Looking ahead to the new decade

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one… Happy New Year!

Tonight at 11:59 p.m. and 50 seconds, millions of people will join together to count down the final seconds of 2009 and herald the arrival of 2010. Together, we will begin not just a new year, but a new decade, too.

It’s hard to believe an entire decade has passed since that morning ten years ago, Dec. 31, 1999, when I woke up to hear that the lights were still on and all was well in faraway New Zealand. The Kiwis, 18 hours ahead of us, were the canaries in the coalmine as the first computer-dependent society to ring in the year 2000 and thus show us whether the “Y2K bug” would really bring chaos or merely a few easily corrected glitches. (Just glitches, thankfully.)

On that last day of the ’90s, I had little more than two words to say about the end of that decade: good riddance. As far as I was concerned at the time, the ’90s had been the Seinfeld decade — a decade about nothing, a decade of cultural mediocrity, a dreadfully boring decade.

Ten years later, many people will be just as eager to say “good riddance” to the 2000s. In defence of the 2000s, however, at least it was a decade about something.

In the 2000s, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton showed us two very different sides of our southern neighbours. Social barriers were broken: Nicolas Sarkozy, the mercurial son of a Hungarian immigrant father and a French-born Jewish mother, was elected President of France; an Australian office worker named Mary Donaldson became Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, wife of the future King; and a frumpy, unemployed Scottish woman named Susan Boyle became an overnight singing sensation. Terrorism forced us to revisit not just the issue of airport security, but also the role of God and faith in society and Canada’s role in the world.

Amid all the turbulence, popular music — one of the best barometers of the public mood — arguably had its best decade since the ’70s.

That roller-coaster decade is now in its final hours. As we end an old decade and start a new one, it leaves us to wonder what lies ahead of us.

It looks as though the 2010s will be an interesting decade. Here is The View from Seven’s look ahead at what should be in store for us in the new decade:

Canadian Society and Politics

Harper will likely remain PM for a while yet, but a majority will remain elusive. There’s an old truism in politics that oppositions don’t win elections, incumbents lose them. Stephen Harper has proven to be a canny enough politician to avoid prodding the public into a “throw the bums out” kind of mood. As long as the public stays in that sort of mood, Harper’s position as prime minister will remain relatively secure.

The PM remains something of a cold fish, however, lacking the everyman likeability of a Gary Doer, the eloquence and style of a Barack Obama or the unthreatening, matronly demeanor of popular German chancellor Angela Merkel. That, plus the survival of Liberal, NDP and Bloc regional strongholds scattered around the country, will make it difficult for Harper to muster a majority.

Governments also don’t age gracefully, so expect a change sometime between 2012 and 2018 as the Conservative government gets old.

Popular German chancellor Angela Merkel having a beer.

Popular German chancellor Angela Merkel having a beer at Oktoberfest: Stephen Harper could learn a thing or two from her. (Copyright © daylife.com)

The ex-Reform faction within the Tories will continue to fade away. The Conservative leadership might be in the hands of former Reform Party MP Stephen Harper, but demographics are poised to give more moderate Conservatives the upper hand as older MPs are replaced by younger ones.

An examination of self-identified Conservative voters in the 2006 World Values Survey shows that younger Tories born since 1970 have more conciliatory views than their older counterparts about immigrants and labour unions, are less likely than older Conservatives to be religious, and tend not to consider tradition to be as important.

The NDP as the new party of individualism. Looking at the same data as above, I also noticed something interesting that divided younger New Democrats from older ones: younger NDPers were considerably more likely to say that they seek to be themselves than to follow others. I was ready to dismiss this as just some young vs. old thing, until I realized that there was no generation gap on this question among self-styled Liberals or Conservatives, suggesting that this individualistic streak is something unique to future left-wing leaders. That leads us nicely into the next trend to watch for.

The real “Me Generation”. If the Baby Boomers were the original “Me Generation”, their children and grandchildren are now the “Me Generation on Steroids”. As Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. pointed out in her research, today’s younger generation are more likely to reject the idea that there is any single right way to live; are more egalitarian and less deferential to authority; are more ambitious; but are also more likely to feel alone and isolated.

Don’t declare Quebec nationalism dead just yet. If history can teach us one thing, it’s that nationalist sentiment is an unpredictable beast. In 1905, Norway went from being merely a region of Sweden that wanted more autonomy to being a fully independent country in a mere 10 months. In 1991, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia disintegrated into a multitude of new countries with astonishing speed. In the former Czechoslovakia, the idea of breaking the country up into two new countries was only seriously put forward for the first time in July 1992, and still have just minority support as late as September 1992. By New Years Day 1993, Czechoslovakia was dead and two new countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, were founded to take its place. That Quebec could become an independent country within this decade should not be entirely ruled out, especially if Quebec nationalists find inspiration in the possible breakups of Belgium and Spain (see below).

