The end of each year is filled with lists. They include forecasts from economists and market strategists, lists of clever surprises and, not least, gift requests from young and old alike.
We’ve succumbed to the year-end list temptation.
In what follows, we offer short list of hopes for 2024. These are not results we predict, nor even ones where we think the odds are moving in our favor. Rather, they reflect our wishes for outcomes we’d like to see fulfilled in the coming year.
This is our final Jackson Hole Economics publication for 2023. We wish our readers happy, pleasant, and relaxing holidays. And we wish that what you wish for comes true in 2024.
Our first hope is that across the globe, as more than half the world’s population goes to the polls in 2024, pragmatism prevails over prejudice, grievance, protest, and ideology.
Most of our challenges, from the preservation of democracy, to striving for peace, or to limiting the pernicious impacts of climate change, are common to all of us. We may differ on how to achieve those and other goals, but surely tearing down the institutions that preserve freedom and the peaceful transfer of power, that act as forums where disputes can be heard and settled, or that offer platforms for science-based inquiry to inform decisions, cannot serve our common good.
Everyone has the right to express their opinion in public and at the ballot box. Voting can serve many purposes beyond merely electing the next round of individuals who represent us.
But when one side merely offers disruption to support a blatant and autocratic grab for power, rather than a genuine contest of ideas and roadmaps for the future, then the primary aim of voters must be to ensure that democracy survives so that in the future everyone has an opportunity to nudge policy and society in direction they see fit.
We have opinions on any number of today’s issues. But what we don’t hope for is that everyone agrees with us on the specifics of policy. We only hope voters in 2024 will choose democracy, and do so peacefully.
Heads We Both Win
Peace is not the absence of conflict. Rather, peace is an enduring outcome, which requires removing the sources of conflict forever.
When emotions are raw, during or following acts of heinous violence, each side believes ‘peace’ can only be achieved by using force to remove the worst perpetrators of violence. And so it is, with utmost understanding, with regards to Israel’s efforts to remove Hamas or Ukraine’s fight for independence. Self-defense cannot be questioned.
At the same time, no ends can justify any means. That is true even if ‘total war’, including nuclear annihilation, brought about enduring peace between Japan or Germany and their former foes. Ex post, the use of indiscriminate force may, in some cases, have created the conditions for peace, but ex ante, it is morally horrific to make the case for mass casualties of innocents.
Our peaceful co-existence cannot be reduced to black and white, nor to right versus wrong. Zero sum (I win, you lose) is the route to future conflict, not lasting peace. Durable peace can only be achieved when outcomes are positive sum—everyone wins.
In the heat of battle, whether on the plains north of the Black Sea, or amidst the rubble east of the Mediterranean, positive sum thinking is all but impossible. And even if the conceptualization of what might be the better path first only emerges in the minds of tested diplomats, it must ultimately find resonance among the millions on both sides of the conflict.
Today’s leadership in Russia, Israel and Gaza is probably incapable of searching for, or seeking, positive sum solutions for lasting peace. They are too vested in the current struggle, and too preoccupied with false narratives of history, to consider what should come once the guns stop shooting.
Our hope for 2024, therefore, is for new leaders to emerge, who can re-think matters and who have a greater understanding that force is no substitute for empathy when the objective is peace.
Less Screen Time
Sixty years ago, in 1964, the US Surgeon General first published a report linking smoking to cancer and heart disease. Six decades later, we have yet to eradicate smoking in the US, but a smaller percentage of the population smokes, which is progress.
But even before that landmark public health warning, many people—experts and ordinary folks alike—were sensing that smoking posed serious health risks.
Today, in an era of high rates of anxiety, depression, bullying, suicide and broader ‘deaths of despair’ many of us sense, before the advent of conclusive medical studies, that screens are unhealthy.
Except for a few hermit-like individuals, modern man cannot live without mobile phones, tablets, computers, and televisions. It is how we remain informed and inform. This piece was written and will be read via those same devices.
Yet like smoking, screens are addictive. They activate the pleasure center of our brains, releasing dopamine, that only drags us deeper inside them. Screens are every bit as addictive as nicotine.
In one of the greater ironies of human history, the advent of the information age, facilitated by ‘screens’, has fostered the greatest era of disinformation known to mankind. We can search the world’s libraries, but with our hardwiring of confirmation bias, we descend into silos that reinforce our beliefs rather than challenging them. We are rewarded with ‘likes’ to our posts and angered by ‘dislikes’, or worse, trolling.
Indeed, if we cannot reduce screen time, can we at least use emojis that express what is undoubtedly a more accurate reflection of truth in almost all matters, a puzzled look of ‘maybe’ rather than a banal ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’?
We hope in 2024 that average screen times for everyone—children adolescents, adults and seniors—go down.
Can we not pick up a phone and speak instead of texting? How about meeting someone for a walk and talk instead of sending them another email? Can we watch one less Tik-Tok or YouTube video and instead read a poem, a newspaper article, or a short story? How about we substitute a novel or biography for a television series?
Removing our faces from screens and placing them in front of one another, allowing our imagination to roam while crossing a meadow, or putting our nose into a book is, it seems to us, today’s equivalent of quitting smoking. And as with smoking, it doesn’t have to be ‘cold turkey’. Just a little bit every day will help a lot.
Here’s to hoping that your 2024 hopes also become realities.