Guru is with us today to consider international roles, political leadership and global cultural influence in the 21st century. Guru, you may recall, is the futurist among mariner’s alter egos; very much a theorist, his conclusions often have no traceable documentation and often depend solely on logic and the limitations of reality.
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All Americans know the mantra about the new nation called the United States: Freedom, liberty, equality, justice for all, one person, one vote. Stated in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, this was in 1776 to 1791 – 227 years ago. The United States rapidly became a nation among nations; indeed, the United States became the nation around the world. The United States was unbelievably blessed: an entire continent to itself with two vast, profitable and protective oceans on its borders; fruited plains, temperate weather, majestic purple mountains, multinational migrations to energize its culture and economy, and a philosophy of government belonging to its citizens. No aristocracy, monarchs or dictators here – the nation belonged to its citizens. It was a democracy.
The nation is to be lauded for its ability to keep the ship of state on course despite wars (Revolutionary, American Indian, Mexican, Spanish-American, Civil, WW I and II, Korean, Vietnamese, and in recent years a multitude of incursions to protect the world and its capitalist economy, five major economic depressions and 13 notable recessions, two economically devastating droughts in the 1930’s and 50’s, cultural erosion caused by the industrial revolution, technical revolution and information revolution, and last but not least, the birth of investment capitalism in the mid nineteenth century.
Now, as the Nation finds itself in the midst of global changes in economics, environment, computerization, shifting populations, and international transition, the ship of state sails on uncharted seas. The ship of state, like all ships, must endure active wear and tear and eventually take its place in its era to be replaced by newer versions and newer purposes. There are signs this moment approaches. It is time to stop looking backward to the way it was and longing for that time; it is time to reset the sails to fresh winds that will bring a new era.
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Always wealth has brought change. It was so in prehistoric times when the invention of the spear or mastering fire provided new levels of economic superiority over those without. On the first farm, the first field was planted with a crop that extended momentary security into future security; new wealth in agriculture created a massive change in human population and raised the need for a new polity to manage the wealth. It was the politics of nationalism. Speeding through the history of dynasties and empires, the Roman Empire often is used as a model that contemporary society can understand. The power to pursue more wealth came with a very important but subtle authority: the authority to change culture. Enough wealth existed that some could be spent on ancillary subjects like art, music, science, running water and sewer systems, religion, health, technical research from better Roman cement to American trips to the Moon. The ancillary subjects continue today to rewrite cultural understanding and expectation. But always, change rides on the back of wealth.
Wealth, despite its powers, is not well organized. Wealth has no bully pulpit, no respected military, and no ability to organize human motivation. Wealth is motivated only by profit, both real and perceived. Below is a list of nations ranked by their current gross domestic product (GDP) in millions of dollars – a measure of their ability to affect change:
1 United States 18,624,450
— European Union 16,408,364
2 China 11,232,108
3 Japan 4,936,543
4 Germany 3,479,232
5 United Kingdom 2,629,188
6 France 2,466,472
7 India 2,263,792
8 Italy 1,850,735
9 Brazil 1,798,622
10 Canada 1,529,760
11 South Korea 1,411,042
12 Russia 1,283,162
13 Australia 1,261,645
14 Spain 1,232,597
15 Mexico 1,046,925
16 Indonesia 932,448
17 Turkey 863,390
18 Netherlands 777,548
19 Switzerland 669,038
20 Saudi Arabia 646,438
Quick assumptions would suggest that the top five or six are the key players in how the future will be shaped economically and culturally. However, due to advances in computerization and telecommunications, wealth is no longer constrained by geography or nationalism. Members of this list are inclined to pursue consortiums of nations that will multiply their ability to pursue greater wealth. Further, a new phenomenon made available by instantaneous telecommunications allows corporations to pursue wealth independent of national influence – at least under current legislative policies. Will the independent wealth of corporations, many of which rank high in the above list, control political issues related to human rights, support of indigent populations and leveraging wars to their advantage? Will corporations even be interested in human issues beyond labor profitability? These questions are at hand today as corporations garner wealth at amazing speeds nations cannot match or control.
