If there is anything certain in the modern economy, it’s change. While we enjoy using assorted opportunities to repeat and scare one another about the times of extraordinary variability and uncertainty we all face, the truth is somewhat different: both have become typical features of the economic landscape. It goes without saying that they are also the price we are paying for the exorbitant development and technological changes of recent decades, for the never-ending race we have decided to join in the name of progress and prosperity.
The problem, however, lies in something else. Some changes can be imagined, anticipated, and thus prepared for, or at least swiftly “tamed”. Others meet the definition of the classic black swan, an event which - even if not necessarily beyond our imagination - we usually find unrealistic or absurd, its scale and consequences eluding any form of long-term appraisal, in which case, everything basically occurs ex post rather than ex ante. Black swans have once again arrived on our doorsteps, first as a pandemic, now in the form of war. While the latter has been sweeping across Ukraine and may seem distant to some, this war is a threat to the entire western world, to our economy and - to add insult to injury - to our ideals and values. Regrettably, it may also prove a threat to our very existence.
Poland remembers poverty in socialist times well, not to mention the tremendous burden of systemic transformation and entering the road towards economic and political normalcy. We joined the race for improved living standards willingly and effectively. We took part enthusiastically for 30 years. And the outcomes have been amazing. Yet memory affords a better understanding of current changes in priorities and the potentially resulting diverse cost estimate. Until today, we have all been united in our concern for GDP growth rates and preserving the incredible trend which had brought prosperity, or the highest living standards known to history at the very least, to so many societies. Yet we may well be facing a completely different set of challenges today or tomorrow: hunger waves across the globe, rising unemployment rates, unprecedented issues associated with energy and related prices, skyrocketing costs of living, impoverishment of multiple social groups, etc.
Furthermore, we have to spend more on the military and armaments - with the intent of preventing rather than preparing for conflict. In order to feel safe again, we have to secure a permanent and ideally overwhelming technological advantage. Security has become a priority indeed, even if its cost is high.
In all likelihood, the not-too-distant future will bring powerful shocks, including economic turbulence. Yet a number of optimistic factors are worth remembering. Firstly, the economy of the free world is very strong and extraordinarily flexible. Secondly, it has the capacity for rebirth, for rising stronger, even from the ashes, something we witnessed first-hand in Poland. Thirdly, digital and energy transformation is no joke, but a true alternative for economic reality we have principally been aware of and privy to ever since the industrial revolution.
Fourthly, well-developed economies have truly reached a level allowing swift solutions to be identified for a number of problems, including ones we are only now anticipating. Fifthly and lastly, prosperity is a desirable and pleasant thing, something we have discovered while persisting in closing the gap between ourselves and most well-developed countries. Yet - and here is where memory comes in handy - there are more important things and values worth paying any price for. In our world at least, life and freedom are the most important ones of all. In this context, gas and oil prices are truly insignificant, even if their economic - and thus social - consequences remain unquestionably painful. While the economy will survive, its goals will have to be slightly revised. Until now, it has been the best way to a better life; today, it has to become the best instrument for protecting the way of life that defines the western world, even if this entails a temporary shift in priorities and paradigms. Let us never forget that change is the only thing we can be certain of. And that the West and western economies have always been best at handling it. It must happen this time round as well.
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