Felix Salmon, chief financial correspondent for Axios, is the author of The Phoenix Economy: Work, Life and Money in the New Not Normal. He lives in Garrison.
What was your goal with the book?
We all went through something incredibly traumatic [with the pandemic]. I have no interest in reminding people about the trauma, but in telling people that the entire economy came to a screeching halt, we rebuilt something very new and very different, what I call the Phoenix Economy, rising from the ashes of the old one. I’m hoping to give people tools for understanding the strange new world we find ourselves in.
How do you characterize that strange new world?
Much more volatility, much more unpredictability. For 70 years after World War II, we had relative peace and prosperity and predictability. From here on out, it doesn’t work like that. You can’t just know one thing and that one thing is always going to be true. You have to be able to change your mind and learn new things.
One concept you discuss is the “great acceleration.” What is that?
Imagine a world where Microsoft, the most lumbering company you can think of, can take super-fast and nimble overnight-success companies like Zoom and Slack and leave them in the dust [with Microsoft Teams]. The entire global banking system failed to collapse even though none of the banks’ employees were able to go into their offices. We managed to invent new ways of doing things in a way that no one thought we would be able to. If you look at Moderna pre-pandemic, it was a tiny biotech company that had never really achieved anything. You know how long it took to develop their [mRNA] vaccine? Forty-eight hours. The rest was just testing. The [economic] rebound has been extremely strong.
You write that these disruptions created people who are happier and more productive at work. How so?
If you didn’t like your job pre-pandemic, you would moan to your friends about how you hate your boss. If you didn’t like your job in 2021 and 2022, you would just quit. That helped to recalibrate the power relationships between labor and capital, helped make people a lot happier and helped accelerate a massive wave of entrepreneurship. We have much more alignment between what people are doing and what they want to do.
What makes you hopeful?
The thing that gives me hope — and this is an optimistic book — is that up until 2020, the overarching problem when it came to dealing with global climate change was that we had no precedent for the collective action needed to address it. In spring 2020, that’s exactly what we did. We all stopped moving, at great personal and economic costs, so we could bend the curve and buy ourselves time to find therapeutics and the vaccines. We know that it is possible for everyone to join forces.