones and connect to our billing details. Physical existence being on the slide for most products, digital codes will replace these physical chips and it can be zapped from an old phone to a new one easily. Though the technology has been around for the past few years but with Apple deciding to launch iPhone 14 range as e-SIM-only handsets, millions would start using this technology from this year. Besides users, Apple's decision would also compel mobile service providers to switch to e-SIMs. This technology also enables users to hop between networks by embedding multiple e-SIMs. No more swapping of tiny chips! Wowww!

HEALTHCARE

Cancer is nowadays in every nook and corner. It causes more deaths than any other disease. It accounted for above 10 mn deaths in 2020. Gut-wrenching! One in every six deaths! Although scientists always believed that it is feasible to immunise people at high risk or even cure cancer but the journey abounds stories of slow progress. Certainly, not now! The world is much closer to cancer vaccines! Time to feel gobsmacked! One of leading COVID vaccine manufacturers, Moderna, recently reported that its skin cancer vaccine has produced encouraging results during the trial. There are many others which are also working on dozens of other vaccines to treat all types of cancers. If all goes well, the good news may unfold before 2023 exits. There is always a glimmer of hope which survives through rough times! And, I sincerely hope that there would be many more good news and life-saving developments which would be jumping out of the belly of 2023!


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