Summary: This is a look ahead, speculation about the course of history during the next few decades.
As so often discussed here, the post-WWII era fades away a little more each day. The political and economic orders that defined it have burnt out. The bipolar competition has ended between communism and democratic – free market societies. The red political regimes collapsed, and the liberal western regimes seem likely to follow them during the next two decades (excess debt and aging populations).
How long for the transition to a new global order? Past transitions have been multi-generational (see here for details). The last took almost 2 generations (1914-1950). This one started (arbitrarily) in 1989 with the fall of Berlin wall, the start of serial US banking crises and accelerated debt growth. The transformational process tends to accelerate as it develops. It should be competed by 2040.
It might be smooth and pleasant. The past two were neither: 1776 – 1815 and 1914 – 1945. The transition will be driven by our responses to the specific crises that are destroying the post-WWII regime. The choices we make will define the new order.
- About the new economic regime: resolving the excess debt (public and private), managing global capital flows, ending instability in currency valuations.
- About the new energy regime: navigating thru peak oil to new sources
- About 4th generational war (e.g., insurgencies, piracy, failed states, al Qaeda & its franchises)
- Demographics (the age wave): aging societies dying gracefully (or not), young societies growing to maturity, and the fertility collapse following development of a male contraceptive
The new order that will dominate the 21st century
I believe the new regime will have the following characteristics.
- Multipolar, neither bipolar (like the post-WWII era) or unipolar. No hegemon, as the US (with its no-limit national VISA card) delusionally imagined itself after the USSR broke up. The US will share the stage with China, the EU (in some form), and Russia (the major petro-state).
- The most successful emerging nations will become major powers, standing along with the OECD nations.
- The new global order could be as or more stable than the cold war era. Effective global institutions result from nations who consider their prosperity linked to that of their fellow nations.
- Like the post-WWII era, there will be no large conventional wars– except among minor (non-nuke) nations.
- There might be a greater role for non-state actors (both sub- and supra-national), as the legitimacy of States continues to diminish. This might be the largest difference from the post-WWII era, during which State’s power increased in almost every society.
There are alternatives to all of these. Esp the last. State legitimacy might find new sources of vitality. Since liberal and communist systems appear played out, out of favor systems might re-appear. The US is moving to a plutocratic system, with the rich elites supported by useful idiots on the right. Another contender might be a new form of fascism (another phase in its millennial long history, not new Nazis).
We cannot reliably forecast the pecking order of nations in 20 or 30 years. The fundamental factors that will determine success are not the not the “objective conditions so loved by Marxists and social scientists. More important are the great intangibles: the quality of each nation’s leadership, and their degree of social cohesion. Until tested, we can only guess at these things. The US and UK prospered in large part because strong leadership emerged at crisis points.
Pitt the Younger steered the UK to victory during the Napoleonic Wars. Gladstone and Disraeli managed the fantastic transitions of the 19th century. As for Churchill, compare him to France’s contemporary leaders. Unfortunately the UK had weak leadership navigating the post-Empire shoals.
The same is true for the US. We grew to greatness led by the founders, Lincoln, and FDR. Even LBJ, who ended the Civil War — which could have been far more painful. And the long US decline during the post-Vietnam era with a series of weak and seriously flawed leaders (LBJ, Nixon, post-assassination Reagan). How are we doing now? Compare the national political classes of the US and EU with China’s.
As for social cohesion, its causes and nature remain a mystery. It’s been a strength of America during the past. As for our future, none can say.
As Lawrence of Arabia said (in the movie if not in real life) “nothing is written.”
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