Goodbye Queen Elizabeth; Hello King Charles? Canadians generally don’t give much thought to the monarchy; partly because Queen Elizabeth II doesn’t actually live or spend much time in Canada, and partly because the Queen had held the job for so long. The then-Princess Elizabeth was only 25 years old when her father, King George VI, died in February 1952. She inherited George’s throne and has occupied it ever since. Queen Elizabeth is now in her eighties, and will turn 90 in April 2016. There is a possibility that the Queen might not survive the decade, or might need to abdicate for health reasons, handing the throne over to eldest son Prince Charles.

Also, watch for the possibility (25% probability or so) of a debate about reforming the succession laws. It appears as though Prince William will likely marry girlfriend Kate Middleton. If they were to have a daughter first and a son later, the son would take precedence and the daughter would be automatically stripped of her title as heir to the throne. The law is the law, but it’s hardly a defensible one in this egalitarian day and age. If this were to happen, the public outcry over the shabby treatment of the daughter could spark a constitutional crisis.

Finding a way out of Afghanistan. After eight years of occupation, Afghanistan remains as violent and corrupt as ever. The odds of it ever becoming anything resembling a stable democracy that respects human rights are about as poor as they come, and the country’s long-term outlook is grim. The trick for the Canadian government over the next ten years will be to find some way out of Afghanistan without appearing to abandon the country to its fate.

A new government in Manitoba in 2011 or 2015. Since the creation of a reasonably fair electoral system in Manitoba in 1958 (unlike the gerrymandered pre-1958 system, where Winnipeg and its suburbs were woefully underrepresented in the Legislature), no provincial government has been re-elected after its 10th anniversary in power if it were lucky enough to survive so long. Newly installed premier Greg Selinger is hoping to break that record in 2011. It will be tough, but now-former Saskatchewan premier Lorne Calvert proved it wasn’t impossible when he was able to get a 12-year-old NDP government re-elected there in 2003. Even if Selinger’s NDP is re-elected to a fourth term in 2011, the odds of winning a fifth term in 2015 will be minuscule.

World Events to Watch For

Belgium — Risk of break-up. Belgium’s borders were drawn in the 19th century on the basis of religion, not language. The intention was to separate Catholic Belgium from the Protestant Netherlands, and never mind the fact that the Flemish-speaking (i.e., Dutch) northern Belgians and the French-speaking southern Belgians didn’t get along very well. The relationship has deteriorated in recent years — the country went without a prime minister for nine months because of the mistrust between the Flemish and the French. The dissolution of Belgium and its replacement with two new countries called Flanders and Wallonia is a very real possibility.

China — A bubble that’s about to burst? It’s kind of worrisome that China, as a major engine of global economic growth, is making so little progress to clean up the perception that it is a highly corrupt country. It also has two other makings of a potentially unstable country: a huge population, and a hierarchical social structure where those at the bottom of the heap count for little.  Watch out for trouble ahead.

The Czech Republic, Estonia and Uruguay — The little countries that could. Good things have been happening in these three countries over the past decade: democracy and human rights have established strong roots, their economies have done well and their governments are getting noticed for being among the cleanest in their respective regions of the world, and steadily improving. The new decade has the potential to bring rising living standards to these countries. If you follow world affairs, expect to hear more about the “Czech/Estonian/Uruguayan Miracle”.

Punta del Este, Uruguay

Uruguay's forecast for the new decade: Sunny! (Copyright © The Daily Mail / Associated Newspapers Ltd.)

Egypt — Risk of revolution. What do you get when you combine poverty, sectarian tensions,  an 81-year-old autocrat who has been in power for 28 years, and a population that’s huge (83 million), partially literate (a lacklustre 71%), young (median age: 25) and growing fast (1.3 million more people on the way this coming year)? Nothing good. President Mubarak’s age will make it progressively more difficult for him to maintain the iron grip that kept Egypt from boiling over; the risk of revolution being greatest when an old dictator loosens that grip.

Iran — Risk of revolution. Iran has several of the danger signs of a country sliding into revolution: it’s governed by an insular elite that considers itself answerable to God (who isn’t in the habit of confirming that those who claim to speak on his/her behalf are actually doing so correctly, or at all); it has a huge population; the people at the bottom of the social hierarchy count for little; and it’s becoming increasingly corrupt. It’s also increasingly urban (the cities being traditionally more liberal than the rural areas, where theocracy gets the most support) and it has a large young population (median age: 27 years) who often want a western lifestyle and to whom the 1979 revolution means little. Get ready for more trouble.

