[Editor’s Note: This is Holmes’ reply to tipping point’s question.]
I know, I know… it’s foolish to try and predict the future. Knowing full well that I am somewhere between 0% and 100% wrong, here are a few of my thoughts.
In twenty years, most of the people who might be said to have been responsible for the current economic/financial crisis will be dead or, if still alive and relevant, will have reinvented themselves. This is not to say that the old (traditional) ways of corruption will have gone extinct. Going forward, economics and goals perceived mostly as pragmatic, rather than tolerance for excessive individualistic greed, will predominantly drive attempts at societal and other reconfigurations.
Resource depletion and climate change realities will be common knowledge and simply accepted as part of the landscape. Business will continue to be done in consideration of, rather than oblivious to, attendant constraints.
Some grand bargains will be made between nations, America and China, principally. They may involve granting significant security interests, or outright transfers of ownership in, real assets — such as land or mineral rights. Long-term leases, production and supply contracts, and localized or other security agreements may also be part of the arrangement. There will be no war between America and China. If anything, the ties that bind will only grow stronger.
Perhaps after a nuclear accident, future leaders in Iran will drive a hard bargain relinquishing some autonomy in their nuclear and energy affairs and gradually enter into a security agreement with America, Russia, and China. Germany and Japan will probably also be parties to this agreement. The European Union will have collapsed in all but name. Russian gas, indeed.
In the dry regions of America, the watering of lawns will be strictly forbidden. Conflicts over water rights will give birth to a water credits exchange. (I just thought of this now. Honest.)
Speaking of hard limits and finite resources, it seems to me that within the next twenty years there will be quite a lot of natural gas and even oil coming on line, which isn’t to say that we won’t experience supply discontinuities.
Energy and security firewalls, as I like to call them, will be the new de facto borders. But let’s be clear. Nationalism isn’t about to go away. Rather, it will serve more as a tool for manipulating popular sentiment, emotions, etc. than any real practical purpose. Likelihood of significant die-off commencing within twenty years, especially on the undesirable side of the firewalls: high to inevitable. That said, alternative energy solutions were never intended to scale. Nevertheless, some of them will be pursued and implemented with fair success on a limited scale and at great expense.
I need to elaborate on energy demand. Demand destruction has many causes, some psychological or speculative, others not. The price of energy has some influence on demand. So do economic conditions. A maniacal lesson that can be taken from recent events is that energy demand can be dramatically and quickly adjusted downward by bringing about a cessation or slowing in economic activity. This is a weapon that theoretically could be used to “buy more time” to get alternative energy infrastructure in place and at a lower cost. (I find the incessant doom and gloom noises coming out of Washington to be peculiar and highly suspicious.)
America will continue to have a role in international peace keeping efforts, regional cordon off and contain maneuvers, and the occasional “go it alone” militaristic projection (e.g., when it would involve too much red tape to obtain international approval, provided no key interests of relevant business partner nations are unduly compromised).
The mentality of entitlement and unconscionable waste prevalent during the 00’s will be viewed with distain. Perhaps, new phrases such as “How double aughtish!” will become common parlance. Two decades from now, the ethic may be closer to “No Hard Working Child Left Behind” than the current circumstance of enabling a video game immersed youth existence and other varieties of sloth.
Again, to be clear, technology is not going away. These sorts of diversions (and better ones still) will definitely be available, and they will be extraordinarily cheap. Moreover, internet access and rudimentary personal computing devices will be free for everyone throughout the country, if not most of the world. These devices may (or may not) be little more than dummy terminals and graphical user interfaces, if the trend toward remote applications continues or such computing configurations are for some reason required.
The internet is not going to be taken away from you! (I’m seeing a lot of worried thumbs out there.) Government and business are still going to want to be able to shape public opinion, in a timely way, and provide you with needed instructions.
The foundational stones are already in place for mandatory public service for U.S. citizens. For example, legislation may be passed that requires all sufficiently able-bodied persons to perform a term of federal service (by way of example, said service term commencing prior to their 30th birthday and lasting for 5 years). Depending upon a person’s abilities, they may be eligible for one or more of the following: military service, border security, customs enforcement, transportation corridors security, agricultural or manufacturing zone assignment, social services mission, or professional services assignment (either within or external to government agencies, typically requiring specialized education, skills, experience, etc.)
America will be prevented from breaking apart via a protracted process of reassessing and applying some (perhaps adaptive) scheme of economic valuation to the respective contributions made in different areas of the country and by different types of workers. The internal revenue code will be substantially rewritten to impose different taxation schemes (or at least rates) upon different regions of the country, different occupations, etc. The geographic location or perhaps even the nature of the employer can also be taken into account when determining the applicable tax rate. The potential for social re-engineering is nearly endless.
And finally, there’s education. Here’s an industry ripe for consolidation. The elite universities and colleges will survive, continuing to cater to an international student body. As for younger children, part of the quid pro quo of convincing rural areas to not secede will be to provide them with more options in determining how their children are to be educated. With education vouchers provided to all (in need), in certain parts of the country, public schools shut down entirely and armies of previously worthless administrators catch buses to the nearest Federal Service Assignment Center.