The Washington Post asked several political pundits: “What will be the biggest political surprise of 2011?” Here are some of the wild cards of U.S. politics this year:
- Public-sector labor strikes and demonstrations as state/local governments cut budgets. “The same kind of protests that have rocked Paris, London and Rome could erupt in California, New York and Illinois.”
- Efforts to repeal the big health care reform legislation will have the unintended effect of educating the public about the good things in it.
- The consensus that marked the lame-duck congressional session will continue in the new year (e.g., the DREAM immigration act could be passed).
- The emergence of a potentially serious third-party candidate for president in 2012.
- President Obama will definitely end the war in Afghanistan, while Republicans will have the unpopular position of supporting open-ended commitment.
The Washington Post Outlook section (4 January 2009) is full of articles under the label “future shocks.” A sampling:
The world won’t be aging gracefully. “For the world’s wealthy nations, the 2020s are set to be a decade of hyperaging and population decline. Many countries will experience fiscal crisis, economic stagnation and ugly political battles over entitlements and immigration. Meanwhile, poor countries will be buffeted by their own demographic storms. Some will be overwhelmed by massive age waves that they can’t afford, while others will be whipsawed by new explosions of youth whose aspirations they cannot satisfy. The risk of social and political upheaval and military aggression will grow throughout the developing world — even as the developed world’s capacity to deal with these threats weakens. The rich countries have been aging for decades, due to falling birthrates and rising life spans. But in the 2020s, this aging will get an extra kick as large postwar baby boom generations move into retirement.” — Neil Howe and Richard Jackson are researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and co-authors of “The Graying of the Great Powers: Demography and Geopolitics in the 21st Century.”
Coming to the battlefield: Stone-cold robot killers. “Armed robots will all be snipers. Stone-cold killers, every one of them. They will aim with inhuman precision and fire without human hesitation. They will not need bonuses to enlist or housing for their families or expensive training ranges or retirement payments.” — John Pike is the director of the military information Web site GlobalSecurity.org.
The next big things:
— William E. Halal, president of TechCast LLC
Global warming could lead to warfare over scarce resources (e.g., arable land and fresh water); mass migrations; and territorial disputes over newly available energy resources (e.g. Arctic oil). — James R. Lee runs American University’s Inventory of Conflict and Environment project. He’s at work on a book on climate change and conflict.
It’ll be a short honeymoon. The next U.S. president will face high expectations (which may be impossible to fulfill), a recessionary economy and huge budget deficits. And that’s just domestically. Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, gave a speech this week that lays out the broader threats. As The Washington Post reported:
The next U.S. president will govern in an era of increasing international instability, including a heightened risk of terrorist attacks in the near future, long-term prospects of regional conflicts and diminished U.S. dominance across the globe, the nation’s top intelligence officer said Thursday.
Competition for energy, water and food will drive conflicts between nations to a degree not seen in decades, and climate change and global economic upheaval will amplify the effects, [McConnell said].
“After the new president-elect’s excitement subsides after winning the election, it is going to be dampened somewhat when he begins to focus on the realities of the myriad of changes and challenges,” he said.
Of course, besides the predictable conflicts and threats, “there is always surprise,” McConnell said. (Futurists call ’em wild cards.)
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