There’s a new essay from a conservative magazine speculating about “the coming global disorder.” It starts by suggesting that Japan’s and China’s recent squabbling over a small island might lead to World War III and proceeds to walk through five scenarios in which different parts of the globe could descend into disarray in the next five or so years. It’s not nearly as apocalyptic as your run-of-the-mill cherry-picked doom-porn Zero Hedge post, and contains a lot of interesting history and present, but I still think it’s too pessimistic about our possible futures.
In an essay brave enough to imagine so many specifics, it’s easy to pick at the most egregious details. Bret Stephens seems to understand financial markets even more poorly than I do if he thinks it’s even possible for the stock market to drop 1,600 points following an Obama victory; that would imply that 1) markets were very much expecting a Romney victory and 2) very much disliked the surprise they got. Based on all the latest and smartest estimates of an Obama victory (70%+) and the current direction of the stock market (up), the stock market is most likely already pricing in an Obama victory, and what’s more, it seems to actually like it!
But that’s a trivial criticism, as the overall purpose of that section is to pretend a future where the US has “entered a long and perhaps irreversible period of decline,” and I could certainly see that happening in the near future if, say, appetite for US debt finally dries up. And there are certainly looming problems that could believably reach new crises in the next few years regarding Iran, the EU, China, and the Arab Spring.
Overall, though, I think the piece suffers from that peculiar neoconservative lack of imagination that everything all over the world could actually be OK somehow even if the US military wasn’t always all over the place trying to protect our definitions of democracy while propping up the regimes we happen to like. It’s true that China’s economy shows growing signs of instability, but I think it’s more likely that the Arab Spring uprisings will jump the Great Wall and dismantle China’s authoritative leadership, and less likely that “Chinese leaders will seek to divert growing popular discontent with party rule into a series of confrontations with China’s neighbors,” especially considering all the trade their economy relies on these days.
And speaking of the Arab Spring, there have been plenty of uneasy signs that al-Qaeada-y extremists are gaining power in several of the post-dictator power vacuums, but they at least seem to be failing in Libya, where thousands of citizens literally ran them out of town yesterday. Of course, it’s the other countries that Stephens is more concerned about, but I’m hopeful that this won’t be the last we’ve seen of that; Muslims with jobs, bread, and Facebook are much harder to turn into terrorists.
I will be least surprised if Stephen’s musings about Europe’s economics come true, as their debt crisis seems unavoidable, although it’s managed to stagger on for many months with no noticeable progression. But I don’t share the neoconservative fears of “European defense spending” being “gutted even further.” I’m also not convinced that the seeming inevitability of a nuclear Iran will “entail easily foreseeable and utterly disastrous consequences” – though I’m admittedly uncertain enough to be glad I don’t have to accept the responsibility of deciding what to do about it.
Maybe I have too much faith in the historical decline of violence and the ability of technology and the growth of trade and general economic progress to soften the grievances between us. Humans are certainly still capable of terrible things, and technology is also making some of those things cheaper and easier to accomplish. My religious views give me fear in the seeming decline of hearts changed by the only true source of love and peace, but also hope that God will never allow things to get too bad. I wasn’t old enough to see the destruction of the World Wars or live under the specter of the Cold War, so perhaps I simply can’t imagine how terrible things could be – but at the same time I can see how things have gotten so much better and could theoretically continue to do so. Given mankind’s tendency to always predict too much doom, I feel justified in leaning to the side of optimism. I’m just not sure how far I dare to lean…
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