The Leader and the Sign of the Times
The Sign of the Times’s final Leader of the year provides a window onto the coming year. As in previous years, the paper presents the key themes or events with the potential to shape the world, markets and lives during the next 12 months and beyond. 2019 promises to be as turbulent a year as 2018 has been, which has seen a US government shutdown, senior US cabinet member departures, a US-China trade war. At this transition from the old year to the new, we would like to pause and examine more closely ten events in the coming year that will have a potentially significant impact on peace, prosperity and happiness around the world. The context is that of the world in the throes of several transitions, the decline of the western liberal order, the shift from industrial to information-based economies and societies and the geopolitical realignment arising from the decline in the West relative to China’s and other emerging markets growth. As a result, international institutions, nations, governments, corporations and individuals are suffering the overthrow of widely accepted rules and conventions which look set to continue to transform the world order. While it is uncertain what the cumulative impact of these changes on the world might be, it is clear that they represent fundamental risks to growth and stability and that the changes they are ushering in are set to be a painful one as irreconcilable division seems to be the norm within and across nations and communities, Accordingly, this month’s Sign seeks to identify the key events that look set to shape 2019 as well as the competing world views that are shaping them, and to draw out the potential implications for the year ahead. Wishing you a prosperous and happy 2019!
The overthrow of the current world order and the leader of the next may well be determined by the winner of cyber warfare. America’s current capabilities in this respect do not assure it of that role. In fact, with every transaction that America executes as part of ‘America First’, it undermines the current world order, and potentially furthers the position of its rivals, leaving the US and its allies open to state and asymmetric cyber-attacks. Leveraging cyber technology and the possibilities that it offers, China and Russia have a unique opportunity to precipitate the decline of American power in the first half of the 21st century, aided by a wide array of independent and semi-independent that see America as a target to be assaulted. Should America’s allies, given their dislike of the current administration’s style and rhetoric, choose to quietly celebrate its losses from the sidelines, their democracy and freedoms are also at risk. Further, lest America’s foes gloat, America will not go quietly and perceive their very existence as a threat by it. This paper examines critical recent developments in the cyber arena, the components, catalysts and drivers of its rapid development and the risks it poses for the world, pointing to the need for a a global cyber security order. America’s leadership represents that best chance the world has for creating a stable cyber order as part of the emergence of a new world order.
The decade that has followed the global financial crisis of 2008 has been characterised by relatively steady, if uneven global growth. Buoyed by positive macro-economic trends, global equity markets reached all-time highs, and total global wealth reached US$280tn (27% higher than at the onset of the economic crisis). India also witnessed a recovery in economic growth levels, back to c. 8% levels helped by the global economic resurgence, the reform-agenda of the Modi new government, robust foreign direct investment flows and falling oil prices. Recently, however, cracks have begun to emerge in the global economy, driven by rising political uncertainty around the world, on-going trade disputes between the United States and China and financial instability across several emerging markets (including Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Venezuela). India, given its inherent resilience and growth prospects, has the potential to buck the trend the of global capital flight from emerging markets if it is able to maintain its reforms and growth and thereby reassure investors that it is a relatively safer emerging market than others for international capital.
Last month’s Sign of the Times benchmarked the economic performance of the current government against both its Congress and BJP predecessors over the past 25 years. Among the key takeaways of this analysis was the observation that there have been a number of Indian governments that have delivered growth and Mr. Modi’s government benchmarks well relative to them. Mr. Modi’s supporters believe that his government’s policies are the basis of sustainable growth trajectory based on having laid the foundation for a structural step-up in the country’s development. India’s macro-economic drivers – its population, demographics, urbanisation trends, education, among other major factors – point to a country with double digit GDP growth potential under a government with the right policies and economic development strategies. While previous governments have briefly achieved these growth rates on the back of massive stimulus or global economic booms, neither party to date has been able to construct an economic strategy or model that has delivered this growth consistently or sustainably.
As mentioned in last month’s Sign, voters in next year’s general election will need to form a view on, among other things, the economic agendas of the different parties to determine who can better pick up where the current government will have left off. Real leadership is more likely based on a clear vision of an India that has realized its potential and clarity on the political, social and economic components that will deliver this vision. India’s model will need to do more than simply deliver increased growth rates: it will need to respond to and where possible leverage the major geopolitical, economic and technological shifts underway and place the country into a position of strength in a world that is currently witnessing the passing of its current world order and the longer-term shift from the industrial to the information age.