Friday, May 15, 2009

An Update to Rerurm Novarum: The Global Economy Section (A Doomsday Scenario)

It has been two years now since I first wrote the rough draft for Rerum Novarum: Of New Things, and a New World. Since then, the trends outlined have generally continued to proceed as predicted (which will be outlined in greater detail in another post): The US has a new President whose policies differ radically from those of George W. Bush, the global economy has entered a major recession, and the international order of the post-9/11, post-Cold War period is generally acknowledged to be failing.

It has been my opinion that beyond predicting the failure of the foundational trends of the world order, it is impossible to determine with any certainty what path the world may take after the failure of these trends—what the new order which would emerge would look like. This is a chaotic period, and chaos is inherently unpredictable. Nevertheless, I thought that this would be an appropriate time to outline my thoughts on where the global economy is going between 2009 and 2011.

I caution the reader that I am nothing approaching an economist: my prediction that the global economy would enter a recession was based on a theory derived exclusively from studying patterns in how history unfolds; it says that in major events, major trends end in close proximity to one another. In order for the world order to change, it was necessary for the economy to enter a recession—and so it did, apparently.

That said, let us get to my speculative prediction—for it is just that, an opinion on the future, for I have no real data to back it up.

Shockwaves Across the Globe: A Global Depression

At the outset, it is important to understand that I think of this crisis in terms of shockwaves—it seems logical to me that an economic recession in the US will ripple to other economies, weakening their foundations and leaving them vulnerable to whatever fundamental problems lurk within their economy; when the economies of these countries are damaged, they will ripple to the US, which will cause damage to the US economy again. Each country sends out a shockwave, which when they detonate, can weaken the economies of other countries to the point where they will also send out shockwaves. It is only when the shockwaves are either too weak to greatly affect the economies of a country, or the economy has shrunk so low that there is not much left to weaken, that the crisis will finally end.

Now, many people have come to believe that the US will move out of recession by the end of 2009—and they might even be correct, if they are only looking at causes and effects within the US. The problem is, this recession is global in nature and the damage it does to other countries will ripple back to the United States. As said before, I see the recession in each country sending out a shockwave, which detonates the foundations of other countries.

Specifically, this is how I see how this crisis has and will progress, as marked by the following Stages:

Stage I was the detonation of the US economy in 2007/2008, with the financial and housing bubbles bursting, sending out a shockwave to the rest of the world. This shockwave hit the rest of the world, and detonated, either destroying or loosening the foundations of many economies, and resulting in Stage II. Stage II occurred in the summer and fall of 2008, when those countries who were weakened by the US shockwave, fell victim to fundamental problems in the economies of themselves and their neighbors, emitting their own shockwaves. Stage III is presently coming to a close, and occurred in the last quarter of 2008 and the spring of 2009, when these shockwaves hit the US, which produced its own shockwave again, which rebounded and hit these countries as well, weakening the economies of everyone further. In this stage, as a result of these effects, the economies of Europe, Japan, the majority of Latin America, and the US all officially entered a major recession.

It is my belief that the entry into recession by these powerful economies will produce a quite large shockwave, which will hit the last large economic growth engine in the world: The People’s Republic of China. This will mark Stage IV, when the economy of China begins to collapse in response to drastically decreased demand from its most important trade partners. The collapse of China’s economy will probably trigger a collapse in the economies of East and Southeast Asia, with the majority of countries in both areas entering a state of economic recession. This collapse will trigger a large number of shockwaves, which will reverberate around the world, resulting in Stage V, when the recession deepens in most major economies, probably to the extent of a Depression. Stage VI will be the time of recovery from this event.

I believe Stage IV, the collapse of China’s economy, (which will trigger the collapse of the remainder of the world economy), will probably occur sometime between November 2009 and mid-2010. This timeframe should give plenty of time for the effects of recession in the US, Latin America, Europe, and Japan, to translate to China and make themselves felt. This collapse of China’s economy need not be marked by negative GDP growth, it should be noted. Rather, collapse is used in the sense that the situation in China will be restricted and unstable, due to the fact that large masses of people looking for work will inevitably begin to challenge the authority of the Communist government. “Collapse” is used because while annual economic growth may continue, at a rate of between 3—5%, it will be growth driven primarily by static domestic consumption, and not international demand. Thus, China’s large export industries will have collapsed; the very industries that marked China’s economy as a driver of global industrial economic growth severely diminished. So, China’s section of the global economy will have largely “collapsed,” with the resulting aftershocks.

All this is quite frivolous speculation of course—but it will be interesting to see how things actually turn out. There is a certain logic to the predictions made here, and it will be interesting to see why they turn out to be incorrect—and even more interesting if they actually turn out to be correct.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


By, Ryan Tepperman

Over the course of the next few years the world will enter a new era. No longer shall it be the post-cold war, post-9/11, post-anything era, but one altogether its own. It is during 2007 and 2008 that this new era will fully be born, and will truly start as a separate entity.

Why will this happen? Partly because of the actions of individuals, partly because of the need people seem to have for change, partly for population and statistical reasons, and partly from sheer coincidence/chance. All of these shall play a role, some great, some small. Mostly, however, this new historical era will come about as the result of the ending of the trends which have dominated the post-9/11 world; some of them dating all the way back to the end of the Cold War. These trends will mostly end in 2007 and 2008, with the new trends beginning to emerge and become dominant at the end of 2008.

