Year-end musings and predictions for 2015

Written by  //  January 5, 2015  //  Nicholson musings and messages  //  No comments

2014 Photos of the Year
Slate: Some of the most striking images and memorable events of the year.

Vox: 26 charts and maps that show the world is getting much, much better

JanusIt is that time when every media outlet and pundit takes stock of the past year’s events and/or makes predictions for the coming year.
2014 does seem to have been more tumultuous than usual, or is it only that we are ever-more aware of what is happening in every corner of the globe and that news reports, commentary and less worthy chatter bombard us 24 hours a day? The result inevitably is more information, and less enlightenment.

In August 2013 the Washington Post published 40 maps that explain the world (we wish it were so easy!) and in January of 2014 40 more maps that explain the world, with the comment by Max Fisher: Maps can be a remarkably powerful tool for understanding the world and how it works, but they show only what you ask them to. You might consider this, then, a collection of maps meant to inspire your inner map nerd. I’ve searched far and wide for maps that can reveal and surprise and inform in ways that the daily headlines might not, with a careful eye for sourcing and detail. We highly recommend browsing these and if you have others to suggest, please do so.

Judging by the accuracy of our selected predictions for 2014, including Stratfor’s optimistic “Russia and Germany bargain over Central/Eastern Europe and energy policy”, and the somewhat ebullient ones from Quartz (We predict a big nuclear deal with Iran—and five other world-changing events in 2014), perhaps we should resort to careful analysis of such maps.

However, in the interest of offering several perspectives, here are a few selections.

Eurasia Group Top Risks 2015Ian Bremmer’s Eurasia Group has published Top Risks 2015
Geopolitics is back. As 2015 begins, political conflict among the world’s great powers is in play more than at any time since the end of the Cold War.
US relations with Russia are fully broken. China is charting its own course. The ties that bind Europe are fraying on multiple fronts. Others–Gulf Arabs, Brazil, India–are hedging their plans and alliances in reaction to increasing geopolitical uncertainty. Mr Bremmer’s interview with Charlie Rose elaborates on the points raised in this concise – and eminently readable report.
NB Ian Bremmer has recently joined TIME as Foreign Affairs Columnist and Editor at Large. Judging by this These Are the Top 10 Geopolitical Risks of 2015, his columns will provide a briefer (popular?) version of his musings on Eurasia Group’s pages.

One of the most intriguing predictions published  is What U.S. Intelligence Predicted the World Would Look Like in 2015. Nine months before the September 11 attacks—and just days after the Supreme Court halted the Florida recount, handing the presidency to George W. Bush—U.S. intelligence officials published an 85-page prediction for what the world would look like in 2015. It’s a world that seems familiar in some ways, and utterly foreign in others. And it’s a world in which power is diffusing and decaying—reflecting one of the most significant trends of 2014 and perhaps the coming year as well.  “Global Trends 2015” did not predict many of the international storylines that will likely spill over into the new year: the rise of the Islamic State, the faceoff between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed militias; the cyberattack of possibly North Korean origin against Sony. But it did predict the volatile dynamic between weak and powerful states on the one hand, and non- and semi-state actors on the other, that all these developments have in common.

Wednesday Night’s Two Davids (Jones and Kilgour) address The world in 2015. David Jones’ Entering the new year in peace and prosperity sounds an optimistic tone, while David Kilgour foresees Tough times are ahead for all citizens

Rodrigue Tremblay’s article 2015: A Pivotal Year for Economic and Financial Crises and Wars? is far gloomier.
“At the beginning of 2015, Neocons occupy key positions within the Barack Obama administration and it should be no surprise that U.S. foreign policy is hardly any different than it was under the George W. Bush administration. They are constantly pushing for provocations, confrontations, conflicts and wars. In fact, the year 2015 could be the year when many of the fires they have lit could turn into conflagrations.” …
Domestically, should the U.S. economy continue to be run by bankers? Internationally, should the U.S. government pursue its policy of deliberately attempting to drive the Russian government into a corner and takes measures to destroy the Russian economy? These are acts of war. Are ordinary Americans in agreement with such policies? Who will profit the most and who will lose the most if there were to be a nuclear war with Russia? Since Europeans would be at the forefront of such a conflict, this is a question that has also to be answered in Europe.
What the world desperately needs now is a law-governed international environment, not a jingoistic and chauvinistic world empire that looks only after its narrow self-interests.
More fundamentally maybe, we should reject the false ideology of clash between nations. It is a grave and dangerous fallacy that can only lead the world to disaster.

