What will happen to the planet over the next 50 years? Are corporations going to be the dominant geopolitical power? Will we see the end of the world in a series of wars and catastrophic conflicts? Or will we witness the dawning of a new age where humanity works together to create a better world and less wars? It could be all three, according to a leading futurist, author, and social theorist.
Jacques Attali is the author of over 80 books. These books include fiction, nonfiction and children’s literature. He was also the head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He co-founded EUREKA, a program for the development and deployment of new technologies. He enjoys looking back at the past and trying to predict the future.
A Brief History Of The Future, which he published in 2006, is one of his most well-known works. He argues that capitalism has overtaken militarism to be the driving force behind human progress in the last 1200 AD. This is one of his most well-known works. Each of these periods saw progress center around a single geographical core, a city, and the one technology that emerged in that city.
It all started in Bruges, Belgium – the place that was associated with the invention the rudder stock. Then it went on to Antwerp (printing presse), Genoa (accounting), Venice (the caravel – small sailing vessels), London (the steam engine), Boston, New York (piston engine), New York, electric motors, and Los Angeles (the computer chips).
Attali and I met recently to discuss the theories he had written about what was next. These are not all optimistic predictions. He predicts that the United States will lose its status as the dominant superpower in the world. He tells me that the situation will be more similar to the one following the fall the Roman Empire, than to the collapse of the British Empire many centuries later. Because, like the fall of Rome, there’s no modern, industrialized successor that can take over the US.
He says to me that this is the core of his book. Maybe we won’t have a new centre. A new center means that we agree to move from America to another empire. My guess is that this is not the case… there was no successor to the Roman empire at the end.
History has come to refer to the period following the fall of the Roman Empire as the “dark age”; this is because historians consider it a period of slow human progress, falling living standards, and poor development of art, literature and culture.
Attali says, “I don’t believe China or anyone else could replace the US. Like no one replaced the Roman empire.”
What’s next? Attali divides the next decade into five periods. First, the decline of America’s dominant power (the US), then a period when other countries (Russia, China, and the European Union in particular) will try to fill the void. Second, the period of “hyper imperial” where capitalist corporations will be leading lights of society, human progress, and finally “hyper conflict”, which is warfare on a local or international scale. Finally, Attali calls the “rule” – something similar with a modern enment that was when humanity began to get out of the medieval dark ages.
Attali doesn’t see it as a linear progression. In fact, all these periods, or “waves,” may occur simultaneously. They probably are. It is still up in the air which of them will win and become the driving force behind humanity’s development over the next 50 years.
Attali, for example, suggests that Hyper democracy (or “positive society”) might emerge after hyper conflict.
He said, “The third phase – hyper empire – is ongoing now.” It is possible for governments to try to prevent it by closing border… but I don’t see governments being capable of stopping it. The US government could have done that, but it is so embedded with businesses that it [can’t] stop them.”
Local conflicts, such as the one in Ukraine right now, and others in disputed territories like Taiwan could be a catalyst for bigger global wars.
“Everything is possible.” We should do all we can to prevent the coming war and put in place a global law of order. Rule of law is essential for the environment, health, hygiene, food, and all life.
Attali is also very interested in the question of “what makes us human” and how technology can unlock new possibilities for creating and maintaining life. It is possible that we will one day surpass our mortality by replacing or overcoming the effects caused by aging. Is there any point in living an endless life, or at least a longer, more fulfilling existence, where we live as consumers or slaves to corporate hierarchy?
Attali told me that there is no easy answer. However, if you want to avoid living a life that is absurd, it would be wise to simply say, with humility, that we don’t know why humanity is here on Earth. We don’t know how an entity formed a million years ago that could ask the question “Why am I here?”. The only thing that we can do is to create a better human race and hope to one day find the answers.