Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I have a probably unfortunate habit of looking ahead to the new year here. As far as I can remember I have tended to be mostly right but I don't claim any special powers of prognostication. Anyway, in case anybody cares, here's what I'm worried about, which, alas, is plenty.

Starting in Europe and moving generally eastward:

Don't look now (and few people are) but Greece is already in the midst of a total economic collapse. I mean the kind where refugees flood into the rest of Europe, civil order disintegrates, food rioters break into warehouses, and the country's hard won democracy founders. Really. It's that bad. Greece has long had a dysfunctional economy and political culture, it's a special case and economically, it's basically a minor appendage to Europe, but Europe as a whole is heading into a less dramatic, but still painful recession and its leaders seem collectively insane. They're doing the best they can to make matters worse, while squabbling with each other like schoolchildren who didn't get lunch. In the past -- i.e., for the better part of 2,000 years -- their squabbles have tended to get extremely ugly. I'm not expecting World War III but I do know that the experiment of European unity is in peril. Meanwhile this can't be good for their biggest trading partner, that would be us.

Meanwhile, and again Americans long ago lost interest, but Iraq is skating perilously close to breaking into three pieces -- which will not happen peacefully. The brewing civil war in Syria just exacerbates sectarian tensions in Iraq, since the Shiite government is much more sympathetic to Assad than the Sunni Arabs who are increasingly feeling oppressed and have lost faith in Iraq's democracy. If Iraq does fall apart then it won't be a surprise to see Iranian and Saudi forces enter the country and then, hoo boy. Oh yeah, Iran is hurting big time from the sanctions regime and its own population is simmering while it's elites are increasingly fractious. There is no limit to the amount of shit that might hit the fan in the whole region, and uhh, oh yeah, oil.

Proceeding on to Pakistan, it is very likely that the pretense of civilian rule will dissolve. Pakistan's military and security services are riddled with highly ideological religio-nationalists who have shown themselves perfectly capable of creating irrational provocations to India and which have designs on wielding influence in Afghanistan through precisely the people who we now call the insurgency and who are blowing up our fine young soldiers. Oh yeah, they have a large nuclear arsenal.

I'm actually not particularly worried about North Korea but I don't like to see millions of people starve. China will probably see some economic difficulties but they'll muddle through.

Before I cross the Pacific, I'll just say that Africa, for all its troubles, is actually doing okay compared to previous decades. And, proceeding to Latin America, they're doing quite well these days. The big players, Argentina and Brazil, are actually doing jes' fine, with stable democracies, strong economies, and steady progress against their long standing problems. (Not so much the Amazon rain forest, however.)

Now, proceeding north from Brazil . ..

To be continued

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