An optimistic overview

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. As Isabel Hilton asks: What does 2006 have in store? (Part one)
Maria Livanos Cattaui
22 December 2005

Energy: I am not worried about energy- the oil and the resources are there, though not always used to the full. It is a question of getting it out of the ground and distributed. This is an economic and a technical problem, not a profound crisis.

Democracy: I am concerned with the rise of populism, nationalistic economies andprotectionism. Barriers go up to the free flow and transfer of knowledge, intellectual-property protection goes down, poverty goes up. The internet is scrutinised and censored and rule of law goes down, not only in traditional populist armed dictatorships. Populism can always win votes, and it’s playing to false ideas in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere.

I worry about the naivety of “just-let-people-vote-and-you-have-democracy”. We may see more democracies established without the underpinnings that make democracy stable: the rise of Muslim extremism, for instance, where the democratic door is open for a moment. In 2006, the long-term building of institutions has to be more a priority than voting.

Science: this is the century of the life sciences, in which several kinds of technologies marry to promote the sciences of living things. Next year will be a critical year in this convergence. The health summit in Seattle in 2006 will look at the nexus between new technologies, new sciences, new breakthroughs and the necessary public policy, to change the handling of health issues, from individual responsibility to how to measure and finance preventive medicine. Right now no hospital or public institution is geared towards health. This change will emerge strongly in 2006.

Trade: barriers remain high between developing countries. Next year will come a realisation that agricultural subsidies are as harmful to developed as to developing countries. More and more developing countries are also moving into manufacturing and services and the aim is not just to force open markets but to make new markets more competitive, consumer-oriented, and able to create jobs. I’m not at all pessimistic. It’s been difficult but if we continue to be pessimistic we will keep on looking to the problems rather than finding areas in which opposing viewpoints and philosophies can meet.

Distributive networks: next year will see the rise of the power of distributive networks, for instance via the internet. It’s a latent enormous, unorganised resource as important as the strength of the market and well-governed state power. This is will become very influential in the new year: self-correcting knowledge, self-building, fast-breaking news and commentary and opinion.

Competition: Japan’s renaissance will come on stream and its lead in robotics may unleash financial, manufacturing and technological creativity. We look at China as a manufacturing hub, but its wage levels will become expensive and it will start to outsource. China is buying companies abroad for its own technological, managerial and economic advancement. The US and Europe are becoming wells of technological and managerial creativity, bought into by companies from the developing world.

The environment: as the middle classes rise they demand a higher quality of environment. Unless citizens demand sanitation, water, and efficient use of energy and materials, treaties will not change the environment. The more you grow, the more energy you consume, but with economic vitality comes citizen-led demand for higher quality of life, and more efficient use of energy.

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