- Like no other year before, 2020 has revealed the importance of numbers – to investors, to health experts and to policymakers alike.
Nice guys finish first?
Besides Hollywood actors and sports stars, some of the more surprising voices to come out in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement this year were safety equipment firm Halma (HLMA) and chemicals business Johnson Mathey (JMAT).
Including these companies, Investors Chronicle identified at least 31 members of the FTSE 100 index who made a statement on BLM or took similar action in support of racial diversity in 2020. The movement has existed for nearly a decade, but it’s hard to imagine so many businesses backing the campaign prior to this year.
Amid the ongoing rise of environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, they may be betting that it now pays to be good corporate citizens. Nike’s (US:NKE) online sales grew 31 per cent the weekend after it launched a marketing campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the American footballer who kneeled in protest against police violence.
But other businesses have drawn backlash from critics of BLM, as well as censure from the movement itself for declaring solidarity while black people were still underrepresented on their boards. According to research released in February, of the 31 companies identified by the IC, more than a third did not report meeting a government-backed target of having at least one director of colour.
Behind the rapid spread of Covid-19 was the globalisation of travel. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, 255m passengers passed through all reporting UK airports in 2019 – 147 per cent more than in 1989.
Once a pandemic was declared in March, globalisation went in reverse, as governments around the world closed their borders and placed citizens under lockdown. The UK government advised against international travel, and by April the number of passengers going to and from its airports had fallen to a mere 1.4 per cent of the figure during the same month last year.
Fewer things reflect the dramatic effects of lockdown restrictions than the plunge in the number of flights, and airlines are still hurting amid the gradual lifting of restrictions. As of October the number of passengers was at less than a seventh of its 2019 level.
It had to be this graph. The year has been defined by the death toll of a disease that was unnamed and unknown in 2019. The pandemic has demanded a great deal of many people, but among the unsung heroes are the statisticians and epidemiologists scrambling to gather the data required to make life-or-death decisions about public health, showing us truths we couldn’t see in any other way. (In fairness, statisticians are always gathering the data that show us truths we couldn’t see in any other way; I hope that we will take them for granted less often in future.)
I should praise, too, the FT’s data journalists. These graphs developed over time as part of a back-and-forth between the visual data team and the readers. I sincerely hope that next year we’ll be able to admire instead graphs about sharp recoveries and rapid vaccine roll-out. Hope springs eternal.
Tim Harford is an FT Columnist and author of How To Make The World Add Up