Bloomberg Graphics – A Pessimist’s Guide to the World in 2015 – Global Hot Spots
Skirmishes in the South China Sea lead to full-scale naval confrontation. Israel bombs Iran, setting off an escalation of violence across the Middle East. Nigeria crumbles as oil prices fall and radicals gain strength. Bloomberg News asked foreign policy analysts, military experts, economists and investors to identify the possible worst-case scenarios, based on current global conflicts, that concern them most heading into 2015.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has published The Outlook on the Global Agenda 2015 that features an analysis of the Top 10 trends which will preoccupy WEF experts for the next 12-18 months as well as the key challenges facing the world’s regions, an overview of global leadership and governance, and the emerging issues that will define our future. Note that among the top issues is Lack of Leadership, which we consider both accurate and disheartening.

The Atlantic offers 4 Expert Predictions for the Global Economy in 2015 – From GDP growth in China to consumer debt in the U.S., the stories to watch next year.

Simon Baptist, Chief Economist and Asia Regional Director of The Economist is watching three key trends in 2015:
First, supply chains in 2015 will continue to be affected by rising wages in China, as well as a re-evaluation of risk that will lead to shorter supply chains and an advantage for less risky countries. Competition for the next wave of manufacturing and services outsourcing, along with a diversification of demand sources, will change the geography of trade.
Second, the rising middle class and accelerating demographic change will push social policy in emerging markets up the agenda. More migration will happen in places that are not ready for it, and the impact of demographics on labour markets will bite in more places at lower income levels that in the past. Health, education and pension spending will rise rapidly in emerging markets—especially in Asia—while rising incomes will start to change attitudes towards race, gender, the environment and sexuality in more countries.
Finally, we will see more tensions and opportunities from the rise of new powers. The US has yet to accommodate these quickly enough, while the new powers have not yet shown sufficient maturity on the world stage. China’s rise will cause unease, and tensions in the South China Sea will escalate, while previously weak countries like India will want to—and be expected to—play a more global role.

Joschka Fischer writes gloomily on Project Syndicate that 2015 is Europe’s Make-or-Break Year
“The conflict over austerity has become politically explosive because it is becoming a conflict between Germany and Italy – and, worse, between Germany and France, the tandem that drove European integration for six decades. And this is happening at a time when anti-European, nationalist forces are establishing themselves in Germany’s national and state parliaments – and on the streets – thereby substantially reduce Chancellor Angela Merkel’s room for compromise. The battle between austerity’s defenders and opponents thus threatens to tear apart not just the eurozone, but the EU as a whole.”

While not strictly a prediction, Ali Ahmed’s analysis of  Gaurav Kampani’s recent paper published by the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, China and India: Nationalism and Nuclear Risk, deserves a look.
… nationalism is growing stronger in the politics of both states. Chinese nationalism is being fanned by the nationalist turns in Japan, and this year India elected a nationalist government.
The impact of nationalism on strategic rationality is to force everything towards the hard option. During crises or conflicts, there are also media-induced nationalist pulls and pressures magnifying this force. Of course, this force is further strengthened by both states being on the cusp of rising to the next echelon in power, with China poised to become a superpower and India a great power. The adverse effect of downward movement by either will be taken as impacting its standing. In India’s case this would include its regional salience in relation to Pakistan. Finally, while nationalism in both states can prove fatal, it is bad enough in just one as that would suffice to ensure a mirroring in the other.

Writing in Forbes, Mark Rogowsky offers 15 Intrepid Predictions For 2015 on the economy,stocks and technology with the caveat that The most exciting part of all this, of course, is we don’t even know what we don’t know. Nearly no one saw the collapse of the oil markets in late 2014, nor did many see an overture to Cuba coming soon after that.

Blackstone Vice-chairman Byron Wien Announces Predictions for Ten Surprises for 2015
This is the 30th year Byron has given his views on a number of economic, financial market and political surprises for the coming year. Byron defines a “surprise” as an event which the average investor would only assign a one out of three chance of taking place but which Byron believes is “probable,” having a better than 50% likelihood of happening. Among them:
The low price of crude oil, which continues throughout the first part of the year, has a major impact on Russia. A peace settlement with Ukraine is signed, giving Eastern Ukraine substantial autonomy but guaranteeing the sovereignty of the rest of the country. President Putin seems to be trying to win back the respect of the international community as the country reels from its economic problems, but the Russian citizenry finally turns on him. His approval rating plummets and he resigns by year-end.

