Will nothing end up happening? 2023 in the context of 1989

By: John Bee, Managing Director, White Space Strategy

My good friend Richard opens up every day at his company with a song, emailed around his team ready to think about over their morning coffees. I like to imagine his colleagues at their desks in Philadelphia (or at home on their kitchen tables) searching out the song of the day on Spotify, thinking about the day ahead.

I think music and lyrics have a tremendous ability to inspire and create mood. A look at the warm up of any recent 100m Olympics final demonstrates this, with top end bluetooth headphones an essential part of the kit-bag for many competitors.

So, in the spirit of Richard (and of Usain Bolt), let’s open up with Nothing Ever Happens by Del Amitri. It’s basically about not learning from the past.

You can watch the original video at the bottom of the post, but first some interesting context, that I think’s relevant to 2023.

Back to the future?

Nothing Ever Happens was written in 1989, and Del Amitri are a rock bank from Glasgow. At the time, Britain had just enjoyed a Thatcherite economic boom. GDP grew at 5.7% in 1988 and house prices had surged, fuelled by tax cuts and economic restructuring (some of which was necessary, given the forces of globalisation). Glasgow didn’t see many of the benefits, though – its shipbuilding industry wasn’t considered part of the UK’s future, compared with the financial services sector which was promoted in London through deregulation and tax reform.

The period also saw critical infrastructure run down throughout the UK, inequality increase dramatically and social safety nets eroded (in part, to encourage people to work harder). The boom caused an increase in inflation, and a spike in interest rates to bring inflation down and prop up sterling (rates peaked at 15.4% in 1990).

Does this sound familiar?

I think there are some similarities between where we were in 1989, when Del Amitri wrote this song, and where we are now in 2022. GDP was still growing when the song was written, as it has this year in most places: Del Amitri saw the future coming. Glasgow apparently gave them a better vantage point than Margaret Thatcher and the bankers had in London.

Here’s what Del Amitri foresaw…

A recession followed in the early 1990s, with almost a year of GDP contraction. The UK’s currency fell out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992, triggering Black Wednesday and a crash in both the London stock market and the value of the pound. Job losses followed. Mortgages went unpaid, negative equity built, and house prices fell by over 20%.

Listening to the song, for the prices of copper and tin, read gas an lithium. In 1989, the Van Gough’s cost the price of a hospital wing. In 2022, the artwork’s gone digital – a Beeple original NFT sold for $69m last year.

To paraphrase the song, will the needle return to the start of the song? Will we all sing along like before?

Reasons for optimism

It’s easy to be a negative doomsayer, though. The song actually makes me feel quite optimistic, in a strange way:

Perhaps nothing happened before, but, what if it did in the future?

In short, we have an amazing opportunity to learn from the past, and to support customers, employees and communities better if there’s a deep recession in 2023. This, in turn, would help ensure our companies emerge from this period stronger and in a more sustainable place.

As my friend Richard would say, Good Morning!

About the author:

Headshot of White Space founder and MD, John Bee

John Bee

Managing Director, White Space Strategy

John founded White Space Strategy in 2005, and has worked on over 300 growth strategy projects worldwide.

White Space Strategy was named as one of the UK’s leading strategy and innovation consultancies by the Financial Times in 2021 and 2022.

He is currently also working with Oxford University within their UN Sustainable Development Goals Impact Lab, and has lectured at Warwick Business School.

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