Wednesday Night #1817 — Looking Back and Looking Forward

Written by  //  January 4, 2017  //  Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

Who better to lead us through the patterns of cracked crystal balls than Peter Berezin?
Just before Christmas he wrote:
If you are looking for some “big picture” reading this holiday season, you may enjoy the following two reports:
The first, entitled A Smarter World is based on a speech I delivered at the 2014 BCA New York Investment Conference. I argue that genetic changes in the human population sowed the seeds for the Industrial Revolution. This development then unleashed a virtuous cycle where rising living standards led to better health and educational outcomes, generating even further gains in living standards. Many countries now appear to be at the end of this cycle, but new technologies could one day generate huge gains in IQs, sending humanity down a path towards immortality.
Of course, before we get there, we have to contend with all sorts of existential pitfalls. With that in mind, the second report, Doomsday Risk, examines what is literally a life-and-death issue: the likelihood of human extinction. Drawing on insights from biology, history, cosmology, and probability theory, our analysis yields a number of surprising investment implications.

JanusJanuary is conventionally thought to be named for Janus, the god of two faces, who looks to the future and to the past. Wikipedia disagrees, but we will continue to evoke and invoke the two-headed god for our look back at 2016 and forward to the much-anticipated (at least in Canada) 2017. Most people are very happy to see the back of 2016 with its associated disasters from Aleppo to Zika and including  Brexit, Donald Trump and the deaths of numerous beloved celebrities. For MASH enthusiasts, the last of 2016 was that of ‘Father Mulcahy’ actor William Christopher.

As Quartz points out, “By any objective measure, this has still been an awful year. It’s not just because of Aleppo, Nice, Brussels, Orlando, and other milestones in carnage. Nor because of the rise of Trump, Farage, Le Pen, Fillon, Duterte, and other merchants of hatred. Nor because free trade and movement are on the retreat. Nor even because a newly isolationist US, resurgent Russia, and aggressive China are about to take the world’s geopolitical balance and shake it like a snow-globe.
No: It’s also because this has been the year of post-truth, when the combined effects of polarizing social media, weakening traditional media, shameless politicians, and economic and political tribalism reached their logical destination.” We would add that the consequence in  the U.S. is all-out war between the ‘established’ media and others with Mr. Trump..

Project Syndicate has served up a selection of the most-read commentaries on the global political upheaval of the last 12 months, and its economic causes and consequences. Not one of them is optimistic about long-term developments. Well worth browsing and keeping in mind as 2017 plays out.

The Chief Economist of The Economist had this to say: “This year has provided more than its fair share of surprises. Trump and Brexit perhaps stand out, but there are others, including India’s demonetisation, Rodrigo Duterte’s election in the Philippines and Nigeria’s currency devaluation. For 2017, the biggest risk we see for the global economy is in China, where rising debt levels have reached a point at which a slowdown is inevitable and the risks of it being disorderly are increasing. The EU is again a big source of risk: France’s presidential elections could lead to a fracturing of the political union, while Greece and Italy could withdraw from the currency union. In emerging markets, a strong US dollar and rising US interest rates mean that a corporate debt crisis has become more likely. The new US administration is upending a range of long-held international protocols from Taiwan to the Persian Gulf, and there is the chance that this could lead to an escalation of conflict—either between states or simply by giving more space to armed insurgencies and terrorism.”

In the run-up to Christmas, you may have overlooked the column Economists versus the Economy by Robert Skidelsky, economic historian, in which he concludes that “Today’s professional economists have studied almost nothing but economics. They don’t even read the classics of their own discipline. Economic history comes, if at all, from data sets. Philosophy, which could teach them about the limits of the economic method, is a closed book. Mathematics, demanding and seductive, has monopolized their mental horizons. The economists are the idiots savants of our time.”

Our indefatigable Wednesday Nighters, David T. Jones and David Kilgour continue their dueling dialogue in the Epoch Times.
David Jones’ Looking Forward and Backward With the New Year reflects his satisfaction that Hillary Clinton was defeated and cautious optimism that “Trump’s plethora of tweets/outrages will morph into some rational restructuring of U.S. foreign and domestic policy” including a monumental rollback of President Obama’s (in David’s view, deplorable) policies.
In More Voter Revolt in 2017? David Kilgour turns his attention to the elections to be held this year in three or four (Italy being the fourth) of the six founding members of the European Union (EU), as well as in Iran, before doing a quick tour of the uncertain fate of global issues in the new Trump era.

Do see also Wednesday Night #1816 for more key events/stories that will stimulate and influence conversations throughout the early days (or longer) of the New Year.

2017 Annual Forecast
(Stratfor) The convulsions to come in 2017 are the political manifestations of much deeper forces in play. In much of the developed world, the trend of aging demographics and declining productivity is layered with technological innovation and the labor displacement that comes with it. China’s economic slowdown and its ongoing evolution compound this dynamic. At the same time the world is trying to cope with reduced Chinese demand after decades of record growth, China is also slowly but surely moving its own economy up the value chain to produce and assemble many of the inputs it once imported, with the intent of increasingly selling to itself. All these forces combined will have a dramatic and enduring impact on the global economy and ultimately on the shape of the international system for decades to come.
These long-arching trends tend to quietly build over decades and then noisily surface as the politics catch up. The longer economic pain persists, the stronger the political response. That loud banging at the door is the force of nationalism greeting the world’s powers, particularly Europe and the United States, still the only superpower.

