The Leader and the Sign of the Times
The first 120-odd days of the Trump administration have taught us to expect the unexpected. Events are moving so quickly news and even White House officials are struggling to keep up with the new cycle. While speed and the uncertainty it brings are unsettling to many people in America, it is perhaps even more alarming to its diplomats, who have spent decades carefully crafting policies to shape the relations with both America’s partners and competitors abroad. Among these relationships, arguably none is more important than the one with China, being the defining geopolitical relationship of the first half of the 21st century given the potential of China to be a rival or an ally, and so none is more critical to keep on stable and manageable tram lines. As a 5,000 year old civilisation, China takes short term events within the context of a long-term perspective of events and relationships and defines its strategies and policies accordingly. Its current leaders have a ten-year mandate to rule without the risks and distractions of mid-term elections or legislatives controlled by opposition parties and there has developed a continuity of vision regarding China’s development that has been in place since its opening up 35 years ago.
Last month’s Sign of the Times focused on India’s growing links to the rest of the world, and their important role in the country’s growth and development over the near- to medium term. Looking a decade or further out however, there are a number of broader macro-themes, demographic, social, economic, and political, playing out that will fundamentally reshape India as we know it today. These themes give rise to a set of “certainties” (in so much as anything is certain in our world) that will define India in 2025 and beyond. Over the longer-term India stands to benefit significantly from the transformation these macro-themes promise to bring about. While the drivers of these trends are more or less inexorable, and their impact will inevitably continue to gather momentum, there are a number of implications for India’s policy makers over the coming years that will determine whether these certainties are harnessed to create long-term value, or remain a set of impressive but inconsequential statistics.
There has been much discussion about the “India Story” and the key drivers of the world’s second most populous nation’s gradually accelerating growth path. The conventional wisdom is that India’s growth is being driven by its burgeoning young, working age population (the “demographic dividend”) which is creating a growing middle class with increasing purchasing power driving India’s rise. This in turn gives rise to a number of investment themes which point policy and investors to focus on backing incumbents in the domestic market: domestic consumption including organised retail, healthcare, education and financial services, the creation of infrastructure among others. However, despite the rapid growth at a macro level, many of these themes have failed to deliver scaled and rapid change over many decades and consequently have failed to deliver consistent returns, leaving many investors in India disappointed.
The third part in the series on ‘The Shape of the World to Come’ attempts to describe the transition to and the shape of the New World Order. The first part had looked at the positive long term development trends taking place in the world today, providing historic breakthroughs in increasing material benefits on a global scale. The second part looked at the contrasting challenges, both shorter and long term, facing the world, many of which are unintended but direct consequences of the order and system that has enabled the benefits we enjoy today. Looking at these challenges and the pressures that they create it is clear that we live in revolutionary times, and that the world order that has governed the world for decades is coming to an end. This longer-term process is being further exacerbated by current events, with the instability and uncertainty being caused by the Trump Administration serving as a potential catalyst for the demise of the current world order and a harbinger of the transition to come, although the reality of where the Trump Administration are far more complex. In the third part of the series we try to draw out how these current events might impact the larger framework of global change taking place, describing the both transition scenarios the world might face as well as the ultimate result. We also seek to put the current shifts underway within the frameworks the describe the broader sweep of history. What is clear though is that the personal and collective choices we make today have the potential to shape the world for decades to come.