Addressing the US perspective, its old Democratic wealth and its culture have waned as corporate wealth drains the natural wealth of the nation, its fruited plains, etc. That Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from its privileged role as world cultural leader is detrimental to the US position among other nations already responding to the new economic game – and the right to lead cultural change in the future.
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Moving quickly down the GDP list, The United States still is the largest economy in the world but it is not growing very fast. Laxity in cultural discipline has led to business practices that are not beneficial to the US. Many tout the stock market as a sign of a robust economy but significant portions are owned by overseas interests. Further, very large corporations have expanded beyond the nation’s shores not only to pursue profits but to avoid taxes – not only in the US but in any nation around the world. Inside the US, the nation suffers from increasing inefficiency as Federal and state legislatures linger in economic perceptions designed in the 1980’s. These old perceptions do not work in a world of international consortiums, artificial intelligence and instant global markets.
After dozens of international agreements beginning in 1909, the European Union created a visionary, international powerhouse in 1992 when 28 European nations combined their markets and cultural practices, military obligations and political clout. Unfortunately, the EU was not able to unify its economics. Individual nations did not benefit from a combined marketplace and several nations like Greece and Great Britain suffered recessions alone. The fragmented economy cannot respond easily to modern trends in global economics. Like the US, the EU economy is not growing at competitive speeds; individual nations like Germany have had growth but their association with the cultural commitments of the EU will interfere with Germany’s economic future. Germany is taking steps to seek new consortiums to sustain future growth – excluding the Trump-led US.
Similar to the United States in the 1700’s, fate has delivered to China a global advantage in today’s economic world. China has human resources of immense magnitude, a large land mass, the focus of a communist state, and a geographic archipelago of small contiguous nations with which to launch the world’s largest economy. Even at today’s level of wealth, China is investing significant amounts in the aforementioned areas of cultural growth. China likely will be the largest provider of infrastructure services in the world (mariner mentioned in a previous post that China is building Chicago’s new subway system) and has the labor force to build super highways and rapid transit as a means of linking China to Eastern nations including Russia. (China’s Belt and Road plan is a multi-billion initiative aimed at linking Asia with Europe and Africa, and the countries in between.) China is moving rapidly to the top of high tech markets, e.g., the nation already is the largest exporter of drones and competes aggressively for each airline contract. Finally, China is a sophisticated player in world politics. In today’s news, North and South Korea are willing to try peace talks without the United States – something North Korea would not do except with China’s urging.
India is a sleeping giant but is so far behind in culture, infrastructure and government sophistication that it will take time to become a top international player. Some futurists calculate that as India grows in economic power, it may be the nation that unifies nations like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia but that consortium is highly speculative. India also has interests in Africa.
Japan, long dependent on its relationship with the US, must seek an economic relationship with a major consortium in order to spread its productivity across other markets. The US remains the primary nation if a rewrite of the twelve-member Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) can be reintroduced successfully.
Russia pretends to be a world player but it lost the ability to play with super nations when the USSR collapsed and some key nations affiliated with Europe. Still, fate has cursed Russia with troublesome leadership for centuries. The economy in Russia today is thwarted by oligarchic domination led by Vladimir Putin. Without true economic power, Russia can only meddle in the success of other nations. Russia has agreed to participate in China’s Belt and Road initiative which may benefit Russia in the short term but long term Russia increasingly will be dependent on the Chinese economy.
Aside from Australia, South Africa and a few lesser nations, the Southern Hemisphere did not live the history of the Northern Hemisphere. It benefited from early contributions during and after the exploration age during the 14th-18th centuries but seems not to have escaped Colonialism. Southern Hemisphere countries soon will benefit from consortium relationships – which may be similar to colonial times.
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The silent partner in all this is artificial intelligence (AI). AI will change current perceptions of assets, national intelligence, description of work, and the ways of daily life – but that’s another post.