The coming multi-polar world

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

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THE world is changing rapidly and in profound ways that will have serious implications for small developing states such as Jamaica.

As such, we need to be thinking ahead, in a strategic sense, to ensure that the global changes do not remain challenges but rather opportunities. Whether it is the Planning Institute of Jamaica or the University of the West Indies, or some collaboration of both, there should be a foresighting study to examine what the world will be like in 20 to 25 years from now.

If Jamaica does not proactively prepare for these game-changing trends we will not be among the middle income countries, but among the upper poor.

As John Maynard Keynes said in 1937: "The idea of the future from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behaviour that we offer a great resistance to new practices."

A recently released report by the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) foresees a multipolar world in which the US economy, currently the world’s largest, could be overtaken in size by China’s as early as 2030. This refers to the size of Gross Domestic Product, but per capita income in the United States will remain much higher than that of China.

Economics, though, is not all, and the US will remain the dominant, but not the only, superpower, as this position is already shared by China. The NIC study, entitled Global Trends 2030, forecasts that a multi-polar world will emerge characterised by a diffusion of global power. It predicts that "Asia will surpass North America and Europe combined in terms of global power".

The centre of gravity of the global economy will shift to the East, with China being the core of this dynamic growth centre. The quality of human resource, therefore, will be critical, and more and better education will be necessary. This evolution will witness the strengthening of the middle class across the globe, but will be most evident in the successful economies.

The report projects a doubling or even tripling in the size of the global middle class, led particularly by Asia and Africa. In relation to the less successful economies, the study is wrong because the reality is not a growing but a diminishing middle class.

Against that background, a problem that Jamaica must tackle is that of sustainable natural resource use and environment, particularly in this era of climate change. The cost of energy, the sources of alternative energy, and clean energy, will continue to bedevil the country’s development unless something dramatic is done. Integral to sustainability, also, is the availability of adequate supplies of water for food production, sanitation and drinking.

Central to everything else is the generation and retention of educated human resources. And while remuneration is a critical determinant in influencing migration, other important variables that will be impacted are physical safety, individual empowerment and human rights. These, we hold, are all intangibles in which Jamaica is not doing as well as it ought.

The report is sub-titled ‘alternative worlds’. If Jamaica does not engage in strategic thinking, and follow that up with imaginative policy measures, it will not matter which of the alternative worlds come into existence, as we will not lift ourselves from the prevailing vicious cycle of economic failure.




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