Probably your best bet is the CSIS (Centre for Strategic and International Studies, not Canada’s much-maligned organization that bears the same acronym) Global Forecast 2015

Vox happy faceLest after reading all of the dire predictions above, you have totally given up on the world, we highly recommend 26 charts and maps that show the world is getting much, much better from Dylan Matthews on Vox
The press — and humans in general — have a strong negativity bias. Bad economic news gets more coverage than good news. Negative experiences affect people more, and for longer, than positive ones. So it’s natural for things like Russia’s incursion into Ukraine or the rise of ISIS or the Ebola outbreak to weigh on us more than, say, the fact that extreme poverty has fallen by half since 1990, or that life expectancy is increasing, especially in poor countries. But it’s worth paying some attention to the latter factors. The world is getting much, much better on a whole variety of dimensions. Here are just a few.

From Stratfor’s George Friedman:
‘Tis the season to make lists, and a list shall be made. We tend to see each year as extraordinary, and in some senses, each year is. But in a broader sense, 2014 was merely another year in a long chain of human triumph and misery. Wars have been waged, marvelous things have been invented, disease has broken out, and people have fallen in love. Nonetheless, lists are called for, and this is my list of the … most important events of 2014.
1: Europe’s Persistent Decline
2: Ukrainian and Russian Crises
3: The Desynchronization of the Global Economy
4: The Disintegration of the Sykes-Picot World

Writing on Mother Jones, Kevin Drum gives a very fair appraisal of Obama’s Foreign Policy: Frustrating, Perhaps, But Better Than Most of the Alternatives
Overall, I continue to think that Obama’s foreign policy has been better than he gets credit for. He’s made plenty of mistakes, but that’s par for the course in international affairs. There are too many moving parts involved, and the US has too little leverage over most of them, to expect great outcomes routinely. When I look at some of the worst situations in the world (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Israel-Palestine) I mostly see places that the US has little control over once you set aside straight-up military interventions. Unfortunately, that’s a big problem: the mere perception that an intervention is conceivable colors how we view these situations.

No review of 2014 would be complete without mention of the ever-amazing Pope Francis who is confounding so many views of the power and role of the Papacy . And it appears that he will continue to astound in 2015. Pope Francis’s edict on climate change will anger deniers and US churches In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.
He has been called the “superman pope”, and it would be hard to deny that Pope Francis has had a good December. Cited by President Barack Obama as a key player in the thawing relations between the US and Cuba, the Argentinian pontiff followed that by lecturing his cardinals on the need to clean up Vatican politics. But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?

There has been ample fodder at the political level in Canada, with the dramatic April 7 Quebec election result, and the run-up to a federal election in 2015. While we observed what we hope was the permanent political demise of the internationally ridiculed Rob Ford of Toronto, after years of travail, Montrealers take satisfaction in the solid first year of Mayor Coderre’s administration.

In There’s a lot we don’t know about the story of the year [the shooting on Parliament Hill], and reason to be suspicious of what we are told, Stephen Maher raises some valid concerns about the divided (as opposed to shared) responsibilities for security and questions the independence, or lack thereof, of the RCMP. We only hope that the aftermath of the shooting does not sweep aside other stories that should be followed, namely the plight of returning veterans and their families.

Press Progress: 5 posts that shifted the debate in 2014
With our first full year behind us, we count down our top 5 posts that made a difference in 2014. These original stories helped shape both the news stories and political conversations.
Kinder Morgan says oil spills can be good for the economy
Peter MacKay’s big guns
Leona Aglukkaq caught with her nose in a newspaper
Rex Murphy and Big Oil: Friends with benefits
Fraser Institute mines for data

After the high drama surrounding the Quebec Charter of Values, the Liberals unexpectedly swift victory at the polls on April 7 created a general sense of relief until the reality sank in that this new government was deadly serious about curbing Quebec’s fiscalamity (thank you, Donald Johnston, who coined the term many years ago).
Quebec politics in 2014: The road to austerity
Quebecers got a major wake-up call from the new Liberal government in 2014: the province is broke and had to take steps to get public finances under control.
Bilan de la session parlementaire – Ensemble, on fait avancer le Québec
(PLQ) Après six budgets déficitaires consécutifs, nous présenterons aux Québécois, au printemps 2015, un budget équilibré. Voilà une première bonne nouvelle.
La deuxième bonne nouvelle, c’est que sur tous les efforts qui ont déjà été accomplis, un rattrapage de plus de 6 milliards de dollars a déjà été fait, principalement au sein du gouvernement, comme nous nous y étions engagés.
L’autre bonne nouvelle, c’est que le chemin qui reste à faire ne sera pas fait par les citoyens. Il sera fait, encore une fois, par le gouvernement dans son périmètre de dépenses.
La quatrième bonne nouvelle, c’est qu’on peut dire avec confiance à nos entreprises, autant les PME que les grandes entreprises, qu’elles évoluent maintenant dans un cadre stable et prévisible quant à leur environnement fiscal. L’équilibre budgétaire nous donnera la marge de manœuvre nécessaire pour réduire le fardeau fiscal des Québécois, en débutant par la taxe santé, et réduire également notre dette.