UN Dispatch has selected 11 Stories that Will Drive the Global Agenda in 2017, including predictions that Genocide Looms in South Sudan; 2017 Will be Even Worse for Refugees and Migrants than 2016; [on-going]Political Crisis in the DRC; the presidential elections in France; and concern for the future of the U.S. leadership role on climate change. One hopeful note: Expect Promising Results from Big HIV Research Trials in 2017.

Open Canada lists 10 events to watch for in 2017
From a new chief diplomat at the UN to Britain’s invoking of Article 50, here are our top 10 events for globally minded Canadians to look out for in 2017. They include elections in Iran and France, as well as the G20 Summit hosted by Germany (Donald Trump’s first – should be interesting) and the entering into force of CETA.

So much news and opinion published about Syria, all of which you have read or seen somewhere. However, you may have missed these:
The Assad conundrum: Can you have an integral Syria without him? Can you have a healthy Syria with him?
By John Bell, Director of the Middle East Programme at the Toledo International Centre for Peace in Madrid. A former UN and Canadian diplomat, he  served as Political Adviser to the Personal Representative of the UN Secretary-General for southern Lebanon and adviser to the Canadian government.
Gwynne Dyer: Reunification of Syria
In terms of what a post-civil war Syria will look like, the great unanswered question is: what happens to the Syrian Kurds?
They are only one-tenth of the Syrian population, but they now control almost all the Kurdish-majority areas across northern Syria.
Was Erdogan’s price for switching sides a free hand in destroying Rojava, the proto-state created by the Syrian Kurds? Very probably yes.

Vladimir Putin, for whom Donald Trump has expressed unqualified admiration, is the focus of as many analyses as the Syrian issues. This long piece by Molly K. McKew from Politico is worth considering, even though we have seen no evidence that Donald Trump has the desire (or capability) to think about such matters in the depth that they require. Putin’s Real Long Game – The world order we know is already over, and Russia is moving fast to grab the advantage. Can Trump figure out the new war in time to win it? A propos the European elections, Henry Porter writes in Vanity Fair that “With three consequential European elections occurring in 2017, the former K.G.B. officer  has more potential to undermine free societies than he could have ever fathomed during his Cold War days.” Is Putin’s Master Plan Only Beginning?

Canadian politics 2016: The year in 12 chapters
John Geddes’ annual month-to-month look back at Canada’s national affairs
Starting with
JANUARY: We were reminded that central bankers needn’t talk like politicians
After the exuberance of the fall 2015 election of Justin Trudeau’s government, it fell to Bank of Canada governor [former Wednesday Nighter] Stephen Poloz to set a more sobering tone for 2016. Poloz told a breakfast crowd in Ottawa that the annual hit to the Canadian economy from low prices for oil and other commodities was $50 billion. That’s 10 times more than the annual infrastructure stimulus spending boost Justin Trudeau was promising. Poloz suggested a three-to-five-year adjustment was still in store for Canada’s economy. It was a sobering message that would echo through the year’s politics.

Looking forward, we highly recommend Jennifer Ditcburn’s Our politicians need to be pushed to think long-term, even as the world seems impossible to predict.

The Gazette’s Josh Freed predicts that the coming years will make us yearn for 2016 . Given some of the truths (“Health Minister Gaétan Barrette will announce more cost-cutting measures. Having slashed hospital beds, hospital doctors and annual check-ups, Barrette will announce he’s eliminating the most expensive health cost of all – patients.”) on which he bases his predictions, it’s a pretty dark outlook. To survive we will have to resort to the Danish lifestyle Hygge  a way of finding happiness through coziness that involves cocooning at home with close friends. You just surround yourselves with candles, slippers, mittens, blankets, hot drinks and porridge, while cuddling, hugging and staying indoors months at a time.

However, we prefer to consider Canada’s celebration of its sesquicentennial in all its splendor, and will be keeping tabs on the multiple celebrations of the 150th, Montreal’s 375th and the 50th anniversary of Expo67, a life-changing event for Montreal, Quebec and Canada, and also for many individuals – including us! Had there been no Expo, there would likely never have been Wednesday Night.

A recent discovery for us is Simon Sinek, author, speaker, and consultant who writes on leadership and management. If you have not, try viewing and listening to Simon Sinek’s Top 10 Rules For Success – we wish some of our current world leaders would apply them in 2017!

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1817 — Looking Back and Looking Forward"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson January 16, 2017 at 1:04 am · Reply

    This bleak prediction from one of our OWN Wednesday Nighters.
    I think we should accept the fact that starting on [20 January] , POTUS will be a person who 1. Will try to wreck the post WW II trading system developed through GATT and the WTO; 2. Will allow Russia to reconquer Ukraina, Georgia, and Moldavia with no serious opposition from the West; 3. Will create uncertainty within the EU and NATO; 4. Will create a Cold War with China; 5. Have trade confrontations with Mexico and Canada. TD

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