And what reason do I have to believe this? I would point the reader to the nexus of historical events presently occurring. For whatever reason, throughout history events seem to come together in certain time frames, occurring in close proximity (often both geographically and spatially), building and growing off each other, redoubling their effect. History is littered with examples of this, of times when political, social, and economic changes all occurred close together and resulted in changes so massive, they forced the sections of the world they touched into a new era. For example, look at the French Revolution. A poor harvest, defeats overseas, a poor economy and treasury, a people increasingly disenchanted with their leaders: all of these combined to lead to the overthrow of the French monarchy. A similar number of usually disparate, yet in each event of change, interconnected factors, occurs in other times of change: from the beginning of WWI to the ending of the Cold War, to the start of the Russian Revolution of 1917, all share a similar number of factors which led to their creation; in a sense, which lead to the inevitability of each event. Though the factors themselves are not always the same, in some way they are all similar; as Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself. But it rhymes.”

Let us begin the examination of the era shift by looking at the trends which are likely coming to a close, and the probable results of their ending.

First, there is the United States. In 2008, there will be a new presidential election, ushering in an administration which will inevitably be radically different from the current administration. Very different policies and people will be running the show for the first time since 9/11; thus ends the trend of George Bush’s policies and actions, one which has been progressing through the post-9/11 period.

The second trend which will end will result from American involvement in Iraq. By the end of 2008 (if not by the end of 2007), America will have either stabilized the country, or withdrawn all its troops. In either case, the vast majority of troops stationed in Iraq will be withdrawn. Though many of the comparisons drawn between Iraq and Vietnam are incorrect, from an exclusively international relations standpoint, post-Iraq policy will be similar to post-Vietnam policy in one crucial regard. This is that, for the first time since the end of the old War, American foreign policy will withdraw into itself, lessening drastically in both scope and intensity, for at least one full year, which is all the time that is needed for the new trends to arise.

Indeed, Iraq is not the only reason America will withdraw from the world. In truth, Americans seem to be tired being involved in the world, tired of shouldering its burdens. After having a foreign policy which places emphasis on caring for people, not for any possible gain, but simply to help them, for two full generations; another full generation taken actively helping the poor, deprived, and diseased in the world, they are simply tired of it. After seeing so many dead from genocides, pointless wars waged by maniacs, and now thousands of their own dead in a war the US went into for reasons which don’t seem to matter much anymore, they are tired. The majority are overloaded from the constant inundation of reports on violence, of trying to put out fights which never seem to stop flaring up, they are simply tired of the US being involved in the world, and want it to end. If Americans can be convinced that they can withdraw from the world without exposing themselves to any danger, they will do so in a heartbeat. Indeed, the only thing which might make the US stay involved in the world is the threat of terrorism, and this threat can only be maintained if terrorists manage to stage another attack on the scale of 9/11 in America. Even that will not likely hold, however, as it is unlikely that future presidents will adopt the “we fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here”, strategy.

It should be noted that this withdrawal from the international scene is indeed quite common for the US. It occurs after most wars which have taxed either the military or the nations; it occurred after WWI, after WWII (for a few years), after the Korean War (for less than a year), and after the Vietnam War. Thus, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, the US will withdraw substantially from the international arena, at a time when other states are rising in power and dominance, breaking old trends as well. Therefore, the world’s only superpower will not be able to stop this new era from forming.

In Russia, in 2008 a new President will be elected, one who will be at the very least somewhat different from Putin. Putin has been in power since before 9/11 occurred, and has guided Russia ever since, centralizing power around himself and the state. Whoever succeeds him will likely lead different, meaning the policies of Russia will likely change quite a bit from what they presently are. Russia is likely to become more aggressive than it has been since the Cold War ended, and yet will also withdraw into itself more. By this it is meant that Russian policy will focus on certain regional areas to the exclusion of all else, as it deals with problems at home. Therefore, the Caucuses and Eastern Europe will be the main focus of Russia, and interests elsewhere will be less vigorously pursued, if not dropped altogether. Putin has been in one sense an unwilling reformer of Russia, centralizing power because there was no other choice available. The next ruler cannot be assumed to be as reluctant to rule as Putin; rather, they are likely to approach the subject brutally and with little subtly. And even if, as some have postulated, Vladimir Putin decides to change the constitution and run for a third term, he will also operate differently, because he will have made the choice to become a dictator, and abandon attempts at democratic reforms. And so ends the trend of Russia’s brief flirtation with democratic rule, while the old trend of Russian autocrats re-asserts itself.

Meanwhile, in Britain in 2007 a new prime minister will be in office for the first time since 1997, and the successor will likely be less “friendly” to the rest of the world than Tony Blair has been. This means Gordon Brown will be more interested in improving the economy (his forte, as Chancellor of the Exchequer) than in improving relations with Russia or the EU; indeed, he is noted as being skeptical of both. In order to not quickly fall from power for the same reasons Tony Blair did, Brown will have to differentiate himself greatly from Blair, and thus change his government in some important aspects.

