The future is arriving faster than expected. According to a report by the National Intelligence Council, "Global Trends 2030," seventeen years from now the world will be remarkably different. How does America plan to deal with this change?
"Global Trends 2030" predicts that four megatrends will reshape our world. The first is "Individual Empowerment." The National Intelligence Council (NIC) believes that more areas of the world will be democratic, "owing to poverty reduction growth of the global middle class, greater educational attainment, widespread use of new communications and manufacturing technologies, and health-care advances." We've seen evidence of this in "Arab Spring."
The second megatrend is "Diffusion of Power." The NIC observes, "There will not be any hegemonic power" and asks, "Will the US be able to work with new powers to reinvent the international system?"
The third megatrend is "Demographic Patterns." The report predicts, "Economic growth might decline in "aging' countries. Sixty percent of the world's population will live in urbanized areas; migration will increase."
The fourth megatrend is "Food, Water, Energy Nexus." The NIC observes, "Demand for these resources will grow substantially due to an increase in the global population." Population will increase from 7.1 billion, in 2012, to 8.3 billion people in 2030, resulting in a 35 percent increased demand for food, a 40 percent increase for water, and a 50 percent increase for energy.
We see evidence of these trends in contemporary America. However, while the world may see more "individual empowerment," inequality is rising in the US with a corresponding loss of power for millions of citizens. One the other hand, there is heightened tension over the power of the federal government in comparison with states' rights. Clearly the US population is aging as the "baby boomers" retire. And in many parts of the country, food, water, and energy have become scarce.
As if these trends weren't grim enough, the NIC report details eight possibilities that would accelerate social and political disruption: "severe pandemic, much more rapid climate change, Euro/EU collapse, a democratic or collapsed China, a reformed Iran, nuclear war or WMD/Cyber attack, solar geomagnetic storms, and US disengagement."
The NIC believes the US needs a plan to deal with these megatrends. However, the notion that the US would develop a strategic plan is politically controversial. While Democrats offer modest proposals, most Republicans are still firmly in the grip of Reaganomics, which rails against the central government and argues "the market" will determine what is best for America.
The problem for Republicans, and Americans in general, is that Reaganomics has failed. The market has not provided for the middle class, but instead produced economic instability, the most severe inequality in the last 100 years, and enormous environmental damage. Furthermore, the 2008 economic crash proved, once again, that markets are not inherently self-correcting, as Reaganomics promised and common-sense regulations are needed to protect citizens against Wall Street misdeeds. And finally, the market doesn't have a strategic plan; instead it follows the path of least resistance -- the easiest way to make money. While this behavior makes bankers rich it does not protect the interests of the average American.
Since World War II, the US has had a rudimentary strategic plan driven by two notions: the federal government should defend Americans against foreign tyranny and strengthen the middle class. It was a "guns and butter" plan that assumed the US could do it all: fund the world's largest military and promote domestic wellbeing. The plan worked well for twenty years, began to unravel during the Reagan presidency, and completely came apart during the eight years of the George W. Bush Administration.
At the moment, the closest thing America has to a strategic plan is President Obama's promise to defend the middle class. But Obama hasn't plotted a course sufficient to navigate the rough waters over the next 17 years; stirring speeches, alone won't be able to deal with increasing inequality in the US, the loss of America's role as sole superpower, an aging population, and scarcity of food, water, and energy.
Seventeen years from now President Obama might be remembered for Obamacare; or for ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; or for leading America out of The Great Recession despite constant opposition from Republicans. But, considering the challenges ahead, Obama's legacy could be a strategic plan: setting the US on a course to meet the four great challenges detailed in the NIC report.
America needs to embark on a course of action that will reverse the course of inequality and ensure there is a vital middle-class. America needs a realistic defense plan that recognizes the United States is no longer the sole superpower and both reduces our military expenditures and strengthens our strategic partnerships with China, India, the European Community, and Russia. America needs to prepare to meets the challenges posed by an aging population. And, America needs a plan that guarantees adequate food, water, and energy for all of our citizens.
President Obama's legacy should be a plan to prepare the US for 2030.