First the good news. According to Old Moore’s Almanack the Mayans got it wrong and the world will not end next year. However, even if global Götterdämmerung is not on the cards, the next 12 months will be a bumpy ride with grim prospects for the economy and likely social unrest.
This morning I went to the launch of Hothouse Foresight 2012, a report created by a brains-trust of academics and business commentators to spot the big trends for the year to come. Adam Boulton (Political Editor, Sky News), Paul Mason (Economics Editor, BBC Newsnight) and Brenda Maddox (Editor and Chief Executive, Prospect) were there to give their personal take on 2012.
Predicting the future is perhaps more interesting for what it tells us about today than tomorrow: our current preoccupations shape how we think about the future.
Unsurprisingly the unfolding Euro Crisis, and its implications for a low-or-no growth UK economy, loomed large. With major change coming to the EU, Adam Boulton expected Chancellor George Osborne and Foreign Secretary William Hague to swap roles. Paul Mason – a man with an uncanny ability to make graphs interesting – talked about a ‘feeling of doom’ descending on Britain as the slump dragged on. No one disagreed.
But economic gloom need not mean passivity. Speakers saw evidence of growing popular activism around the world. Brenda Maddox, pointing to the Arab Spring and electoral reversals for established political parties in Asia, suggested people were more ready to challenge their governments. People were increasingly asking questions about capitalism, even if they were not ready to reject it.
Nearer home Paul Mason believed the ‘Occupy’ phenomenon was an important but under-rated factor in 2011, and will grow in 2012 as people channeled frustration about the economy into protest. This could lead to social unrest – but, like the Occupy events, this would be spontaneous and sporadic (and not organised, or understood, by unions or the main political parties).
So… not the sunniest outlook. But we left on a high note. For one, the event is always lively and fun. And the people who commission the report (Kwittken & Co) insist on accentuating the positive. They believed, chiming with Paul Mason, that the very volatility of 2012 will create opportunities for individuals and businesses to make a difference.