In France, Nicholas Sarkozy has been elected President in 2007, succeeding a man who has been in power since 1995, and who was a prominent Gaullist. With this succession comes the end of de Gaullism, which had been prevalent in French policy since the 1950s. None of the candidates elected were Gaullists, and Sarkozy is widely regarded as the most pro-American politician in France. His policies call for radical change in institutions which have formed the pillars of both the French economy and French society since the 1960s. With the absence of de Gaullism, French policy will also change and focus more on regional issues in Europe, rather than world problems. Thus ends the trend of what some would call French “over-involvement” in the world (that is, acting as if they had more power and deserved more influence in world affairs than they truly had), while a new trend begins with a focus on European affairs, but not necessarily EU affairs.

At the end of 2005 in Germany Angela Merkel was elected Chancellor, over Gehard Schroder, who had been in office since 2000. Her policies have called have called for Germany to assume a far more active leadership role in Europe and the world, for the benefit of Germany itself. This wipes out the trend which had been dominant in German affairs, where German nationalism was either inactive or suppressed. Now, it is back, and the 50+ year old trend is at an end. This means that Germany is now likely to assume a far greater role in the world of international politics (whereas previously it had limited itself mainly to following France’s lead), meaning that it will increasingly clash with other nations on policies, as it pursues its own objectives and interests. The fate of the EU depends on whether all EU member states will accept, however reluctantly, a powerful, independent Germany, as one of their own, as a leader of Europe.

By 2008 the slow economic growth of Italy will likely have devolved into a general economic downturn, possibly forcing the country to withdraw somewhat from the EU, and focus on domestic priorities (to an even greater extent than usual). During this downturn one of three things will likely occur: first, the democratic system of government will prevail and those elected will manage to fix the problem while maintaining the Republican institutions of Italy. Alternately, someone could rise and stabilize both the economy and political power, likely by centralizing both. If neither of these occur, Italy will find itself ever further from other centers of power, and become increasingly irrelevant to European politics. Of the three options, the probability is that the second one will occur, and if it does not, then the third one. For the past fifty years Italian leaders haven’t done a particularly good job of keeping the economy competitive, maintaining the country as a major player in European affairs, or keeping politics and business separate; thus it is unlikely that more of the same would solve the problems facing Italy. Italy has not had a strong, central leader since Mussolini; one could say in fact that they are about due for another one. All that is necessary is for their nationalism to be stirred up once again, and the Muslims migrating to Italy will eventually cause this. If German nationalism can rise again, so too can Italian nationalism. One way or another, the trend of Italian involvement in European and world affairs will likely change drastically.

In Taiwan in 2008, a new president will be elected, changing power from one who has held office since 2000 to a new person. The new president, based on current polling data about the two parties, is like to come from the Kumointang, and is likely to be less belligerent towards the People’s Republic of China. This may cause problems for the PRC, as it has long relied on nationalism to unify its people; with a relatively peaceful Taiwan, it will be harder to stir up sentiment against them.

In Japan, at the end of 2006 a new Prime Minister was elected, one who appears to be intent on increasing the Japanese military; he is not alone in this, and seems to have the support of both the Japanese Diet and an ever increasingly large proportion of the populace. To this end, it is likely that by the end of 2012, the Peace Article in the Japanese constitution will be repealed/amended. Thus, for the first time in several Japan will begin seriously re-arming, breaking the 50-year old trend of pacifism.

In China, events which have been in motions since the early 1990s, if not before, will come to a head. By 2008, the leaders of China will have to decide what to do with the large part of the surplus of money they have, at risk of it being devalued. They will have to deal with the ever-growing unrest in the countryside, the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, and by early 2009 (if not 2008), with a new American administration in place, they will likely have to deal with serious American tariffs. Of greatest importance, the Olympics will be held in Beijing in 2008. This is of enormous value to China, as they feel that they will lose an enormous amount of face if it does not go off without a hitch. Never before has China had to put forward its best foot in the view of the world; if everything goes right, Chinese leaders likely believe, they will have proven either that they are equal to the West, or superior. Therefore, everything will be dropped in 2007 and 2008 in order to ensure that the Olympics goes off without a hitch; thus tasks which would have normally been performed will be left half-finished or undone, as all efforts are directed toward the Olympics. If everything goes well, China may feel that it has earned its place in the world; however, it is likely to become more-aggressive, in response both to increased nationalism from the 2008 Olympics and an increasingly aggressive Japan, and will likely withdraw somewhat from the world in order to focus on the immediate area surrounding China: specifically South-East Asia and the Far East. However, it is also possible that instead of focusing more on countries close to home, rather than investing and performing political maneuvers in the Caribbean and Darfur, China will instead suffer a breakdown, as all the social problems created by China’s rapid economic expansion will come to a head. Whichever happens, the trend of isolation and non-interference the Chinese have created for themselves (and have followed since at least the early 1990s), will be at an end, one way or another.

In Pakistan, President Musharaff’s government, which has been in power since 1999, will have fallen from power by the end of 2008 (if it does not do so by the end of 2007). Whoever rises to power in his stead will likely need at least a year to centralize and stabilize power around themselves (the time most Pakistani governments have required after coups). This new government will be radically different from Musharaff in their policies, agenda, and methods of carrying out/enforcing their decisions. They will likely be less friendly toward the US than Musharaff has been, and this will contribute to the creation of a more volatile situation on the sub-continent. Alternatively, a democratic government could succeed Musharaff, though this is unlikely. Historically speaking, it is very rare that exiles come back to power in their nations as democratic leaders; instead, they are usually sidelined; and currently, exiles seem to be the leaders of Pakistan’s democratic movement. Whatever the case, Pakistan is likely to have changed a great deal by the end of 2008; the old trends, which had Pakistan pursuing a course in which domestic problems had the greatest importance, will have ended. Instead, the outside world, instead of just the US, will be the focus of much of their attention; if domestic dissent can be suppressed sufficiently by the Musharaff’s successor. Moreover, Pakistan will also break out of the limbo between dictatorship and democracy which has been prevalent over the past eight years. Whichever path it chooses, it will stick by for some time to come.

