Guest Post: The Shape Of The World In 2020

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by the Global Intelligence Report

The Shape of the World in 2020 

None can foretell the future, and yet the shape of what we face can be shrewdly estimated with enough attention to historical trends; with broad contextual understanding; and with sufficient insight into the character of leaders, their societies, and the structures which define their basis.  

These estimates will be tempered by the sudden acts of nature, the sudden emergence of true leadership from unexpected quarters, or key breakthroughs in science. Still, we can hazard reliable views on the shape of the world in, say, a decade — in 2020 — if present trends and characters remain, and on a knowledge of certain baseline levels of wealth and capability which presently exist. 

In 2011, the world will probably remain beset by the lingering of the present crisis of currency levels and economic performance. This is essentially a mass psychological crisis, based around the perceptions which create trust, particularly trust in asset values and institutions.

In some respect, historical trends have given populations in modern societies excessive trust in the ability of their institutions to remain operational, untended by their populations. As a result, governments have grown larger and less efficient, and have arrogated to themselves more and more of the resources of societies, thereby inhibiting productivity. At some point, those societies, when beleaguered and impoverished, lose faith in the institutions of governance and leadership succession. 

It is possible that the end of the second decade of the 21st Century will see exactly that tipping point, at which faith — a psychological attribute — disappears, and either rigid reaction or anomie and chaos intervene. This forecast is based on the existing performance of most governments of modern economies, but reactions of their societies will vary based on their individual natures, their reserves of wealth, and the degree to which government and leaders can adapt radically to reignite and impart purpose and prosperity to their societies.

At present, in 2010, we see no major societies prepared to take such radical steps to reverse trends of social distrust in systems, and, indeed, the accumulation of laws and customs actually makes such radical action infeasible or unlikely, except in the event of major external threat, such as war. 

This trend to inflexibility and resistance to radical change (which would entail discomfort and the removal of personal wealth) has reinforced a “business as usual” attitude. People rarely see the extent of change occurring around them; it is disguised by a continuity of visual references; and the presence of institutions which have not previously failed them.

In fact, it has been said of the modern era that institutions have evolved specifically to disguise change, because change appears threatening. Thus, when systems finally break down under the weight of debt, social change, and reaction, the event appears sudden and unexpected.

Some societies will merely erode into lower expectations of their own domestic and international capabilities, and well-being: many modern societies will allow themselves to decline in “a step of sighs”, occasionally rebuilding to some degree, only to resume their downward steps, unless confronted with an existential challenge which forces them to cut away the inhibiting dross of years, and infuses them with the energy to respond. 

So, then, the coming decade promises a continuation of the declining fortunes in major modern economies, absent the catalyst to reverse the trend. 

And if Western societies falter, will new societies step forward to claim wealth and power? Not necessarily. There is no guarantee of continued growth in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Republic of Korea (RoK), the Russian Federation, or India. Each has their frailties, and each is dependent on the global wealth to varying degrees.

Indeed, it would be reckless to over-state the resilience of the PRC, Indian, and even Russian economies, bearing in mind their own institutional constraints and their low per capita wealth. Even more important is the fact that each of these societies, again in varying measure, have failed to build the granite base of self-confidence within their societies in the durability and infallibility of their national hierarchies. 

We see, as this column has said in the past, the ongoing lack of a global reserve currency, for example, to replace the United States dollar, because neither the PRC’s yuan, the Indian rupee, the Russian ruble, nor the euro are yet greeted with true global credibility.

How, then, do we measure wealth, and power, absent a currency yardstick? 

This brings up the next factor in sustaining wealth, even wealth abstractly denominated by a currency. Wealth is based on trust in currency which is in turn based on trust in the underlying asset values which support it. In modern societies — those with internationally tradable currencies — asset value has moved from a nominal dependence on gold to a dependence on other physical determinables.

To a great degree, this was, for decades, based on the strength of the manufactures of primary and secondary industry, and also on the demand for — and therefore the “value” of — real estate. The leveraging of real estate as the basis for access to capital has become the basis of Western investment, taxation, and power. 

It was this fundamental which was at the heart of the “global financial crisis” of the past two years: the attempt to build real estate values rapidly and artificially [if any aspect of the “value process” can be said to be not artificial; e.g. outside of a real market.]

That bubble burst, and with it much of the ability to amass capital and move it globally. The result will be evident over the coming decade in a reversion to more difficult capital formation; increasing nationalism and resultant bilateralism of trade funding; and so on. 

But there are other trends which will help determine outcomes over the coming decade, particularly the suddenness with which changing demographic patterns begin to bite. We can see, for example, the impact which the La Niña floods had in skewing the population dispersal patterns in Pakistan, the country with the highest level of population growth and the highest rate of urbanization. Now, the agricultural productivity of rural areas has been damaged by the flooding and more people have moved to the cities, substantially decreasing the per capita productivity there. 

