Our interesting times this year began with the bushfires that tore through this nation bringing devastation to people, animals and habitat.
COVID-19 followed hot on the heels of the bushfires, locking down the nation and creating unprecedented health risks and challenges for us all.
2020 has really been a year to remember, for all the wrong reasons.
Times of danger and uncertainty can also be times of creativity, arising from those great bursts of energy that come from having our backs against the wall.
COVID-19 has given us time to stop, to think, to listen and to recognise the place we want to take in the world.
It is giving us time to rethink problems and develop creative solutions for them.
History tells us that from interesting times springs innovation. For times of danger and uncertainty in the 20th century, you need look no further than the two major world wars, at the privations suffered by the populations of warring nations who faced shortages of everything that made life liveable, not just food, water and heat, but the freedom to meet and mingle, to travel, to live as they had planned to live.
Amid this suffering and deprivation, extraordinary creativity was unleashed that resulted in new, game-changing products and processes.
Post World War I saw the advent of products such as tissues and teabags, zips and stainless steel; daylight savings times; and the vegetarian sausage.
In the aftermath of World War II, we were introduced to computers and ATMs; superglue and penicillin; satellites and radar; and freeze-dried coffee, among the other massive new consumer goods industries that arose when munitions makers switched to making toasters.
It all goes to show that when times get tough, it catalyses people to be inventive and when you spark that creativity, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle.
While creativity gets a boost following catastrophic events, another thing that history shows us is that our worst fears are often found to be groundless.
Among the massive damage caused by the Northridge earthquake in California in 1994 was the collapse of the Santa Monica Freeway, the busiest freeway in the United States.
It took just 66 days for the repairs to be made and the freeway reopened.
In 1995 an earthquake levelled the Japanese port city of Kobe which was a manufacturing hub and the world’s sixth largest trading port.
Predictions were made that it would take years, if not decades, for Japan to recover.
Yet, less than 18 months later the port had been rebuilt, trade had resumed and manufacturing was at 98 per cent of where it would have been had the quake not happened.
George Horwich, the American economist, maintains that while natural disasters destroy physical capital, they don’t diminish the true engines of economic growth, which are human ingenuity and productivity.
And human ingenuity and productivity is how we are going to recover from the disastrous effects that COVID-19 has had on our economy.
As Professor Anthony Elliott says in the article Can capitalism be sustainable?:
COVID-19 has been globally traumatic, but this has been a trauma we can use as incentive to start a far-reaching, research-informed examination of all the systems we take for granted – capitalism, post-industrialisation , surveillance systems, international governance, health systems – to see if we can imagine and plan for alternative futures that are both just and sustainable.”
And as for that supposed ancient curse … there are two other wishes that follow – with increasing severity – the wish that you live in interesting times. They are: May you come to the attention of those in authority; and May you find what you are looking for. Who'd wish those on anyone?
Maybe the last one ...