In all likelihood by 2008 India will also have become less friendly with the US because of the fall through of the nuclear deal between the two countries. More importantly however, India will be facing domestic population problems, the threat of an overheating economy, a volatile Pakistan, the recurring attacks by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. In all likelihood, if the global economy enters a recession (or at the very least, the regional economy), as it eventually will, India will return to having its foreign policy focus exclusively on Pakistan, with the result that the two states will likely have each other as their main focus for the next decade. If the global economy does not enter a recession, then it is likely that India will continue to expand, in both the scope of its foreign policy, and its power. Whatever the case, the trend which has been constant since the early 1990s, where India didn’t have concrete, important foreign policy interests and objectives, will be at an end.

In Israel, by the end of 2007 Prime Minister Olmert will have either stepped down or be forced to resign. In his place, a new prime minister will be elected, one likely to be more aggressive than either Ariel Sharon or Olmert, thus ending the policy of accommodation and negotiation that the two utilized with their Arab neighbors, and the Palestinians. In addition, by the summer/end of 2008 (if not by the summer of 2007), Israel will have finished re-arming, re-training, and re-equipping the Israeli military to fight a conventional war against a fortified enemy, while the substantial might of Israeli intelligence will have turned most of its attention to infiltrating Hezbollah and Lebanon. These factors all mean that Israel will become more aggressive in the future, and will likely engage in war with at least one of its neighbors (likely Palestine or Lebanon) by the end of 2008. However, pressure from the US could force the US to stop such a conflict, however, unlikely.

By 2008, with the diminishment/withdrawal of US forces in Iraq, the nations of the Middle East will primarily be focused on jockeying for position in Iraq, and dealing with domestic issues. Alternately, if Israel behaves as aggressively as is expected, the Arab states could be stirred to action against Israel.

In Ukraine elections will occur in 2008 as well. By election day, it is quite probable that President Yuschenko will have either fallen from power, or been rendered politically irrelevant. It is possible he could consolidate power around himself, but by doing so he would abandon any support he could hope to get from the West. In addition, considering that he has not centralized power around the office of the Presidency, and that he was brought to power by what has been called a democratic revolution, it becomes even more apparent that he is unlikely to become the unopposed leader of Ukraine. As a result of the 2008 elections, it is likely that Ukraine will shift in roles from being an independent, sovereign nation with close ties to both Russia and the West, to become a point of serious contention in European and Russian politics. In all likelihood, Ukraine will regress to become, if not a part of Russia, then a nation with very, very strong ties to Russia. Ukraine will act as a catalyst for tensions between Russia and Europe, and in one sense, may act as a powder-keg for the region.

Last in the country list is not actually a country at all, but an organization, a force, which has drastically altered the world: Al-Qaeda. It is the entity which helped create the post-9/11 world, and by the summer of 2008 (indeed, likely by the end of 2007), it will have ceased to matter as an organization on the stage of the world political scene. In February of 2007, Al-Zawahiri, the de facto head of Al-Qaeda communicated that the Taliban was now the leader of the world-wide jihadist movement, placing Al-Qaeda strategically under the Taliban. This means Al-Qaeda has officially been reduced to a tactical force, fighting battles not to topple the governments of the Arab states and re-establish the Caliphate, but to win small pieces of territory. The goal of the Taliban is to re-capture Afghanistan, and possibly gain control of Pakistan, not plan major strikes against the United States and its European allies. While the movement is increasingly splintered, making it harder to track down and eliminate members of the organization, the real threat from Al-Qaeda was always its ability to launch strategic attacks against the US; the jihadists created a new world by flying two planes into the Twin Towers and one into the Pentagon, killing thousands. Bombing US embassies, sinking the USS Cole, those did not result in the invasion of Afghanistan and the re-direction of all available resources to hunt down Al-Qaeda. The latter is something that the splinter groups of Al-Qaeda may be able to do. As an entity capable of planning and carrying out strategic strikes, however, Al-Qaeda is no more. It can still hurt individuals, but it can no longer threaten nations. Thus ends the trend of strategic terrorism implemented by Al-Qaeda, putting to death the last of the trends which maintain the current world order, and opening the way for a new era.

There are of course trends shifting which cannot be analyzed in the context of just one country, but must be looked at in the context of the world, and it is here that the next series of trends lay. These trends are quite important, in that they are global in nature; thus their effects are felt everywhere. In a sense, it is these trends, trends which prove to be consistent throughout either all or most of the world, that maintain the current world order. And in order for the current order to end, they too must either change, or be, in the words of one person who changed history, “Thrown into the dustbin of history.”

