Welcome to the end of the year. As I look forward into 2012, I foresee, uh... almost nothing. In fact I can’t recall a time when the uncertainty was so pervasive. Here is a small compendium of prognosticational impotence.
Asia · Every year that China goes on just going on astounds me. Even if everything went just right, the law of big numbers is making it harder to sustain 10% annual economic growth; and the political bargain in recent years has been that the middle class should shut up in the face of brutal oppression and pervasive corruption, in exchange for the growth-driven flow of prosperity. But things probably aren’t going to go just right.
People say that China is too big and stable to change fast. Go ask Mr Gorbachev or Mr Mubarak about that. History moves slowly, except when it doesn’t.
And then there’s Korea.
Middle East · How’s Syria going to play out? I don’t know either. Can Ahmadinejad keep surfing the Iranian political wave? Can the House of Saud keep resisting the tides of history?
And then there’s the Israel/Palestine conundrum. A majority of the Israeli electorate votes for parties that are either explicitly racist or simply uninterested in taking serious steps peace-ward. Both the Fatah and Hamas factions are acting increasingly reasonable, but that hardly seems relevant. Hezbollah isn’t, but has to be worried about its patrons’ viability.
If something cannot keep going on, it won’t. And the current political/demographic trends in that part of the world can’t.
Europe · Greece obviously can’t pay its debts. The design of the Euro seems flawed at its base. Its defenders seem to lack the courage to either shore up the weaknesses or end the project gracefully. Nobody knows the way out. Something that cannot continue going on... oh, we already said that.
America · 2012 is a year of decision and I haven’t the slightest idea where they’ll end up. Mr Obama and his forces seem terribly weak, but look at the other side. Quoting from The Economist on the Republicans:
Nowadays, a candidate must believe not just some but all of the following things: that abortion should be illegal in all cases; that gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it; that the 12m illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home; that the 46m people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame; that global warming is a conspiracy; that any form of gun control is unconstitutional; that any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk; that Israel can do no wrong and the “so-called Palestinians”, to use Mr Gingrich’s term, can do no right; that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished.
Be afraid; be very afraid.
Personal Technology · What is the right distribution of functions between computers, tablets, and handsets? I don’t know either. What are the right form factors? Can Apple keep succeeding simultaneously on the design, engineering, marketing, and sales fronts absent Mr Jobs? How does life change, qualitatively, when more or less everyone has the Internet in their pocket more or less all the time?
Can anyone out there remember a time when the future felt simultaneously so volatile and so opaque?
Media · Does the world need publishing companies? Does the world need record labels? Does the world need movie studios? Does the world need large game publishers? For those cases where the answer is “yes”, what functions should these organizations provide?
This is one area where I’m somewhat consoled in not knowing the answers by being pretty sure that nobody else does either.
Canada, British Columbia, and Vancouver · Which is to say, my neighborhood. I can sigh in relief and predict quite confidently that in all of these, not that much will happen in 2012. Such a relief.