After the catastrophic covid crisis of 2020 and 2021, the extremely impactful and consequential Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, many hoped that 2023 would break this terrible bad spell and finally present us all with some hope, economically, geopolitically, socially, technologically. Unfortunately, it only offered further reasons for serious concerns on all these fronts.
Economically, even though the official inflation rate followed a downward trajectory, in most major economies it still failed to reach the 2% target. To the contrary, in real, practical terms, most households continued to struggle with high prices for daily necessities and bills and obligations (especially those ordinary expenses that are not included in the official CPI calculations). Higher interest rates compounded these struggles, not only for households but for companies too, as access to credit became increasingly challenging. Over-leveraged and unsustainable businesses that were only kept on artificial life support for more than decade thanks to monetary excesses came under severe pressure.
Among these reckless risk-takers were the very businesses that are supposedly specialized in evaluating risk: banks. Over the last year, we saw 3 regional US banks go bust, followed by the shocking collapse of Credit Suisse. Fears of systemic contagion risk and justified concerns over the integrity of the entire banking system reverberated around the globe. These bankruptcies, and the indirect bailouts that followed, were largely unsurprising to many precious metals investors who understand that the breakdown of the current system is only a matter of time.
What was perhaps more unexpected, however, was the ease and eagerness with which most investors put this whole banking crisis behind them, only a few months later. The whole world soon forgot about it all and the markets discounted those fundamental risks, as though the vulnerabilities of our banking system were actually addressed and resolved. In truth, nothing structurally, meaningfully, or practically changed since then – the banking system remains as frail and as unreliable as ever.
From a geopolitical perspective, 2023 painted an even grimmer picture. As though the lives lost and the destruction of the Russia-Ukraine war weren’t enough, October 7 marked the beginning of a second bloody war, this time in the Middle East. From a humanitarian point of view, both conflicts have inflicted unimaginable damage – and the heaviest tragedy in both cases is obviously the “collateral damage”, as politicians like to call the senseless deaths of thousands of civilians, especially innocent children. But the damage doesn’t stop there: if we look beyond the impact that these hostilities have had on those directly affected by them, there were also severe consequences on the rest of the world.
The global divide between the West and Sino-Russian sphere of influence grew wider, the risk of conflict “spillover” and escalation grew higher and the chances of a return to global, peaceful cooperation grew desperately dimmer. By the end of the year, an overwhelming sense of uncertainty took over, as did a widely shared feeling that the world hasn’t been this bitterly and dangerously divided since the Cold War.
Apart from the obvious geopolitical and national security risks they pose, these active fronts also raise social cohesion concerns. Both conflicts are the first to be live-streamed, shared and disseminated through social media, through “citizen journalists”. And the longer they go on, the more brutal images and footage the public gets exposed to, the more visceral the reaction will be – not only against those they see as the savage aggressor, but also against anyone who doesn’t see the same.
This sort of binary thinking, this perilous tribalism is part and parcel of human nature and always has been – yet it was technology that supercharged it. These social networks were never designed to facilitate productive debate or respectful dialogue, they were instead developed to isolate and protect their users from any contradicting views or “uncomfortable” evidence that could lead them to question anything they think they already know.
This artificial affirmation is the product or service they provide to their users. They flood them with cherry-picked or even tailor-made “evidence” or “facts” that support and reinforce their preexisting beliefs (no matter if these are rational or not), and that question the morality, the integrity and even the very humanity of their opponents. Once this level of futile and juvenile “ad hominem” kind of argumentation prevails, there is no room for civilized dialogue and no hope for either side to reevaluate their beliefs, correct their misconceptions or learn anything new and evolve. There is only a “winner” and a “loser”, “good” and “evil”, “us” and “them” – and nothing in between.
Of course, we’ve been living with the horrifically deleterious effects of all this for years already, witnessing in real time how the algorithms evolve over time and how the precision and efficiency of all these platforms improve, to the benefit of the companies who own them and to the detriment of humanity at large. In 2023, however, we saw a quantum leap. The amazing advances of AI technology that OpenAI brought into the mainstream in late 2022, were amplified to an incredible degree over the last year, as we saw a myriad of different and often surprising AI applications.
This (still imperfect, but nevertheless astonishing) capacity of AI to imitate, to copy, to “pass” as human, renders future AI advances equally exciting and sinister. There is a legitimate fear of malicious abuse of the technology, to manipulate, to deceive or to control – to divide us even further and much more effectively than any human-led algorithm ever did or could. An even more urgent and obvious concern is its potential to replace human labor to a terrifying extent and to trigger mass unemployment and all the turmoil and upheaval that come with that.
Naturally, all these risks are most pertinent to those who chose to remain in the current system. There are alternative routes and there is the possibility to “opt-out”, by reclaiming one’s personal and financial sovereignty, either by using precious metals as a way to minimize exposure to the banking system, by seeking out like minded individuals and by distancing oneself from the tentacles of the State and all its supporters.
Claudio Grass, Hünenberg See, Switzerland
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