The World in 2017

From the editor

Revolution will be in the air in 2017. Not only is it the centenary of the Bolshevik takeover in ­Rus­sia, it is also 150 years since the publication of the first volume of Karl Marx’s “Capital” and 50 since the death of Che Guevara, the face of revolution on countless t-shirts. For good measure, the year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses, which he nailed to a church door in Wittenberg Castle (or so the story goes) and which led to the Protestant Reformation.

It will not be hard to find parallels ­between the conditions that produced upheaval in the past and the rebellious mood in the year ahead.  

Americans have already voted for game-changing disruption. The dramatic election of Donald Trump as president means that the insurrection will be led from the White House, with both chambers of Congress also in Republican hands. At home, Mr Trump promises to be a mega-builder, not just of walls to protect the country from outsiders, but of roads, bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure. He will also set about undoing the work of his predecessor, including a rollback of Obamacare. Abroad, not only will an inward-looking America unnerve allies from Europe to Asia who have depended on the superpower’s stabilising support; Mr Trump’s stunning victory will send shock waves around the world. 

Europe will feel the tremors throughout the year. The scale of the protest vote will be keenly watched in presidential elections in France and parliamentary ones in Germany and the Netherlands. Frustration with a slow-growing economy, in a topsy-turvy time of negative interest rates from the EU to Japan, will fuel voters’ frustration. Britain, meanwhile, will formally launch its proceedings for divorce from the European Union, which will be bitterly fought over at home and abroad. 

Any rebellion is quickly crushed these days in ­Russia, where Vladimir Putin increasingly ­resembles a new tsar, and in China, where Xi Jinping will use the five-yearly congress of the Communist Party’s Central Committee to pursue his own imperial ambitions. Both countries are challenging the American-led status quo in unsettling ways, from the fringes of the former Soviet empire to the Middle East and the South China Sea. Add in the threat of terrorism and the nuclear mischief-making of North Korea’s president, Kim Jong Un, and the world’s security looks fragile.

In the wider jobs market a revolution will rumble on, too, driven not just by the promotion of more women into top positions but above all by advances in technology. New types of occupations—from drone operators to “bot wranglers” and virtual-fashion designers—will offer opportunities. Artificial intelligence will have a growing influence on people’s lives (and personalised medicine will start to prolong them). More and more computers, meanwhile, will offer their increasingly efficient services as digital personal assistants. 

Young people seem to be less worried by these forces of change than interested in using them to shape the future. In a special section in this year’s edition we invite a number of rising artists, activists, entrepreneurs and innovators to give their predictions for 2017 and beyond. They are full of ideas and keen to shake things up: rather like modern Luthers or Lenins, only much nicer. 

So don’t expect 2017 to be a year of restful stability. However, some things will stand out as reassuringly enduring. India will remain a star among big emerging markets. Australia will experience its 26th year of uninterrupted growth. The Association of South-East Asian Nations will reach its 50th birthday, a club holding together even as the EU prepares to shrink. Finland will celebrate its 100th birthday, and Canada its 150th. Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, writes that his country is intent on “embracing the world”, remaining open to trade, new ideas, and different cultures and people. Amid the growing anti-globalist hubbub, that sounds almost revolutionary.

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