A recent Globe & Mail editorial asks The year in review: Has Harper gone from leader to liability?. While our Conservative friends will react with scorn, we believe there is much that is worth considering.
Meanwhile, L. Ian MacDonald predicts that 2015 will be a battle of inches — fought in Quebec
(iPolitics) We hear a lot about Ontario being the crucial battleground in next October’s federal election. And so it is: With 15 new seats, for a total of 121 in the enlarged 338-seat House of Commons, Ontario is the province no party can form a government without.
But Quebec — with three additional seats, for a total of 78 in the new House — shouldn’t be forgotten either. Quebec could boost Justin Trudeau into majority territory. It also could determine whether Tom Mulcair keeps the keys to Stornoway. And for the Conservatives, Quebec could make the difference between government and opposition — and determine whether Stephen Harper’s leadership ends sooner or later.

Following appraisal of his last predictions for 2014, Michael Den Tandt posits A Harper minority looms in Canada’s future
“It will be a turbulent year in Ottawa, leading to further upheaval: The new Harper minority won’t hold for more than nine or 10 months. In the interim, leadership machinations will begin in earnest within the Conservative and New Democrat camps. There will be one or more resignations: None of them will be Mr. Trudeau’s. The young Liberal leader will continue to bide his time, as the other two major parties reconstitute”

Some random items:

Putin’s Crimean ‘milestone’ looks as if it may become his millstone
Giving back Crimea, as the West demands, would be political suicide and will never happen. But Putin does not have any good options. He is likely to once again appeal to his peoples’ deep sense of patriotism by fomenting trouble on Russian’s borders. However, that path risks more economic sanctions at a time when it looks as though the price of oil may be stuck at or near current values for many months.

The Social Laboratory
Singapore is testing whether mass surveillance and big data can not only protect national security, but actually engineer a more harmonious society.
… many current and former U.S. officials have come to see Singapore as a model for how they’d build an intelligence apparatus if privacy laws and a long tradition of civil liberties weren’t standing in the way.
Across Singapore’s national ministries and departments today, armies of civil servants use scenario-based planning and big-data analysis from RAHS for a host of applications beyond fending off bombs and bugs. They use it to plan procurement cycles and budgets, make economic forecasts, inform immigration policy, study housing markets, and develop education plans for Singaporean schoolchildren — and they are looking to analyze Facebook posts, Twitter messages, and other social media in an attempt to “gauge the nation’s mood” about everything from government social programs to the potential for civil unrest.
In other words, Singapore has become a laboratory not only for testing how mass surveillance and big-data analysis might prevent terrorism, but for determining whether technology can be used to engineer a more harmonious society.

Fracking Boom Could Start to Collapse in 2020
In less than a decade, fracking has redefined the energy industry, boosting waning natural gas production in the United States and fueling talk of the country becoming a significant energy exporter. But according to recent research, the fracking boom may come to an end far sooner many have expected.

Ending on a lighter note:
Dave Barry: There’s just no explaining 2014
It was a year of mysteries. To list some of the more baffling ones:
A huge airliner simply vanished, and to this day nobody has any idea what happened to it, despite literally thousands of hours of intensive speculation on CNN.
Millions of Americans suddenly decided to make videos of themselves having ice water poured on their heads. Remember? There were rumors that this had something to do with charity, but for most of us, the connection was never clear. All we knew was that, for a while there, every time we turned on the TV, there was a local newscaster or Gwyneth Paltrow or Kermit the Frog or some random individual soaking wet and shivering. This mysterious phenomenon ended as suddenly as it started, but not before uncounted trillions of American brain cells died of frostbite.
An intruder jumped the White House fence and, inexplicably, managed to run into the White House through the unlocked front door. Most of us had assumed that anybody attempting this would instantly be converted to a bullet-ridden pile of smoking carbon by snipers, lasers, drones, ninjas, etc., but it turned out that, for some mysterious reason, the White House had effectively the same level of anti-penetration security as a Dunkin’ Donuts.
LeBron James deliberately moved to Cleveland.
Of course not everything that happened in 2014 was mysterious. Some developments — ISIS, Ebola, the song “Happy” — were simply bad.
There was even some good news in 2014, mostly in the form of things that did not happen. A number of GM cars — the final total could be as high as four — were not recalled. There were several whole days during which no statements had to be issued by the U.S. Department of Explaining What the Vice President Meant to Say. And for the fifth consecutive year, the Yankees failed to even play in the World Series.
But other than that, it was a miserable 12 months. In case you have forgotten why, let’s take one last look back, starting with …

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