Sometimes, a bit of foresight is not what is wanted. As I was watching the riots in London, I was reminded of a piece that I wrote in 2008 about society moving from NICEY (the Non-Inflationary Continuously Expanding Years) to NASTY (the Non-Accelerating Socially Turbulent Years). The point is a simple one. When the economy is doing well, most improvements trickle down into most parts of society, and economics comes to dominate politics. When things are not going well in the economy, the pain is rarely shared equally, and politics become dominated by the social impacts of where the pain is felt. There was an element of this in the recent rioting in the UK.
The recent disorder in the UK, however, is not a game changer. We are currently about a week on from the disorder. The streets have been cleaned up, many businesses affected are operating again, and many of the offenders have been identified, arrested, and have made an appearance in court. In 2008, we were more concerned about the potential for unrest in China, which we felt would be a game changer. That is probably why it hasn’t happened. There are still bouts of unrest in the western provinces of Xinjian and Tibet, but nothing so far has threatened the stability and authority of the Chinese government. For this we are grateful.
Looking to the future, the risk of disorder remains, right across the world. We still rather imperiously divide the disorder into that we like, such as that in Libya, and that which we dislike, such as that in Bahrain. The root causes of the discontent – poverty, lack of opportunities, and sheer boredom – still remain. Until the world economy starts to grow again, this risk of disorder is unlikely to abate.
Those of us watching the future need to be mindful of this in our work.
© The European Futures Observatory 2011