A new year; and what does the future hold? Hard to say. But, to paraphrase the economist Gerald Celente, current trends create future events. Thus, here is my own humble attempt at predictions for the next 100 years.
Before I start, I feel the need to make a disclaimer: Predicting that something will happen is not the same thing as calling for it to happen or hoping that it will happen. Many of the things I see coming are things I’m not happy about.
So, in no particular order:
History books downloaded in 100 years will say of the Cold War that the United States and the Soviet Union unleashed on each other the most destructive weapons known to mankind: weaponized mass culture. The Soviets attacked the United States with Cultural Marxism and radical egalitarianism, and the United States attacked the Soviets with mass consumerism and radical individualism. Though the Soviet Union fell first, the United States – and indeed the west as a whole – was mortally wounded, and only managed to limp along another 30 years or so before suffering a similar fate.
The high-water mark of world leftism will occur in the next 20-25 years or so. In this, I include democracy. I’d guess that we’re actually probably reaching Peak Democracy right about now.
Related: Osama bin Laden was definitely right about one thing – if people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they instinctively like the strong horse. Americans are convinced that the worldwide spread of the “American way” – liberal secular democratic capitalism, or, put another way, all that stuff that Francis Fukuyama assured us would be around for centuries in The End Of History – was because of the self-evident goodness and rightness of these ideas. In fact, mostly it was due to a combination of American coercion and people’s natural tendency to want to emulate successful people or institutions: to be like the strong horse. As American wealth and power declines, other nations will drift away from the “American way”. If the horse isn’t strong anymore, why continue to emulate it?
The emblematic forms of government in the 20th century were these: during the first half, democracy and fascism, during the second half, democracy and Communism. The emblematic form of government of the 21st century will be an authoritarianism that retains a few trappings of democracy. To give it a name that might help describe it, one might call it Putinism. Keep in mind, I’m describing a form of government, not an ideology – there can be right-Putinism, centro-Putinism, (e.g the trope namer), left-Putinism (e.g. Chavez), Islamo-Putinism (e.g. Erdogan), what have you.
America will have this form of government by mid-century, or perhaps just a bit later. The current American government – an ostensible democracy, but with a corporatist bureaucracy that actually runs things behind the scenes – will falter as the economy does, and eventually fail. Our Putin will be a military man, perhaps active-duty, or perhaps not long retired when he assumes power. A country that worships its military as much as Americans do will eventually, inevitably, be ruled by it.
A historical note, for some perspective. After the Roman Republic fell, what came next was far more like Putinism than it was a one-man show of a dictatorship. Yes, Augustus held the real power, but remember that even he dared not call himself a king – the term “emperor”, imperator in Latin, means “general” – and dared not formally dissolve the Senate. These things didn’t happen until centuries later – there are records of the Roman Senate meeting until Justinian’s time. The Romans were a proud people who didn’t like thinking of themselves as subjects of a king, but as citizens of a republic. Augustus was a practical man – there was a tacit, unspoken agreement by which he agreed to humor the Romans by keeping up a paper-thin fiction of a continuing republic, and they agreed to not notice that a paper-thin fiction was all that it was.
There’s a reason I’m reminding Americans of this.
In America, a slow, steady, but inexorable decline. No 1929-like crash; just slow and steady. Living standards will fall more. College enrollments will drop. People will live as extended families more. 30 and still living at home is already not unusual. It will become normal… expected. 40, married, and still living at home will not be unusual.
Have you ever gone through an economic bad patch and looked back on money you blew on extravagances in better times with a combination of disbelief that you wasted good money on that shit and pointless but painful reflection on what you could do with that same amount of money now? In 2050, that’s how Americans will look back on Iraq and Afghanistan: “We spent that money – on democracy in Iraq? What the hell were we thinking?”
Debt defaults. Lots of debt defaults.
Less travel, including driving. More communication online instead. Not entirely by choice.
By the second half of the century, the urbanization and suburbanization of the 20th will start reversing. Jim Kunstler has this right: the suburbs are an anthropological dead end. People will start moving back to small cities, and the country. Many among the white collar and technical classes will find that broadband internet will provide them with a way to work from a home office in a house in a small town in Indiana basically just as well as they could from a cubicle in Manhattan or Palo Alto.
