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14 January 2023

Where Was the Good News?

Tag(s): Current Affairs, Technology
There is no question that 2022 was a very difficult and challenging year in most corners of the world. There is no need for me to go into too much detail describing the continuing problems of COVID, the illegal attack on Ukraine by Russia, the cost-of-living crisis that was partly caused as a result of that attack, and political turmoil not only in the UK but in many other countries too.

I was recently impressed by an article written by Andy Haldane, the relatively new Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Society of Arts of which I am a Life Fellow. In this he challenges the Fellowship to produce ideas that could be presented in a more positive way and will organise seminars and other events on this during the year. You may recall Andy Haldane spent several years on the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England and would regularly be in the minority when he was calling for an increase in interest rates which eventually came far too late to deal with the impending inflation. Now he has a new and exciting role as leader of an organisation that seeks to create and influence positive social change.

In this blog I am not yet ready to share what my ideas may be and will try to do that during the year. However, in the same spirit I want to question whether or not there was some good news in 2022 as I believe there was, though it often got left out of the headlines as the media seem to prefer reporting all the gloomy stuff. I have identified 10 stories that I would regard as positive and maybe should have featured more strongly in the media.

1. Ukraine. While Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine was undoubtedly the worst news of the year the fact that it has not succeeded is good news. The people of the Ukraine have demonstrated admirable resilience and fortitude. It is essential that the Western nations continue to support them, and that Russia is defeated. That will weaken Russia for the long term and their allies will have plenty to think about.

 2. Two repressive regimes. Two other countries where the people have demonstrated considerable bravery in standing up for themselves in the face of brutal repression are China and Iran. These are two of the world’s harshest regimes and there has been more demonstration and resistance than ever before. It is worth remembering that both these regimes came to power through revolution and in countries where revolution has been known it is often known to be repeated.
 
3. Blockchain. I have always been firmly of the view that blockchain was a massive scam where there is no value whatsoever in what is being traded.  I have blogged on this before[i] also pointing out the appalling carbon footprint of blockchain and so for me at least it was excellent news when the recent collapse of FTX occurred and its founder and CEO arrested in the Bahamas and returned to the US for trial on several counts. I do understand that is not good news for the thousands who have lost a fortune but I’m sorry - it is good news for the economy as a whole that such a racket has been shown for what it really is.

 4. Africa. Again, it is not common to read good news stories about Africa and there are many problems in that continent. One of the ways in which people may be raised out of extreme poverty is if there can be greater trade among the African nations. The African Continental Free Trade Area was finally agreed and if fully implemented it is believed that it could raise incomes by 9% by 2035 and lift 50 million people out of extreme poverty according to the World Bank. I was on a call this week with one of the leading economists in Africa and she spoke very positively of the chances of success for this project. For example, they believe that they can grow all the grain that we used to get from the Ukraine.
  
5. FTSE 100. In the US the Federal Reserve raised interest rates by more than four percentage points. In the process this had a highly negative effect on US stock markets. Each of the five worst weeks for US stocks in 2022 took place just before or just after the Federal Reserve meeting. This led to particularly violent sell-offs in the technology sector. Facebook owner Meta lost 25% of its value twice in a single trading day. (Very good news.) Overall, the S&P 500 index fell by 19.4%, its worst year since 2008 and the NASDAQ was down by one third.
 
Other markets had similar drops. Japan’s Nikkei lost 11%, the German Dax lost 12.3%, in China CSI 300 was more than 20% down. Around the world falling markets destroyed £30 trillion in wealth. In the year among the major developed markets the FTSE 100 0.9% gain made it the best performer. The FTSE 100 is often criticised for its heavy exposure to energy stocks and miners but that was simply helpful in a year where the prices of both energy and commodities largely rose and, of course, with the international situation the defence company BAE Systems was up 55%. Also, although the pound was weaker this helps FTSE 100 companies as about 75% of their revenue is generated overseas.

6. Crime is down. While the UK government’s commitment to increase the number of policemen has not yet been fully achieved, they have recruited 15,000 additional police officers and that has helped to bring crime down compared with pre-pandemic levels. Overall crime is down 10% since 2019 while there has been a 20% fall in neighbourhood crime and 30% in domestic burglary. Further the reoffending rate is also down. As a victim of a burglary myself this last year I don’t take too much satisfaction in this particular one but it is overall in the right direction.

7. Electric vehicles. It is some time since I worked with the car industry as chairman of a government-sponsored agency promoting intelligent transport systems. However, I was concerned about the way in which the movement to develop electric vehicles was getting underway. There were various issues that I identified with it. Firstly, was the claim that this would reduce carbon emissions. This is only true if all the electricity that is being generated to power electric vehicles is itself produced from renewable sources. We are a long way from that stage and therefore moving to electric vehicles simply moves the pollution. Secondly at present most of us who own a car on average will have half a tank of petrol or diesel in its tank. Collectively this is an enormous stock of energy. If all of us have electric vehicles we then have to get our energy from the grid and we are simply not building enough energy supplies to support that so the country will run out of electricity. Thirdly, I asked the then Chief Scientific Officer at the Department for Transport, Professor Sir Brian Collins, how many vehicles could be supplied with a lithium-ion battery assuming we knew what the reserves of lithium were. He thought it a very good question and estimated that it was probably no more than a billion so since we have many more billions of vehicles in the world it is clearly not possible that all of them can be based on lithium-ion which means we would have to develop other technologies which do not yet exist.

Contrary to my expectations the UK government has foolishly committed itself to phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles while many manufacturers have been jumping on the electric vehicle bandwagon. That may be starting to change. The president of Toyota Akio Toyoda recently questioned whether electric vehicles are viable as a single solution. It is likely that prospective EV owners need to be well off and able to charge their vehicles in the driveway or garage as the public networks are unreliable and expensive. I regard this as good news as it seems that a sense of realism is finally being introduced.
 
8. Medical breakthroughs. A new drug, capivasertib, has been found to delay the onset of breast cancer and reduce tumours in 23% of patients in the trial. As breast cancer is the most common form of the disease affecting up to one in eight British women this is a genuine breakthrough. There are also signs of a treatment that may slow the progress of Alzheimer’s.
 
9. Wildlife. According to a European Wildlife Comeback report many previously endangered species have made strong recoveries. The species include bears, wolves and wolverines, bison, Loggerhead turtles, humpback whales, and Eurasian otters among many others.
 
10. New granddaughter. My last piece of good news is not one that you would have expected to read in the world’s press but was the highlight of my own Christmas newsletter. In October on the same day as my wife’s birthday our daughter gave birth to a baby girl, Sienna. I was able to see her the following day in Madrid where our daughter and her husband live and indeed our son and his partner also live there so all our four grandchildren are living there now which means there will no doubt be frequent visits to Madrid.
 

[i] Blockchain 28th January, 2017 https://davidcpearson.co.uk/admin/welcome.cfm
 




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