{A cautionary warning first, however. It should be noted that while the trends given here are likely to occur, they are not the only trends which exist, and could break onto the scene, unpredicted and unforeseen. But the trends given here suffice on their own to re-make the international world anew.}

The first global trend is the world economy. Historically speaking, changes in the economy have often accompanied drastic changes in the world. Changes in the British economy, resulting to greater taxation, led to one of the prime impetuses for the American Revolution. A poor French treasury resulting from the expenditures incurred by the French fighting in that war also helped contribute to discontent in France, and this discontent lead in turn to the French Revolution in 1789. The Great Depression would lead to the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, and the humbling of France and Britain, allowing those two men to gain power and thus leading directly to World War II. The Bretton Woods agreement signed after WWII and the creation of the World Bank would lead to Europe collectively tying their economies to that of the US, forcing the US to remain in the Cold War, if only for purely economical reasons. And it was a change in the economy which led to the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, giving birth to the post-Cold War era. The list goes on and on. Thus, it would seem likely that a change in the economy will also accompany a shift from the post-9/11 world to a new world, and thus, we can see that the world economy will have likely entered a recession by the year 2011; if not 2007-2008.

Currently, the success of the world economy relies primarily on several factors: the continuing development and exploitation of emerging/developing markets, also known as globalization; the flow of cheap credit throughout the world; and the continued supremacy of the United States over the world, as the world’s only superpower. The last factor must be included in any analysis, because it is the supremacy of the US which in effects guarantees the continuation of free trade; since no one can effectively threaten anyone, there is no need to engage in politically motivated, and economically unsound tariffs. All three of these trends will begin to change by the end of 2008. First, there is the matter of globalization.

In all probability, as the costs needed to sustain globalization rise (as the Wall-Street Journal has already reported them doing so, on June 8), and the benefits in turn fall, as there are less and less resources to go around and more people to fight for them, tariffs will become economically beneficial once again, and protectionism and isolationism will be on the rise. These all occur in the final stages of the draw-down from globalization. The critical turning point here will occur in China: facing fundamental problems concerning differences between rural and urban areas, China must begin to focus on internal matters. And as they do so, there will be fewer and fewer jobs available for foreign companies to purchase; there will be, in effect, less and less room for growth. And because of this, there will be less money for Western companies to spend on other emerging markets. In effect, globalization will begin to falter by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, because quite simply, there is nowhere else new to invest in at a cheap cost. As one venture capitalist put it, “The global economic situation is one of a delicate balance; everyone must keep working at their maximum, and do nothing different, in order for the delicate dance to continue.” Thus goes globalization.

Then there is the matter of cheap credit, which in effect allows the US to maintain its current economic position. Because of the availability of cheap cash from China, Japan, and several other states, investors can take on increasingly risky investments, without having to overly worry about costs. It is because of China and Japan buying up US debt, in addition, that has allowed the US to fund both the war in Iraq, and the War on Terror, without damaging the US economy. However, this trend cannot continue indefinitely, and as both Japan and China begin to reach the limits of their economic growth, and begin to lessen their involvement in the world economy, in favor of regional matters, the US economy will find that it has to pay back all its accumulated debt. Furthermore, it is possible that those who are the leaders of economy (the top investors, analysts, and the Federal Reserve), have become so used to this manner of running the economy, that when they do try and stop a recession, they will be doing percisely the wrong thing. Instead of slowing it, they will only be helping it. To use a crude, but effective analogy, the US has been selling parts of the economy “on the margins”, much as stocks were sold before the Great Depression of 1929. This is not to say the US will enter another Great Depression (though it remains possible that such a thing will occur); instead, it will likely enter a recession. The reader should be reminded that the US has not incurred a serious recession for nearly 20, if not 30, years. And the reader should also note that the US, according to its economic history, enters a serious recession once every 20-30 years. In effect, the US is due for a recession. And serious recessions have almost always led to a withdrawal of the by the US from world affairs. Which leads us to the last factor: the supremacy of the US in the world.

As said previously, it is because of the status of the US as the world’s lone superpower which has ensured the continued profitability of free trade; as a result, nations have not been particularly threatened by each other (at least, not countries of major economic states). Thus, there has been no need for politically motivated tariffs. However, as the US withdraws from Iraq, as it begins to realize it must pay off the federal deficit, as it begins to realize that there are various problems in the heartland which need to be undertaken, it will begin to withdraw from world affairs. As a result, nations will begin to fear one another once again, and politics will begin to shape the world economy in drastic ways. Protectionism will rise, and thus trade in regions, not across continents, will become profitable. Indeed, we can already begin to see this happening all over the world: rising anti-Russian sentiment in the EU; rising anti-Iranian sentiment throughout the Persian Gulf, indeed rising anti-Western sentiment occurring throughout that region; rising anti-China sentiment in the US, with talk starting of serious tariffs against China. All over the world, the pendulum is swinging back toward protectionism. And thus does the world economy shift course.

Of course, trade between nations will still remain; however, it will not reach the level it stood at during the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century for quite some time. The world will not see for quite some time a situation where two powerful countries hold their respective opposite’s economy in a death grip. Thus, the global economy will slowly lose momentum, and then reverse in direction. It will still exist, but only as a ghost of sorts of its former glory. This will in turn affect the second world trend: the trend of the Information Age.