Race problems will get worse. When the government can’t send checks to the ghetto anymore, expect riots. Big, bad, bloody riots. Quietly, many whites – nowadays, even those who aren’t toothless rednecks – start to express an end to their patience. Those in the ghetto may have an occasion or two to find out that urban neighborhoods can be fairly easily sealed off, and that food doesn’t just magically appear on Safeway shelves.
Black vs. white may be bad. Black vs. brown has the potential to be far worse. When government checks stop coming and there’s keen competition for even the shittiest of jobs, things will likely get ugly. Prosperity can paper over a lot of problems; poor, desperate men circle the wagons, and think of taking care of their own.
The only thing that may mitigate this is that as America gets poorer, the illegal immigration problem is likely to be increasingly self-correcting.
Eventually breakup: maybe into individual states, maybe into regions. But not for a while – probably not in the next century. Maybe at the very tail end.
When China can rely on selling to its own people instead of us, expect them to cut us loose. This should be right around the time that a new world reserve currency finally takes hold. That’s when things will get really bad. Both are in-process, and getting to a rather advanced stage.
Brain drain: As America declines, its cognitive elite will decamp to Asia. Think: the drain of highly educated Russians out to other countries in the 1990s. In 2060, the Americatowns in Shanghai, Singapore, and Bangkok will be a rocking place to spend a Saturday night.
Something called the Chinese Communist Party will rule China for the foreseeable future, though exactly how much, and in what ways, they’ll continue to resemble anything genuinely Communist is debatable. Yes, I know that in many ways they already don’t. But they’re likely to resemble it even less.
China will have a good century, but will falter towards the end of the 21st or the beginning of the 22nd. The 19th century was the British Century, the 20th the American Century, the 21st is the Chinese Century, I don’t know whose the 22nd century will be. Maybe nobody. Maybe we’ll just get a dark age.
The focus of history will start facing towards the global south.
Islam. Lots of Islam. All over the place. Not so much in the western hemisphere, but Africa, Europe, Asia… lots of Islam.
As Japan comes to understand that it can’t rely on America for its defense anymore, it will start to rearm in earnest. Soon, the atomic bombings of 1945 will fade out of living memory. Japan will acquire its own nuclear weapons by mid-century.
Israel will not be a going concern by century’s end.
North Korea will not be a going concern in 20 years. Whether it will implode, or explode, I can’t say.
The European Union will not be a going concern in ten years. Maybe sooner. Maybe much sooner.
Europe has spent 60 years as the world’s biggest open-air amusement park for American and British tourists. That’s just about over. Europe is going to become a not-very-fun place. By the latter half of the century, expect a lot of Putinism, and that’s the best-case scenario. Outright fascism is more than likely in spots.
The average religious makeup of a European nation by mid-century: A third each atheist, Muslim, and Christian. Plus or minus maybe ten percent or so in any direction. Remember, this is an average. Some countries will be disproportionate in one or another direction. The Christians will be far less numerous than in years past, but will gradually become more strident and vocal. A Christian religious revival by century’s end, but the growth will come out of atheism’s share – the percentage of Muslims won’t budge. Europe will have a large Islamic plurality for the foreseeable future.
The dizzying pace of technological change in the computer/internet/mobile field will taper off. I’m not asserting that it will stop completely, just that it will be lots of evolution and not that much more revolution. This particular explosion of innovation of the last 25 years or so has produced just about all the really big new inventions that it’s going to. From here on, it’s growth and refinement – better stuff, cheaper, and more ubiquitous, but few surprises.
Growth, however, is the important thing. William Gibson said that the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed. Evenly distributing it will be where most of the action will be in the tech scene of the latter 2/3 of the 21st century. By mid-century, you’ll have to be starvation-level poor, a desert hermit, a maximum-security prisoner, or a child under ten to not own a smartphone that gives you very comprehensive internet access. And I’m talking globally, not just in the First World.
Ain’t nobody going to Mars anytime soon.
No significant return of monarchism over the 100-200 year future timeframe. That will take 300-500 years. Over that timeframe, Putinism will very gradually shed its democratic trappings, until finally, as Justinian did, the Putins will simply drop the charade and call themselves kings.
That’s what comes to mind for now. We shall see how well these predictions hold up.