Bill Gates is turning out to be the adult among Silicon Valley’s multi-billionaires. Back in 1996 in the second edition of his book “The Road Ahead” he wrote himself into the dictionaries of quotations by refining and quantifying a thought for which predecessors, including Arthur C Clarke, had done the groundwork.

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years”, the Microsoft founder opined, “and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

Coronavirus is sorely testing this wisdom. The world as we knew it has been overthrown – the economic assumptions we built on global interdependence in particular. The experts tell us it will take years, if not decades, to get back to where we were.

The point is that the UK will never go back to where it was. For all the tragedy and destruction in its wake, clearing up after Covid is more likely to feed positively into directions of travel on which the UK was already embarked.

First the bad news about Britain’s place in the world in 2030. Financial forecasters, including Standard Chartered, predict we will no longer be among the World’s top ten economies in terms of economic activity and purchasing power parity. India, Turkey, Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia and Russia, they say, will all have overtaken us, as the US and Japan slip down the chart.

By opting for Brexit, it is claimed that the English and Welsh have undermined the point of the United Kingdom, both for the four nations who belong to it and as a multilateral actor. Surely Northern Ireland and Scotland will break away soon? What justification do we still have for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council? We may still have a nuclear deterrent, but our military is shrinking. Our forces lost or were overwhelmed in the last two wars they fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. At best the absence of a UK military contribution would merely have meant “workarounds”, in the crushing verdict of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Much of this thinking has been commonplace at least since 1962 when another American statesman, Dean Acheson, jibed “Great Britain has lost an empire and not yet found a role”.

Yet we haven’t done so badly in the meantime. For a start, when pressed, the economic gloomsters admit that GDP per capita is set to grow here and will remain well ahead of the countries which overtake us because of their exploding populations.

Covid has rejuvenated the notion of the nation state. National governments closed their borders and locked down their citizens with varying degrees of authority. They even competed for supplies of PPE and access to potential vaccines. The EU may be desirable for its members. But when life and death came into play it has turned out to be neither necessary nor essential.

The UK now has greater flexibility playing its part in “the reconstruction” which must follow this global shock. The chances are it can make good use of it. A government with a substantial majority means that there is no need for a general election until the middle of the 2020s. But this crisis has knocked the ideological stuffing out of the Johnson government. The rest of his term will be devoted to rebuilding and putting right. Luckily for him this fits the “levelling up” for the “left behind” agenda already promised.

Another decade of austerity bearing down particularly hard on the less well-off and the public services they depend on does not look like a credible option, even for a Tory government. Taxes will go up and they will be skewed towards the better off, corporations and wealth funds. This may explain why some fat cats are acting like Great War generals, in being so keen to get back to normal, even if it means taking casualties on the frontline.

There will be a shakeout. Airlines and energy companies don’t look quite like the cornerstones of the economy that they once were. The growth sectors will be tech, biotech and human services.

Weaker universities may go to the wall. Student debt will be reconsidered here and in the US.

The era of the corporate masters of the universe and the CEO as superhero will end this decade. Coronavirus has shown that we are all in it together when facing this threat and that the trinkets of wealth – private jets, homes on several continents – cannot exempt the privileged. For a second time this century business had to rely on government, underwritten by taxpayers, to be saved. The businesses that succeed will be those that invest and innovate and work with regulation and national goals rather than around them.

By 2030 there will be moves towards international taxes and a twilight for tax havens thanks to big data. If asset values are down and wealth is taxed there will be less point in being super rich. The exponentially growing earnings gap between those at the top and their average workers is likely to go into reverse, back towards the ratios of fifty years ago. It will not be acceptable to profit at the present rate. Already during Covid we have seen executives surrendering some of their gains.

None of this need diminish the UK’s “soft power” as Joseph Nye dubbed it. Rebalancing could even enhance it.

The government has learnt the value of academic research the hard way and it has invested in it generously to combat the Covid threat. We have also found that we are dependent on ‘lowlier’ STEM occupations – such as nursing or logistics. A sensible government will develop tertiary and vocational education without detracting elsewhere, above all because climate change will resume its place as the top global challenge.

The British education system is a core component of our soft power. So are the rule of law, an uncorrupt legal system and a banking and financial sector where “my word is my bond” still means something. All of these seemed under threat during the Brexit tempest. The far bigger shock of Coronavirus should see the storm blow over.

It is already apparent that the UK has nothing to gain by following Trump’s America away from multilateral institutions. We have always been pro-reform but anti-disruption. We recognise the importance for us of working with others. Brexit led to ruptures, but as heads clear the UK is once again picking up partnerships with Europeans and others. The UK’s current pledging statement for the UN’s Agenda 2030 stresses three priorities: expanding employment especially for women and those with disabilities; decarbonisation; and improving standards in schools. Hardly a shock populist agenda.

On the domestic scale the same principle applies. Reinvigorated and constructive engagement with Scotland combined with greater devolution – as is being seen with the UK city mayors – will mean that it is perfectly logical for Scots to go on voting for an SNP government without ever embracing independence. And the more harmonious practical relations are between Northern Ireland and the South, the less the border will be an issue.

Britain’s defence posture – supposedly under review this year – is its greatest headache. The era of Liberal Interventionism bracketed by Thatcher and Blair is over. Even the relatively low-cost use of force isn’t feasible given that planes, ships, tanks and manpower are under strength and cash has been drained away by the two new non-nuclear aircraft carriers.

Renewing the nuclear deterrent will go ahead in the end. It is the price of a voice at the top table and notional alliance with the US, but it is really gesture politics. The UK is already correctly concentrating its energies on AI, cyber warfare and drones. The armed services contribution during the Covid crisis has also stressed that the practical and social contribution of well-trained forces should not be dismissed.

Soft power will be just as important to keep us safe. Nations in Asia and Africa are becoming competitors and their middle classes are growing. The UK remains a leading and reliable contributor to foreign aid projects and a private finance partner at a time when the US is pulling back and China is forcing its way in. This nation has the knowhow and benefit of established relationships in order to remain a significant force with these countries. The burdens of Empire and the experience of the Commonwealth should be assets, which the plans to bring DFID closer to the Foreign Office can build on. Aid should have a purpose which benefits both giver and receiver.

This amounts to an optimistic scenario of a maintained level of UK global influence over the next decade: not a superpower, and more independent and detached from China, the US and the EU. It is possible that this country could go on wallowing in partisanship as it has for the past decade. In my judgement neither the Prime Minister nor the new leader of the Opposition still has an appetite for sterile and ultimately destructive confrontation.

Bill Gates is right that a dramatic experience may not change everything at a stroke. It is the reaction over a long time afterwards which really makes the difference. Paradoxically the big changes in the UK’s relationship with the world may actually be a restoration of values similar to those of 1945.

If the UK sets to work without complacency to retool and rebuild, the big change of this decade may well be that our place in world does not change as much as has been so widely predicted.