The age we live in is currently known as the Information Age; it is supposed to be a time of revolutionary advances in technology, in communications, in economics, in basically everything. However, it is increasingly likely that the impact of the Information Age will become steadily degraded. The existence of the Information Age appears to rely primarily on two things: the invention and advancement of the World Wide Web, or the Internet, which allows information to flow between people at an unprecedented rate; and the advent of globalization, which has made it very profitable for countries to interact, and has placed a premium on the value of information. Globalization has allowed markets to expand to the point where competitors have plenty of room to maneuver, and as a consequence, whoever can integrate information and efficiency fastest has the upper hand. Seeing as how globalization has already been addressed in the preceding paragraph, we will deal here primarily with the issue of restricting the Internet. First, there was the advent of the War on Terror with the terrorist attacks of Sepetember 11th. This led to the centralization of power in many states, with power shifting increasingly to the executive branch of the government and the bureaucracies they control. For example, the implementation of the Patriot Act gave more power to the federal government in America, and the federal budget has been increasing dramatically ever since. As the US became increasingly aggressive in the War on Terror, invading both Afghanistan and Iraq, other nations have responded by centralizing their power further as the US pressed them on issues with a vigor it had not shown in many years. As an example, one could look at the rapid centralization of power in Pakistan and Russia which has taken place since 9/11. As a result, governments have slowly gained increasing power over communications; the events of 9/11 have revealed that the Internet can be a deadly weapon if left unsupervised, where radical ideas can spread rapidly and easily, as can instructions for how to create and operate the weapons necessary to achieve radicalist objectives. Thus, it will be seen as of the utmost importance to supervise the Internet, restrictions on access will slowly grow. Indeed, this has occurred in China, where the Internet has been subject to increasingly strict regulations. Furthermore, as protectionist tendencies grow, it is likely that in order to maintain their security nations will create their own country Internets, instead of relying on a system operated and controlled by the US. Thus, it is possible that in the future the benefits received from the Information Age will be increasingly lessened. However, the lessening of the impact of the Information Age is not a trend which is assured to occur in the near-future; it is only possible. Even if the Information Age continues to exist in its current potency, however, it will not radically effect the predictions concerning trends made in this paper.
The third world trend is one which by its nature is not a long-term, sustained trend, but rather, a relatively new one. This trend is the trend of world infrastructure. In states all over the world, infrastructure is increasingly falling into disrepair (that is, a rate faster than it is being repaired), to the point where it will become a severe problem in the future. In the United States, the more minor infrastructure complaints include transportation infrastructure, energy-producing facilities (specifically in the Caribbean, after Hurricane Rita), and several other problems. The more serious issues are deteriorating medical facilities where ERs are increasing overwhelmed by patients, aging city infrastructure (as seen by the recent steam pipe explosion in New York City), manufacturing infrastructure, and a deteriorating electrical transmission structure, which will result in demand for electricity outstripping reliable delivery. In Russia, there are serious infrastructure issues with oil and natural gas field and pipeline maintience and repairs; in addition, there are also infrastructure issues with regard to their heavy-machinery manufacturing facilities, and an aging military infrastructure. In China, there are serious issues with manufacturing rural infrastructure, weather protection systems and techniques, and very serious environmental infrastructure issues. In most of Europe, there are infrastructure concerns over roads, electricity generation, and finally, issues with the more abstract, but no less real immigrant absorbing infrastructure. In Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Iran, countries which produce a large portion of the world’s oil supply, issues concerning the oil field and pipeline infrastructure is beginning to take on serious proportions. And in Africa…well, infrastructure has been fighting to stay alive for some time now. So what does this mean? Solving these infrastructure problems will cost a lot of money, and force these nations to devote more attention to their domestic affairs. Therefore, this will add pressure for them to adopt more protectionist measures, and will contribute to the restructuring of the world from its present order.
And yet, this isn’t enough. It’s not enough for trends to just break their patterns in close proximity; to change from one era to another, one world order to another, one arena to another, new trends must also emerge, ones which shall propel the world forcefully onto its new course. These new trends force the nations of the world to drastically alter their policies to not only survive, but thrive. The end of the trends in each country listed above make a new era possible, perhaps even likely. The new trends given here make this new era, this new way of doing business, of living, not just probable, but inevitable.

The first of the new trends to come onto the scene, forcing a transition, will be perhaps the oldest trend in history: the weather. The weather is usually the precipitation of many shifts in eras, and while man’s ability to reduce the damage weather incurs has grown, the value of weather as a revolutionizing trend, even with its ability to cause damage reduced, can never be discounted. For example, it was the weather which was one of the prime factors in causing the French Revolution. In the French Revolution, weather caused a poor harvest to take place, leaving many starving for food, fueling the uprising against the monarchy through hunger. Moreover, if predictions concerning global warming are indeed accurate, weather could prove to have a much more influential role in shaping the world over the next decade, with an increase in both the number and power of storms raging throughout the world.

