A Scenario Project for 2040: Part 8— Social Dynamics, and Beliefs
I look at two aspects of social trends: demography and beliefs.
Major countries in Asia and Europe are ageing rapidly. The situation hardly exists in Africa. Although their populations will increase, but their population icnrease won’t be as large. In fact, Japan’s population decreases during this period, and the Thai population does not change. Russia’s population decreases drastically as well.
In this context, it is unlikely that economic growth can be as fast as it was in previous decades, unless societies are able to absorb technological change and use them to improve productivity.
Africa’s old age dependency situation is hardly unlike the rest of the world. It will have a young population throughout the entire period, and it is an immense opportunity for development. It does not seem though, that African countries have the institutions to capture the growth; one must hope that the youth bulge will not be a lost opportunity.
China will be having a tougher time domestically, as its population ages rapidly, and it will have to use more of its resources to take care of its elderly. The data here extends to those beyond age 70, taking into account that retirement ages might be raised to at least 70 in the decades to come. Of course, countries could mitigate the problem by extending the retirement age to beyond 70, but that’s a separate question altogether.
Seeing how China’s population will age rapidly, it is unlikely to sustain the economic growth that it has had so far. The only question is what that slowdown trajectory might be — would it be a gently slope downwards, or might it be a series of sudden declines.
One could also view China’s current assertiveness in the light of this demographic future. Perhaps China fears the future so much, that it is merely husbanding resources for that later time. China will not have an easy time transiting to a period of lower economic growth, unless it is able to harness technologies well.
How will ideas such as religious beliefs and nationalism contribute to the political development of the countries indicated, and how that could affect the way national power is projected. How the countries govern themselves domestically, and what roles people see their own countries playing in the world will matter greatly for regional governance.
Will religions become more polarised? People have brushed aside how religions are often syncretic; they absorb the culture around them, and the religion in that region develops differently from whatever host it started from.
Religion also becomes complicating when it becomes the mainstay of a country. Thailand is Buddhist, and to have practice other faiths in Thailand is to challenge the primacy of Buddhism in Thailand. What about evangelistic faiths, such as Christianity or Islam? Indonesia elevates Islam above other faiths. What about the coexistence of those other faiths in Indonesia?
Nationalism is also a powerful motivating force.
- sense of country as superior to other countries;
- Can combine with religion, marking the country out as having some special role in the religion, or vice versa.
- Makes international disputes harder to settle as politicians cannot find leeway to negotiate.
- Cements cross border rivalries
I see that polarising perspectives — both secular nationalisms and religious extremisms are powerful forces for political mobilisation. In multiparty democracies, whether or not political parties choose to make these polarising sentiments the subject of electoral mobilisation — this choice becomes a matter of prisoner dilemma. The party that chooses not to do this could become the loser in elections. Faced with the prospect of emotional mobilisation, parties can end up competing based on who can trigger the more extreme emotion.
If governments are not able to unify their societies and attain broad based growth, there is the chance that political elites will choose polarising discourses as the means to secure their legitimacy for political rule.
The situation is even more urgent for countries that dont use democratic elections to achieve legitimacy. Without a public and popular mandate to govern, non-democratic societies resort to polarising discourses and material progress to secure their mandates. In these societies, the elites must show themselves to be working for the people, eschewing corruption. The press is often muzzled or state-led, with an impressive information control regime. News about the corruption of leaders are taboo.
For 2040, there is a large uncertainty for the trajectory of domestic politics in the major countries. The huge uncertainties is one reason I argue that this should be one of the axes for scenario construction.
Polarising discourses do interact with ageing populations and technological developments. Could ageing and technological change drive the beed for polarising discourses?
Could a society bereft of employment, resentful of inequality be cohesive? Are there non-material means of reducing the need for polarising discourses?
I find that societies will increasingly find themselves turning to polarising discourses, be they either democratic or non-democratic countries. This nonetheless, not a pre-ordained outcome, and there is much that polities can do to steer away from divisive discourses. I would classify this segment of social trends, and the strength of internal institutions, as a key uncertainty for the discussion on scenarios.
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