“The most human trait is to want to know why”. This was the opening tag line to Google’s impactful commercial, which came out earlier this month.
2020 has been a year of a global pandemic, masks, quarantines, disrupted travel, business closures, protests and bad climate. If we’ve made it in one piece by December 31st, count ourselves lucky and equipped to face whatever the universe will throw next.
“In the year that tested everyone around the world, why was searched more than ever.”
Just think back to the things you asked yourself (or Google), your friends, your colleagues and your families this year. What discussions did you have?
Why is it called Covid-19?
Why is Covid-19 contagious?
Why are borders closing?
Why are tech stocks surging?
Why did Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash?
Why did Australia’s forests burn?
Why did George Floyd die?
Why are lockdowns happening?
Why are political protests happening in Thailand?
According to Google Trends, Coronavirus was this year’s most searched term. This is followed by ‘Election Results’ and ‘Kobe Bryant’.
Saying that coronavirus emerged as 2020’s key theme is almost minimizing its impact. When the virus emerged from Wuhan, China in late December 2019, so little was known.
Fast forward to December 28, 2020-we are still stranded on unknown grounds, with some progress made and some steps taken backwards.
The end of 2020 won’t be viewed as a closed chapter of a finished novel, but more like a preview of the new reality to come.
In our view, 2021 will be a more careful, improved version of 2020.
As Google said, the most human trait is to understand why. Why did things happen beyond our control and why did those in power often fail us? To this day, no one can give a reason to why (or how) the pandemic managed to break out.
As we take a look back at this year’s most significant events, let’s always go back to asking why. Today, we’re going to highlight the most impactful events of 2020.
As Thailand continues its battle against Covid-19, after living virus free since May, it’s a sudden, surprising test that has dampened the beginning of progress made, we’re back in high alert and uncertainty mode. This, of course has sent nerves across business sectors, tourism and the stock market. Our secret weapon is to remind ourselves of what we’ve managed to overcome the last time, the long term view is that this too, shall pass.
Let’s take this time to rest, reflect and spend time with the special people in our lives.
Here are 2020’s most significant events.
Australian fires (January)
Think back to the beginning of this year, when images of koala bears and kangaroos flooded social media. Nearly three billion animals were killed or displaced by the devastating bushfires. This past year saw the harshest weather catastrophes on record. In New South Wales, the fires burnt through more land than any other blazes in the past 25 years.
What is there to say about the global pandemic apart from everything? As of today, there are 80 million cases of coronavirus, and 1.75 million deaths worldwide. The United States alone records 19.2 million cases. The pandemic has shifted the way we consume and work, changed the way we travel (and banned international travel completely), led us to self quarantines and the collapse of many businesses across the globe. The covid-19 pandemic has truly been a catastrophe of a lifetime.
We don’t need to recap how significant the pandemic has been, as we are still living in the thick of it. Instead, let’s take a look at what else happened this year, and also how the pandemic has kickstarted other events of 2020.
Black Lives Matter (May-August)
On May 25th, 46 year old George Floyd was tackled to the ground during an arrest and suffocated to death after a police officer knelt on his neck for almost eight minutes. Floyd uttered the now significant phrase “I can’t breathe”, but he wasn’t let go.
The death of Floyd, an African American, sparked outrage and fury across the country as people demanded for reform of the US police force. Soon after, outrage about Floyd sparked protests nationwide, with millions of people coming out across cities and states to speak up against police brutality against racial minorities in the United States; Floyd’s death was the last straw.
It goes beyond Floyd, though. The death of Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker who was shot and killed by Louisville police officers in March during a misplaced raid in her apartment also sparked rage, and led to more publicity amid demonstrations.
The protests and the events that inspired it highlights how America came far with Barack Obama’s Presidency, but progress took significant steps back soon after. It also educated people around the world about the complex layers within systemic racism, something protestors call out to change.
While the majority of protests have been peaceful, demonstrations in some cities escalated into riots, looting and violence. At least 200 cities in the US had imposed curfews by early June, from DC to Los Angeles in an effort to contain the widespread riots.
The protests then propelled into a nationwide movement which saw millions of people come out daily to walk, but the demands and work is far from done. As Vice President elect Kamala Harris said in her acceptance speech, “there is no vaccine for racism. We’ve gotta do the work.”
Thailand protests (July-December)
The pro democracy protests that began earlier this year returned in full force by September-October. Now, what can we say about this one, apart from how the protests unlocked a series a complex, challenging, multi-generational debate that we’ve never seen before in this lifetime.
What started as pro-democracy, anti-government protests that demands the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha and the amendment of the controversial constitution that allows for 250 senators to essentially endorse the Prime Minister has evolved into anti-Monarchy protests that captured the attention of foreign press.
It has since evolved into a very obvious outcry against Thailand’s royal family, and the many demands that aims to fix Thailand’s broken infrastructure and political system went out the window.
There’s still a long way to go, an on-going fight, and we’re not quite sure how events will pan out now that one of the key protest groups; the ‘Free Youth Movement’ has essentially confirmed its association with the communist movement. For a unique political landscape like Thailand’s, filled with nuances only locals can understand like the salim phenomenon, yellow shirts, red shirts and more-it’s wiser to expect that change cannot come too swiftly.
Widespread support from sympathisers, centrists and the private sector have dwindled since the protests turned the focus to anti-monarchy rhetoric and displays of mockery, and since then, even more complex layers have given rise to the movement.
All Thais long for a functional and transparent government body and a capable Prime Minister. We all want to see the reform of public service and the judiciary system that favors the privileged but discards the rest.