Iraq — Bush and Blair blew it. I recently saw former British prime minister Tony Blair on television, justifying the 2003 invasion of Iraq by asking if it would have been better if Saddam Hussein stayed in power. As awful as Saddam Hussein was, the depressing answer may well be “yes”: Iraq not only remains a violent and corrupt land full of ethnic and sectarian hatreds, it has also come to be seen as being more and more corrupt as the war has gone on, despite western occupation.  Half the population is under the age of 20 and full of energy to burn (and few elders to call for cooler heads to prevail), a quarter of the population is illiterate, the official unemployment rate is 18 percent, and the fertility rate is way too high for a country that struggles to feed and provide jobs for the population it already has. Either it will break up due to Sunni vs. Shiite vs. Kurd ethno-sectarian violence, revert to a cruel and repressive dictatorship, or spin out of control and become much like Somalia, recently named “Worst Country in the World” by The Economist. What a mess.

Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago — Trouble in Paradise. There’s the Jamaica that they promote to tourists: a country of beaches and sunshine. Then there’s the real Jamaica — the violent, corrupt and intolerant country where approximately 1,500 of the country’s 2.7 million residents are murdered every year. Imagine if Winnipeg had 350+ murders every year instead of the usual 25-35, and you’ll get an idea of just how abysmal things are in Jamaica. Trinidad and Tobago (approximately 500 murders per year out of a population of 1.3 million) is also in bad shape, and suffers from racial tensions to boot. Things have been getting worse, and little hope of improvement is on the horizon. Expect the U.S. and Canada (through the Commonwealth) to be called upon to do something about these countries.

Russia — A potentially naughty bear. The ’90s were an absolute disaster for Russia, but the 2000s weren’t a heck of a lot better as democracy had trouble taking root and corruption remained a serious problem. Russia’s government was perceived as being more and more corrupt as the decade went on, which is not a good sign for either Russia’s own well-being or that of its neighbours. Hopefully Russia won’t use wars and other forms of mischief-making to distract the population from its homegrown problems. (Some of its neighbours, like Belarus and Uzbekistan, have been on the wrong track, too.)

South Korea — Good prospects ahead, as long as the neighbours don’t get too rowdy. South Korea gets overshadowed a bit by its larger neighbours China and Japan and by the bizarre regime in North Korea. South Korea has been making good progress, however, in reducing corruption and improving how the country is run. If it stays on its current path and its neighbours don’t get too unruly, it could be a good decade for them.

Spain — Risk of breakup. Spain isn’t thought of as being a multicultural, multilingual nation, but it is. Spanish is, of course, the dominant language, but there are also Galician-speaking minorities in the northwest, Basque and Aranese in the north and Catalan along the Mediterranean coast — an area called Catalonia. Catalonia is affluent and defiant, and is seriously looking at declaring its independence from Spain. A 2008 poll found that more Catalans would vote for independence from Spain than against it (36% Yes, 22% No, all others undecided), so it should be treated as a credible possibility in the decade ahead.

The Middle East — No relief from the turmoil. With few exceptions, the Middle East remains on the wrong path. Syria and Israel are both troubled by increasingly perceptions of corruption, which will only make them feel even more insecure in their troubled area of the world. Things could even get worse if Egypt boils over into revolution and Iraq totally falls apart. If you don’t live in this part of the world, stay well away from it. If you do live in this part of the world and have the means to do so, emigrate.

Yemen — The new front on the war on terror. It’s been a terrorist training ground before, and was implicated more recently in the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner en route from Amsterdam to Detroit. It’s also been under increasingly bad management as of late, so expect to hear more about efforts to neutralize Yemen as a terrorist den.

It should be an interesting decade ahead, promising us lots of drama. All the best to all of you in the year and decade ahead — and take a moment to be thankful that you live in a peaceful and affluent country.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

4 Responses to Looking ahead to the new decade

  1. Fat Arse says:

    Vfr7,

    Goodness gracious! There are so many meaty (and worthwhile) observations made in this piece that it is gonna take my little pea-brain an entire year to distill their import. Thanks a lot; and here to think I was gonna try not ‘thinking’ in 2010!

    Good post – best of luck to ya in the New Year… gotta go now, there’s still some ales from 2009 that have yet to ‘meet their maker’… cheers.

  2. cherenkov says:

    Good post. Re. Spain: the poll was conducted in smaller centres only. Barcelona was not included. I would be very surprised if they got the same numbers in the city, but we may find out soon enough…

  3. theviewfromseven says:

    Is that in reference to the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya poll, or the mock referendum they held recently? (Given that the mock referendum was only held in small towns and was organized by the separatists, I would agree that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.)

  4. cherenkov says:

    Oh right … I was thinking of the referendum. I found a more recent poll that shows even stronger support for independence: http://www.cataloniadirect.info/2009/12/polls-show-that-independence-in-catalonia-would-win/

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