China/US, Climate Change, and inequality are three central geopolitical questions for the 2020s. Please share your answers for these three.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we are living in a time of great uncertainty. We already thought we were living in a time of great uncertainty this time last year, but it was much more significant than we could have imagined. Uncertainty is difficult to predict, so questions become crucial. What are the critical questions for the 2020s?
I have selected three questions that trigger my curiosity and have tried my best guess to identify potential answers. The best way to predict the future is to shape it, so I have included the answers I hope to achieve by 2030.
Please share your collective intelligence in the comments section.
1.Will the US-China power transition occur, and how will it happen?
The US and China are in a power struggle. Thucydides Trap, Great Power transition, or Cold War 2.0. China has been closing the gap rapidly with the US. And the US is starting to pull all the non-military stops: trade sanctions, technology restrictions to avoid China catching up (most notably in semiconductors), capital markets controls (many Chinese companies delisted in the US), non-military geopolitical clashes (mostly about the south china sea and Taiwan), cyberwar (like the Solar Winds attack, even if it was Russia based in the end). For an in-depth understanding, I recommend the great chapter from Ray Dalio on China-US. His thesis is that these conflicts happen every 100-200 years and take a decade of not military conflict before turning “hot”.
My questions: Will conflict turn “hot”/military? Will China overtake the US? Do we need a global hegemonic power for stability?
Two possible answers with three sub scenarios for the “Cold war”:
- “Hot war” in which differences boil over to militarily conflict. Given the advances in our capacity to destroy each other, this scenario will be horrible whatever the outcome. However, most US and Chinese citizens haven’t suffered a war in their lifetimes, so they could fall into the “war fever” that lead to WWI.
- “Cold war” in which conflict stays outside of the military domain, which would be great news. In this scenario, we could see China overtake the US and become the hegemonic power. We could see the US system emerge victorious again, reestablishing dominance and isolating China. Or neither China nor the US achieves supremacy, with the world moving towards a multipolar equilibrium.
2. Will we tackle climate change? What will be the consequences?
Wildfires, freak snowstorms, hurricanes, record hottest year every year, the evidence is on the table. I still hope the negationists are right and everything goes back to normal on its own. It seems increasingly improbable. Climate change is the challenge of our lifetimes, and we are failing miserably. COVID has shown that we could reduce emissions drastically if we think it is important enough. We make progress on the edges. We don’t execute the forceful (and expensive) answer that experts claim we need.
My questions: Will we tackle climate change head-on? Or will we boil like the proverbial frog? Will the consequences of warming be “Hollywood apocalypse movie-level”? Or will we continue to watch temperatures increase one decimal at a time?
Three possible answers:
- We act globally and stop climate change in time. The War against Warming achieves Marshall plan-status in history books. A new zero-impact economy develops.
- We fail to act, and not much happens. The 2020s go by like the 2010s—calls to action, tentative progress, and increasing temperatures. However, disaster doesn’t materialize. In 2030 we are asking ourselves if we will act in the 2030s.
- We fail to act, and disaster ensues. The 2020s are going by like the 2010s, but climate disaster strikes. We all wonder how we could be so stupid.
3. Will we tackle inequality within societies?
We are at the peak of inequality in developed societies. Only reached previously in the late 1920s. Inequality has been widely chronicled. My personal favorite is Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twentieth Century. Inequality is not only unfair but also incredibly damaging to the stability and productivity growth of societies. Rich people tend to spend on non-productive luxuries. Getting rid of inequality is very difficult. Last time it took a world war, taxes, devaluation, and landmark investments in education. The problem is widespread, but the US is the poster child with necessities like education and healthcare outrunning income growth by a large margin. Inequality is already driving populism, social unrest, and public debt.
My questions: Will we reduce inequality within developed societies to drive stability and productivity? Will we make broad-based investments to prepare workers for the digital transition? Or will we try to control unrest through “panes et circenses” (smartphones and VR)?
Three possible answers:
- The digital dividend equalizes the playing field and triggers a new broad-based wealth creation and productivity wave that regenerates the middle class.
- VR anesthetics and Universal Basic Income serve to distract those with less income and wealth, “Panem et circenses.”. It creates uneasy stability without accelerating productivity.
- Populist take-over, as the inequality gap, continues to widen, and populist politicians achieve dominant representation and eventually take over.
My desired outcome
The China/US war never turns hot. The global crusade/jihad on Climate Change and inequality with all countries and global citizens on the same side supersedes it. Governments marshall global resources to invest in a green productive system and free universal high-quality education and healthcare. 2030 dawns with a carbon-neutral multipolar planet with opportunity for everyone.