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No Wiggle Room Ahead

As in 2021, when the global economic outlook was periodically buffeted by COVID-19 data and shifting political winds, 2022 will bring a mix of hope and uncertainty. Although the pandemic should finally be tamed, many more challenges await, placing a premium on wise decision-making.

NEW YORK – Last year felt like a roller coaster, as hopes rose and fell with pandemic statistics and shifting political winds. The new year looks much the same, except that there will be midterm elections in the United States in November – the stakes of which could not be higher. Given all the uncertainty, it would be foolhardy to make predictions with any confidence. Still, I will offer my best bets.

For starters, COVID-19 will finally be tamed, though not eradicated. Enough people will have been vaccinated in enough parts of the world as to allow most people in most places to overcome the fear that has gripped us for the past two years. But although this process will unleash a burst of “contained” energy, restarting the global economy will not be as straightforward as shutting much of it down was.

The price system can offer reliable guidance for marginal decisions – the economy needs a little bit more of this, a little bit less of that – but it is not as good at handling big structural transformations like the shifts from agriculture to manufacturing, manufacturing to services, and peace to war (or vice versa). We are already seeing many hiccups, and there could well be more. We should be prepared for large changes in production and consumption patterns: more Zooming and e-commerce, less in-person shopping in brick-and-mortar retail stores. Demand for commercial real estate may decline, while demand elsewhere in the real-estate sector may rise.

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