We all look forward to the day where the century old buses gets replaced by something that doesn’t fuel smoke and pollution.
These demands and hopes for change are what ties us together, and what the protests have taught us this year, is that we still have so much to pick apart and understand, but it’s best to start with something that can tie us all together and move the needle.
As we tread into 2021, it’s wise to assume that Thailand’s broken political system will still give rise to protests and demands for change, but it’s unclear how this fight will evolve.
US Presidential Election (November)
The election that will change the course of the world, many have said.
This is not to say that Democrat party’s President elect Joe Biden will swiftly come in to alter all wrongs, but the general sentiment is that the world will shift to less divided rhetoric and less hostile policies (and a renewed commitment to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement).
During the four years of President Donald Trump, the world had a front row seat to the often controversial actions, speeches and tweets of the one term President.
One notable event from this year alone is the President’s tax secrets. Trump is the only president in decades to not release his tax returns, insisting he has to wait until he is no longer under audit.
A recent Times report analyzing Trump’s tax information showed that the self-proclaimed billionaire paid a total of $750 in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017. Trump has since called the article, which details his chronic losses as “totally fake news”.
It’s worth noting though, that election results were nail bitingly close in some states, which means that despite the global mockery from the world, half the country wanted Trump to remain in office.
The polls (when allocating undecideds evenly and concentrating on the major party candidates) had Biden winning approximately 54% to 46%. He won on the order of 52.25% to 47.75%.
Tech Stocks Boom
The year of the Covid-19 economy gave rise to a Nasdaq fuelled frenzy. From Zoom to Peloton, the market saw share prices soar as real life mass adoption of virtual conferencing platforms, at-home designer spin bikes, gaming and food delivery services went on overdrive across the world.
Just think of all the goods and services you have used during partial lockdown periods. You ordered more from the likes of Grab Food and Lineman-watched more Netflix documentaries-maybe rented a spin bike from Absolute You and attempted one or two dalgona coffee recipes. Then, apply this to the United States and Europe and just imagine the adoption.
The Big Tech rally accounted for 20% of the US stock market’s worth in September, with Apple reaching US$2 trillion in market value in August. Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook disclosed fast climbing revenues in Q3 2020, defying all odds on an otherwise underperforming, volatile stock market.
The tech companies enjoyed a disproportionate share of the economic pie during the Covid-19 crisis, and the pandemic only amplified the rate and scale of online adoption.
The four top US based delivery companies saw a revenue rise of US$3 billion (collectively) during Q2 & Q3 as people stayed and worked from home.
Video conferencing app Zoom took the top spot as a key beneficiary of the pandemic. Its revenue surged to US$777 million in the three months to the end of October, up from US$167 million a year ago.
For Amazon, the pandemic helped the company triple its profits amid a 37% increase in Q3 earnings.
Some notable tech companies went public this year too: Snowflake, Airbnb, Lemonade, Palantir, DoorDash, Asana.
Bitcoin’s New High
If anything had a relatively stellar 2020 (apart from tech companies), it’s bitcoin.
Throughout 2020, Bitcoin has grown, evolved, strengthened and proved itself as a global reserve asset, not just as a safe haven investors flock to during uncertain times. As of now, bitcoin’s price has skyrocketed many times over and surpassed US$25,000– a historic price. It started the year at roughly US$7,000 per bitcoin.
December gains alone surpassed 50%. bitcoin price IS now up 250% over the last 12 months.
Not only did the digital asset see a massive rally, this is also the year that bitcoin has seen institutional acceptance and adoption, further supporting its legitimacy.
For one, PayPal is poised to launch a service that will allow users to buy, hold and sell cryptocurrency-starting in January.
Institutions such as Standard Chartered, DBS Bank and more are also moving into digital assets this year.
There may very well be a bubble waiting to burst, but this time-it’s different. Digital assets are here to stay.
Let’s keep this one brief. After four years of back to back negotiations (and more delayed trade talks this month), the Brexit deadline is looming (31st December) and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has secured some sort of trade pact with the European Union.
The send off isn’t tied up in a neat little bow though, a lot of important details still needs to be clarified.
The very essence of the trade deal? Fish.
The next step? If the Brexit agreement, covering £660 billion of trade, can be provisionally approved by EU ambassadors, it will then move on to formal ratification by the European Parliament this week. The alternative would be a chaotic no-deal situation on 1 January.
A lot of important things happened this year, and we also endured some significant losses.
Firstly, 1.76 million lives were lost from the global pandemic (and 60 in Thailand).
We also lost Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna in a devastating helicopter crash in January, Sean Connery-the iconic James Bond actor, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg-iconic Supreme Court Justice, Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman and many more notable figures this year.
Phew, what a year. It feels like every challenge was thrown at us, businesses had to fight to survive, some had to pivot, a lot didn’t make it. Families were separated this year, mental health was challenged and people had to compromise on a lot of things.
We expect 2021 to be an extension of this year, with travel restrictions still in place (for some part of the year, at least), masks will remain a norm (and enforcedin Asia) and vaccine distribution will be a key stepping stone back into normalcy.
A new year doesn’t mean a complete wipe out of the past 12 months, as realistically, January 1st is two days away. With the countdown into a new year though, it often brings a renewed sense of optimism amid challenging global backdrops.
May we remember 2020 as a year of lessons, hard truths and whys. What about you? What significant thing happened to you this year? Regardless of it all, let’s keep striving.
Thank you for your support and readership this year.