Clem Sunter

Breaking futures 2011

2010-12-29 09:45

At the end of every year, Chantell Ilbury and I produce a list of breaking futures for the following year. These are events, trends or issues which we think will make headlines in one way or another. Here is our list for 2011.

1. An Ultraviolet World

Increasingly, we are seeing a UV two-speed world developing where advanced economies are caught in a U-shaped trap of lacklustre growth, while emerging economies (China, India , Africa and South America) are enjoying a V-shaped recovery. The official forecasts of economic growth for 2011 have emerging economies growing at 6% which is three times the estimate of 2% for advanced economies. Obviously, there are winners and losers in each group.

2. Forked Lightning

A double-dip Forked Lightning scenario cannot be ruled out where stock markets have a second crash as a result of bad news on the national debt front in Europe and possibly America. Two sure signs that the odds on this scenario are rising are an increase in interest rates on government bonds and a downgrading of their quality by the ratings agencies. In a sense, it is a repeat of 2008 in that the cause is easy money and the failure by governments to take the actions required to make the recovery sustainable. A shock event would be a national default of note.

3. Malthus is Looming

An essay written by the famous British economist, Thomas Malthus, in 1798 stated that human population growth would eventually lead to starvation because food production could not keep up. With the industrial revolutions taking place in the two most populous nations on earth – China and India – the world is experiencing a growing scarcity of resources. The supercycle is real. It is not so much population growth per se but the increasing proportion of middle class people who aspire to the American lifestyle that is causing the problem. Whether it is food, water, minerals or energy, the market is getting tight and means of conserving resources by greater efficiencies or substitutes will grow in importance. After all, there is no Planet B.

4. More Smacks from Mother Nature

2010 was not an easy year given volcanic ash disrupting airlines, the usual number of earthquakes around the globe and extreme winter conditions in Europe, the UK and North America. Because the world is more populous, more interdependent and has more energy in its atmosphere through global warming, be prepared for more disruptions and deaths as a result of extreme natural events.

5. Self-sufficiency, Thrift and Localisation

The Great Recession has reintroduced a spirit of thrift and self-sufficiency among the general population, the like of which we have not seen since the 1950s in the aftermath of the Second World War. Equally, with higher costs of travel and freight charges due to a resurgent oil price, neighbourhood retail outlets and local industry are set for a revival. People are searching for the cheaper alternative and often it is close to home.

6. The Electronic Wallet

For smaller transactions, cellphones are set to feature more and more as the key device to make them happen – whether it is shopping in the supermarket, making transfers to relatives and friends or even being paid your monthly salary. Your cellphone will become your electronic wallet as you click and pay your way through life.

7. Cyber Wars

With the Americans pursuing Julian Assange for leaking all their diplomatic cables on the internet, things could get rough as the "hactivists" find ways of causing havoc to the websites of those in pursuit and their allies. Wikileaks has for the first time made the internet a battleground and the first shots have already been fired.

8. Boom!

We had some close calls in 2010 such as the car bomb that did not explode in Times Square. We had many real terrorist incidents elsewhere that led to the loss of innocent lives. The threat level has not diminished at all; so it all comes down to the quality of intelligence versus the ingenuity of the terrorists as to what happens in 2011. Meanwhile, one cannot rule out a regional war between the two Koreas which could get extremely ugly as the North has nukes.

9. Gold as the Universal

Last year, I mentioned the possibility of a universal currency in light of the uncertainty surrounding the dollar as a reserve currency. This development is less likely now since nations, if anything, are more hostile towards one another now and more intent on looking after their own interests. I therefore repeat last year’s assertion that gold could breach $2 000.

10. New Growth Path

Other than the FIFA World Cup, the most significant event of 2010 in South Africa was the launching of the New Growth Path by Ebrahim Patel. The way the document is implemented over the next few years could determine South Africa’s fortunes over the remainder of this century. Either we create a participative economy with a genuine chance of a better life for all; or we face the possibility of civil war caused by the gross imbalances in our society. Remember the rule of Marx: if the masses are alienated, expect a revolution.

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