The second new trend is technology. While technology as a whole will continue to develop at a remarkable pace, it is likely that during the period of time being discussed, a new technology which will reshape the world will arise. In the French Revolution, artillery (or rather its use) was first perfected; during World War I, the truck rose to prominence; in WWII, the rise to prominence of the airplane. At the end of the Cold War; the microchip, combined with the personal computer and the Internet, led to what we now know as the Information Age. These technologies had all been around for at least several decades before coming into world-shaping prominence. Thus, it appears likely that if indeed an era shift of sorts is approaching, it might be accompanied by a technological breakthrough. In this case, it seems as though alternative energy is the most likely candidate. By as soon as the end of 2008 (more likely however by the end of 2011) alternative ways of either producing oil or producing oil substitutes will have likely become competitive to the standard method of drilling oil. The new versions could include cellulosic ethanol, which would make ethanol production competitive in pricing to that of oil, or perhaps Thermal-Depolymerization, which can turn organic waste into oil. Maybe nuclear power will suddenly become cheaper. Or perhaps some combination of emerging technologies will result in a movement away from oil, a movement which can already be seen today. Such a development would indeed have world-changing consequences. The US, and the West as a whole, would have more incentive to withdraw from the world, since it would no longer need to protect interests abroad to nearly the same degree as is required today; instead, China, India, and the developing nations of the world would compete for oil, surging forward to take the place the West voluntarily, albeit reluctantly, vacates. And thus we arrive at the last trend.

In truth, this last trend is not particularly new; it merely changes form every now and again. It has existed since the dawn of man, and yet by itself, it is enough to make a change from the post-9/11 world to a new world not a likelihood, but an inevitability. It is this trend which pushes the world to the final brink. The trend is fear; specifically, fear of the past, fear of history. As the world withdraws from a global perspective, old fears about history will be re-awakened, and men will begin to see their neighbors, once their allies and friends, as competitors and possible enemies. It is known in Sociology circles as the Myth-Symbol complex, where in times of conflict or tension, old legends, myths, and history will come back to haunt the consciousness of those in the nation. They will remember that in the past, they have waged war on each other, hated each other, and the fears that their opponents are planning to do so again will stir the world back into the pattern of conflict it had been set in since before the Cold War. It is the most human of things, and yet, the saddest as well. Change.

[First conclusion]

So what is the end result? The honest answer is that the future is hard to predict, and ever changing. However, these trends are real; they have been constant for some time, and they are now either radically changing or ending. Other trends which have not been seen for many years are showing signs of emerging from the bulwark. Overall, it looks as though the world is heading toward another era shift; inasmuch as people will call this time something different than the post-9/11, post-Cold War world. It is the author’s belief that history operates in cycles, each one similar in scope and the amount of change they cause, yet different in why they occurred, how they affected people, and who caused the changes to achieve a permanency of sorts. But the importance of events lies in the details, which begs the question, what will this new time look like? Well, this brave new world which will arise will be neither particularly brave, nor particularly new. If all trends continue to hold, then the world will revert back to how it worked before World War II and the advent of the Cold War. Nations will engage each other based on their geography, focusing most of their energy into the region their homeland lies in. And as nationalism continues to rise and re-assert itself, as events are blown out of proportion by deeply embedded societal fears, war will stop being a luxury, and wars between large states, a theory. It will become a very real fact of life for the West. And that is where the crystal ball ends.

[Second conclusion]
Overall, what do all these trends mean? What does the culmination and ending of some entail, the creation of still more, and the radical shift of others? In this global world, what is the end result of taking all these trends together? In the author’s opinion, it means that the current world order will be ending. In its place, will emerge a world which is very similar, and yet radically different from both the 19th century, and the Inter-War years between WWI and WWII. The US, much like the British Empire in the 19th century, will remain the world’s lone superpower. However, its interests will be radically different from that of the British Empire, and it is unlikely to remain in a permanently isolationist position for a long time. Whereas the British Empire was concerned mainly with maintaining its colonies, the US will be concerned with the safety of the continental United States. They will create layers of defenses to ensure this, and will be mainly concerned, (if the new technology trend which springs onto the scene is indeed alternate technologies) primarily with stability in regions where a conflict could draw America in. As a result, policy will become remarkably similar to US foreign policy in the 1930s, and will also retain some similarities to US foreign policy under Theodore Roosevelt. The end result is that an America weary of war, and fearful of another Iraq, will allow other states to grow in power. And in doing so, they will allow the world to break free of the global order the US has imposed on it, making it impossible for any one actor, or even group of actors, to control events. Please note that while the policymakers may try at one time or another to involve the US in re-asserting control over the world, the American people will not be truly behind it. And as Franklin Roosevelt found during his time as President, it is almost impossible to forcefully change the world without their support.

Europe in this time will share far more similarities with previous centuries than it has at any point since the Cold War began. A resurgent Russia to the east, and an influx of non-Christian, non-secular immigrants will cause nationalism to rise to levels high levels in the traditional centerpoints of European power: France, Germany, Italy, and possibly Spain and the UK as well. The nationalism built up by immigrants and other forces (for example, renewed pride in Germany for their soccer, or football team) will be turned and focused toward their various economic and social problems. Immigrants from the former Eastern Bloc states will only exacerbate any perceived problems. With a resurgent economy, and growing nationalism, Europe will proceed in one of three directions: they will essentially abandon any non-economic aspect of the EU, and begin to focus their nationalism on their neighbors. The second thing which might occur is that they will unite in the EU, and move first to counter Russia, and then to expand to take the place in world affairs the US has vacated. The last direction is a combination of the other two paths: they will not truly unite in the EU, and they will individually re-assert their power throughout the world, but they will form a common front against Russia.

