In the early days of the pandemic, one of the biggest economics news stories was how so many people were losing their jobs. The UN’s International Labour Organisation estimated that over four hundred million people lost their jobs in Q2 of 2020 alone. While EU countries did a better job of encouraging employers to retain their employees, job losses were absolutely brutal in other markets, especially the United States. Because everything was so unprecedented, even the most experienced prognosticators were hesitant to predict what all the ramifications would be. Now, almost two years later, employees are resigning in record numbers, causing staff shortages throughout markets and sectors. As The Economist points out, “for much of the past two years, a fair assumption was that as the pandemic ebbed, people would go back to work in droves. That looks less plausible today. Some of the decline in the number of workers appears likely to be permanent. This, in turn, could constrain America’s economic potential, since a shrinking labour pool will be a drag on growth”. Since most of those shortages are happening in industries where the most people were let go early on in the pandemic, it seems that the chickens, as they say, are coming home to roost.
The pandemic made us all re-evaluate our relationships with our jobs. I have found myself far more grateful to have the type, quantity, and intensity of work that I have. Upon reflection, millions of others did not reach this same conclusion. Some who were already approaching retirement decided to just retire early. Others who are concerned about their health or the health of their loved ones decided to switch to careers with less associated risks. Each and every person has made an extremely personal choice, but one trend we see worldwide is that employees have higher expectations than they did before. Employers who actually care, and who put their money where their mouths are when it comes to employee wellbeing, will see this shortage as an opportunity to pull away from the pack.
A non-nuclear age (in Europe, at least)
Nuclear power has been in a steady decline over the last few decades. In 1996, global gross electricity generation from nuclear sources peaked at 17.5%, but that share fell all the way to 10.1% in 2020. As Forbes Sofia Lotto Persio points out, “Germany’s efforts to phase out its nuclear facilities will conclude in 2022, about a decade after the Fukushima disaster spurred a worldwide reassessment of nuclear power”. But Germany’s position is not shared by other European powers; countries like France, the UK, and the Netherlands are all considering building new reactors, despite concerns about water consumption, lengthy construction times, and safety. That said, the deciding factor may end up being good old economics. As experts point out World Nuclear Industry Status Report, “the costs of renewables continue to fall due to incremental manufacturing and installation improvements while nuclear, despite over half a century of industrial experience, continues to see costs rising… Nuclear power is now the most expensive form of generation, except for gas peaking plants”.
Curiously enough, real disasters like Fukushima might end up having less of an effect on international energy policy than one TV Show. HBO’s Chernobyl, the hit show from 2019, is likely to be where people learn about the risks associated with nuclear energy, even if most of those risks are no longer real concerns due to improved technology and safety. The show painted a grim, dark, and realistic picture of how close the world came to unprecedented ecological disaster. If economic pressure ends up matching public risk perceptions, this upcoming year may spell the end of nuclear adoption.