However, in most modern societies the peaking of population growth rates, and the move toward sudden population declines, will occur possibly within the coming decade. Population levels in a number of major nations are presently not sustainable by replacement births, and it may be that we begin to see areas gradually depopulate, reducing the demand for real estate, which has been the modern basis for wealth measurement and currency value.

The last such major depopulation occurred with the great plague which followed the globalization of Genghis Khan in the 12th and 13th centuries, but at that time abstract value — such as portable wealth, expressed in currency — was not so dependent on real estate, and particularly highly-valued urban real estate. 

So the world in 2020 could see a significant decline in the availability of capital (in real terms; the availability of printed, inflated money will not be meaningful); in the mobility of societies and their ability to access goods not produced within easy reach. All this will occur unless radical steps are taken to revive real productivity and the self-reliance of societies.

And such radicalism is possible only through leadership. It is that which we await.

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Mongo's picture

Leadership... well not in this generation and the next is mezmorized by tv-shows and series... so let's hope there is a generation not lost in the coming century.

Malcolm Tucker's picture

Look what happens to people that actually want to get involved. This is in Canada no less. What a fucking disaster...


Dental Floss Tycoon's picture

Very interesting embedded video. It is very clear that the real power in the world is not governmental.  It is financial.


The implicit message is that if change is going to come it will not be peaceful.

fellatio is not fattening's picture   ... This man tells it like it is, I wanna see him on MSNBS
the rookie cynic's picture

2010-2020: The waiting for Godot decade.

RockyRacoon's picture

And hopefully banking will go back to being that staid old job that attracts the guys who like green eye-shades... like it used to be long before the magic of leverage and alphabet soup of devices for theft.

Vergeltung's picture

no meaningful analyses of 2020 can be had. it's just too far off. silly, really.

Mark Medinnus's picture

Your easy dismissal implies that you are young.  Since I'll be eligible to draw SS by 2020, however, I value any sensible analysis of future trends and likely outcomes. One personal projection: there will no meaningful SS will be available to me when I retire; consequently, I'm funding my retirement with this insight in mind.

Vergeltung's picture

just turned 48. I made a cryptic comment, yes. however, more so than when I was younger, future developments seem subject to far more variables now. to sound cliched, life was indeed simpler then. predicting ONE year ahead takes great skill now, let alone 10 years....

Mark Medinnus's picture

Hey, I agree with you, really.  10 year predictions are tough.  But I'm 53 now and the specter of retirement beckons. 

You know, when I think of it, I felt I was still bulletproof at 48.  Wow, to be in my 40's again, when my head wasn't taller than my hair. 

Thomas's picture

You are right: long-range predictions are notoriously bad. With that said, the method behind the prediction has merit in some instances. I would say this is a reasonably thoughtful bad-case (not worst-case) scenario, and I found it engaging.

A Nanny Moose's picture

Life is what happens while you're making other plans


centerline's picture

Nah, easy.  Inflation will be monetary.  That is coming to an end.  Deflation will be physical.  That is just starting.  In 2020, there will be a lot less people around than there are now.  Just not enough resources, and too many promises.  The prospect that suddenly everything is going to change for the "greater good" is not supported by any historical reference.

greenewave's picture

The horror of war and MASSIVE political and civil unrest is COMING TO THE UNITED STATES.

Please watch the video “Hero of War” at ( and see what the MAINSTREAM MEDIA doesn’t want you to see.


Wow this look like a movie but the truth is that it’s not.

Dr. Sandi's picture

Deja vu. Seems like I've seen this before somewhere!

You make the erroneous assumption that the MSM gives a rat's ass about what I see.

BrosMacManus's picture

be gone, brownshirt, organize in the more furtile climes of the uneducated.


G-R-U-N-T's picture


The "horror" the horror". Yeah right, the Greeks rioting because Daddy cuts them off.

Terrible tragedy when the adult masses depend on the Governments tits for entitlement social welfare programs. I call this syndrome EDD (Entitlement Destructive Disorder). They have the "idea" that they cannot make it on their own, and they end up having all the characteristics of a young child while an adult (also called Developmental Arrest). What we are seeing here is a dependent whining temper tantrum from spoiled dependent children which is a symptom of EDD. There are many more symptoms indeed, however I haven't the time to share them.  There is a cure...





themosmitsos's picture

Except that they're not waiting for it in Russia





Flakmeister's picture

 May be our avatars should get together

themosmitsos's picture

I have no idea what you're talking about

Cheesy Bastard's picture

I'm sorry could you repeat that?

themosmitsos's picture

I have no idea what you're talking about

Alienated Serf's picture

its the SS beavis and butthead!  cute couple.

Flakmeister's picture

  Hey, I just liked the F.... :)

boeing747's picture

In 2020, we will live in John Lennon's Imagine World without FedRes, we pay each other with SDR, flip Burger and clean floor in a McDonald.