Russia will enter a new era, where rising nationalism and a need for centralization to support the state’s ambitions takes precedence over the needs and wants of individual countrymen. It is a state which is in truth, really the norm for Russia, a return to the rule of the Tsars who ruled Russia for most of the modern era. Russia will attempt to re-assert itself in world affairs, but it will not do so on a wide scale: it will focus most of its policy and power on Europe, with Asia receiving a secondary priority, and whatever other scraps of attention left being given to the Middle East. Of course, America will be the prime focus of Russia at the beginning of this era, but as their withdrawal from daily world events becomes clearer, their focus will shift toward Europe, which will be far more active in affairs concerning Russia than the US.

China, if it manages to fix the great problems which face it, concerning social inequality, widespread corruption and inefficiency, and environmental problems, all without entering into a state of social collapse, will also be taking part of the world stage which the US vacates. If the new technology trend is indeed alternative energy, then it will take a more dominant role in the Middle East and other oil producers. If such a technological trend does not emerge, then China will likely invest just as heavily in these areas, however there will be much more competition for shares in the oil market, and thus will be denied dominance in that area. However, though they may invest heavily in markets outside their traditional sphere of influence, their foreign policy is likely to remain, as it always has throughout China’s long, long history, concerned with South-East Asia. Thus, tensions will rise as will the possibility of conflict with both Japan and Taiwan during this era; indeed, as fears about Japanese aggression grow, linked to memories of Japanese invasions, such a conflict will become almost impossible to avoid. The scale of it, however, could vary from a series of skirmishes, to a serious war. And while Japan may appear more focused on the moment at internal reforms, it has not had a serious presence in world affairs since WWII. Therefore, in this era, Japan will have plenty of time to develop its military might further, and whether it is China fearing an increasingly powerful, and free of constitutional restrictions, Japan, or a Japan fearful of an increasingly powerful China, the end result will be the same: a permanent escalation of tension between the two countries, and a shift in focus from trade and non-regional issues, to concentrating on each other.

However, it should be noted that there is the distinct possibility that China could suffer a societal collapse, and split into fractured, warring states. In this situation, Japan is likely to at some point, take concrete steps to interfere in Chinese affairs, whether for humanitarian reasons, or because of territorial ambitions. Either way, Japan will become locked into being involved in China for the duration of this new era.

While South America will remain a series of feuding states for the duration of this period, the Middle East will remain a volatile, though potentially peacefully region, and the sub-continent (India and Pakistan) will remain concerned primarily with the actions of their neighbor, Africa has the surprising potential to enter the scene as a force to replace America on the world stages. If it can manage to successfully unite the continent under one leader, or at least form a powerful union to make decisions which will be respected by the populace of the continent, it would emerge as a far more secure, viable state than it is now. The possibility for this cannot be dismissed out of hand, as there have been continual pushes in Africa for the creation of a pan-African state over the past 50 years. However, African “states” didn’t really exist until 50 years ago as well, so there is little historical data available. Furthermore, there is the problem of Africa being far larger and less developed than Europe, the US, and most other large states, and the other problem of being very decentralized, with individual tribes having very different customs, even languages, than their neighbors. Uniting them all would be a difficult task at best. Therefore, it is most likely that Africa will remain the same as it always has: disunited, and controlled only on the surface.

Putting all these together, what do we end up with? We arrive at a world where the world’s lone superpower retreats from global affairs in order to achieve certainty, in a world where so much is uncertain. We arrive at a world where what is in effect European imperialism is resurgent, preceded by European nationalism. We arrive at a world where once again, the power of the world is centered with the West, and the rest of the world is left to either be exploited temporarily, or pushed to the fringes. In essence, we come to a world which, with regard to international affairs, has far more in common with the 1890s than it does with the 1990s. But there is one crucicial difference between this coming time, and the 19th century: non-Western nations now have substantial, independent power, whether the West recognizes it or not. And they will make themselves felt.

Of course, predicting the future is always an iffy matter; however, if all trends hold, this is the path that the world seems most likely to tread down. Thus, if you look closely, you’ll begin to see these trends which are talked about in this paper, either beginning to end in 2007 and 2008, or those newer trends that are emerging begin to assert their dominance in those same years as well. And so does this post-Cold War, post-9/11 era end, and it is a sad thing to see it go. Like the victorious states in the aftermath of World War I, the US and its allies had the opportunity to reshape the world, to increase the power of the UN by many-fold, to ensure that no one would ever want to or need to wage the kind of wars seen in the 20th century. There was no guarantee that the US and its allies could have succeeded in doing this, for it is a difficult task, one which has proven virtually impossible to accomplish over the course of history. But if they did try, they would have at least have had a chance; a chance of reshaping the course of history, so that it does not flow inevitably from peace and prosperity into war and rubble. A chance to make a permanent dent in how the world worked, a chance to ensure that wars would not be waged which called into question how quickly humans could descend into barbarism once again. A chance, in essence, to end the vicious cycle of attack and retaliation. It is hard to blame those in charge, however, for what will happen. Who really can? They are only human in the end. And in order for them to have tried to change the world in a permanent, everlasting manner, they would have had to risk everything on a chance. After winning the Cold War, the victorious powers would have had to give up power. There are really only two things harder than trying to gain power: ceding it willingly, and trying to hold onto it. Those in power, and more importantly, those who put them in power, chose to hold onto it. And thus the world has been irrevocably sent down the path history had been on before the Cold War began: toward conflict and conquest on a massive scale, once again. We have entered the Age of Decline.