Lesson number five: most of the time things stay the same but just occasionally it really is a watershed. Everyone thought that the financial crisis would change everything, but we soon got back to doing things exactly as we had before, with long-term consequences by the time we got to 2016.
One of this year’s big changes is just an acceleration of existing trends towards a more socially isolated, online existence (mostly bad, but with some upsides, like working from home).
Another change feels like a more significant break with the past. The shift from austerity to intervention, and the inflation it will bring in its wake, may be what we come to remember as the main consequence of the Trump/Brexit/pandemic period.
The sixth lesson is that share prices tell us something important about what the world needs. The performance of Tesla and Moderna and Airbnb is indicating that the planet will be better off with more renewable transport, a coronavirus vaccine and a more rational use of its already ample stock of bedrooms.
It is saying we need more well-run and sustainable businesses and it is using price as the carrot and stick to get us there. The market being what it is, it will overshoot. Investors will inflate a bubble in sustainability, or ESG. In due course, it will burst – but not before it has told us something important about the world we live in and will hand on.
And the final lesson from 2020? This too shall pass. Things are rarely as good as we hope or as bad as we fear. The stock market’s determination to look through today’s manifold uncertainties to better times ahead is worth hanging onto at the end of a grim year. Here’s to a happier 2021.