Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
The State of the World in 2100
By David G. Young
WASHINGTON, DC, January 10, 2000 --
The most striking thing about the millenium-end predictions heard over the past few weeks is the near absence of focus on how different the world will be at the end of the 21st century. Instead of looking forward, most people have looked back at the 20th century, and pondered the great changes that have taken place over the past 100 years. Since so few people have dared to stick their necks out to predict far into the future, I have taken the responsibility upon myself. In January 2100, my great grandchildren can look back and laugh at just how foolish (or wise) great-grandpa's prognostications were.
The next hundred years will be unique in history in the unprecedented growth in wealth all over the world. During the past 150 years, the industrial development of Europe, North America, and Japan led to extreme concentrations of wealth in these areas. The spread of this wealth to the "third world" was virtually stalled in the 20th century, due to the terrible behavior of intellectuals and government leaders. The colonial experience of the first half of the 20th century was followed by almost 50 years of disastrous experimentation with socialism that kept poor countries poor.
Just as the 20th century was an economic disaster for most of the world, the 21st century will be a windfall. Within 100 years, China, India, Latin America, and most of the rest of Asia will have reached economic maturity using known technologies. This will lead to an incredible change in the makeup of the developed world, removing Europe from the focus of world attention for the first time in nearly 1000 years.
Pockets of poverty will continue to exist in the world, particularly in Africa and parts of the Middle East, the former due to an undeveloped educational system and continued lack of infrastructure, and the latter due to the preservation of inward-looking societies and continued adherence to destructive religious teachings.
It is possible that other pockets in the world will remain in poverty as pariah regimes fail to let their people develop economically. The exodus of the most talented citizens will exacerbate the problems in these areas. Those who leave will take their rightful share of prosperity in the global economy, leaving behind desperately poor, backward countries like open sores on the face of the globe.
Loosening of Borders
With nearly the whole world getting rich, people will discard insecure ideas about protecting jobs and local cultures from internationalization. Instead, people will be able to travel much more freely between nations, much like people in the United States can travel to Canada today. Likewise, the flow of capital and products between countries will be virtually unregulated at the end of the 21st century. The obsession of smaller countries with protecting their culture will be replaced by exports of the best their culture has to offer.
Internationalization of the United States and Europe
In the places where the world first became rich, declining birthrates -- especially amongst the best and brightest of society -- will create a vacuum of opportunity to be filled by highly skilled immigrants from all over the world. These countries will eventually develop a social structure where the top-level of the economy is led by a non-white minority. The middle and lower classes will be made up of a broad mix of ethnic Europeans and people from other parts of the world.
Realignment of Class Distinctions
Just as the industrial age led to the development of the social classes of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the information age will create a service-based distinction in two new social classes, divided roughly between low-class clerks and upper-class geeks.
Decline of the Nation State
The 21st Century will see the collapse of the last of the multi-ethnic empires: Communist China, Indonesia, and India. New names on the roster of nations in 2100 will include Tibet, East Turkestan, Aceh and Tamilstan among many others. At the same time, the presence of these names on the roster of nations will mean very little, because the power invested in national governments will be relatively small compared with today. The acceptance of free-trade, freedom to travel, and a global currency will leave little for national governments to do besides administer the criminal justice system.
Informalization of War
The taming of the nation state and the harmonization of the world economy means that wars will usually not be fought between rival nations. Unfortunately, that probably does not mean a complete end of war. People will continue to fight under less formal umbrellas of people with a common interest, a shared grievance, and the possession of arms. These paramilitary groups will engage in conflicts against official security forces and other paramilitary organizations.
Continuation of the Human Experience
Despite all these changes, life at the end of the 21st century will remain much like it was a the beginning. (At least for those lucky enough to live in developed countries.) People will be born to parents, go to school, get married, have children and eventually die. Genetic engineering may change some of the specifics about how children are born. It will help stop inherited diseases, and lead to inclusion of desirable characteristics, but it will not change the fundamental facts of life. People will usually still have two natural parents. And people, despite somewhat longer lifespans, will still die. That was the way it was in 2100 BC. You can be that is the way it will be in 2100 AD.