Mark Medinnus's picture

Hey, it's a brave new McWorld, dude.   Every happy meal comes with a Bangdeho.  "So supersize me, bitch."  

Instant Karma's picture

The contrarian trade is to look for economic growth, confidence, and stock prices to steadily increase in the next decade, similar to the 1980s followed the 1970s.

mauistroker's picture

Anything's possible. But the risk is assymetric (sp?). Avoiding the market and taking a very defensive stance means we might miss out if someone finds another 'North Slope' and 'North Sea' or develops practical fusion but it's looking very unlikely right now. The balance of probabilities is skewed toward the shit hitting the fan so fucking hard that it smashes it. And then blows the fucking window pane out and sprays crap all over the street.

tmosley's picture

So the mainstream media, Fed, and government officials are all contrarians?


CIABS's picture

(re: instant karma.)  i like the simple, obvious patterns.  stocks in real terms since ww2 have followed a rhythm: a long bull trend begain in mid-1949.  it reversed in very early 1966.  reversed again in mid-1982.  again in early 2000.  the next reversal would therefore be expected some time in 2016 or 2017.  will there be another long bull market?  i don't know, maybe not.  if there is one, will it start notably ahead of schedule?  i doubt it.

Cdad's picture

I want to weigh in on the question posited in the title of this essay.  Unfortunately, my favorite tv show is on...AFV.  Now I know how that might sound to some of you sophisticated ZH'rs out there...but too bad.  I confess...I never get tired of seeing a guy catch it in the biscuit.  Hi ho.

But I wanted to make a guess on the shape of the world in 2020 now until later when I have more time to read the essay...and I'm going to guess that the shape of the world in 2020 will be         NOT PEAR.

Later, I'll amend this post with actual knowledge after reading the actual I strive to read every single article on ZH each day...and then try to make one informed or informative comment per article.  It has to do with a resolution I made....but I digress and will catch you later....

Cdad's picture

Whew...another good bucket of belly laughs.  If you watch my favorite tv show too, then you know that two universal truths continue to hang tough:  1.  Piñatas are a bad idea  2.  Trampolines are a bad idea.  And of course, a guy catching it in the biscuit is still lololololololol.

Cdad's picture

So having had one giant martini, and having read the article now, what I have to say is this:


1.  Your opening sentence is sweet and enticing.  I get a little lost in what I would call "unconventional use of punctuation."

2.  Paragraph two is both sweet and solid.

3.  Ah...Para 3 is a it delivers what I would have thought would be delivered in para 1...but who cares...that may just be style.  Never been wed to convention, myself.

4.  Para 4 is strongest in "truth."  Spot on.

5.  Ummmmm...."faith" is not really a "psychological attribute."  In fact, it is exactly NOT that.  Unless you further qualify that remark...I will not EASILY follow your point here.  The rest of that is pretty sweet...but I hit that snag, you see.

6.  True

7.  Bunk.  This is your weakest link so far IMO.  In fact, it completely overeaches.  Radical change should be resisted.  Faith and tradition, for example, require that.  So you have over generalized here...but not so much that I am not still reading.

8.  "it has been said" whom? 

9.  “a step of sighs”....sweet.  Hat tip on that one.

10.  "So, then, the coming decade promises a continuation of the declining fortunes in major modern economies, absent the catalyst to reverse the trend."  There is something true here...however, if you had included the word "If"...then it weakens.  And inserting that word is quite natural...not a stretch.  Not sold here.

11.  About the PRC and such...true.

12.  True...but I confess to not having read your column noted.

13.  OK...the first sentence sings like a sweet bird...and the second one does not as it dies in the word "determinables."  Now, I like artistic license...I do.  But never let that overtake your point on the last word of a paragraph.

14.  Right on! [about manufacturing and real estate]

15.  beginning "It was this fundamental..." should be merged with prior paragraph.

16  On the subject of amassing capital...yes  yes  yes....but you muddle the point.  Be direct here.  However, I have a passion on this take me with a grain of salt here.

17.  I have no knowledge of the floods in Pakistan...and cannot

18.  On the point of the major demographic problem, here being the Baby Boomers, correct.  Had I listened to my own words on the matter ten years ago, I would not have been stung by all the madness of 2008.  Hi ho.  Critical point.

             In final, I would have gone less artsy in the end.  Leadership, waiting for it, mobility, all of it....all good points.  However, I would have gone full on concrete at the end...laser sharp and unavoidable clear, contemporary examples at the end.  In this way, I would have not given my reader the option to interpret differently and dodge the critical issues, which as I see them in your essay...loss of confidence in the system, shrinking demographics, shy capital, and broken systems.  And those are numerous.  I would have gone, how does Spalding say it...I would have monkeyhammered concrete examples right on home at the end.  You could go artsy at the end, but that would have required more concrete stuff in the body of the essay.

            Well...I would say you are sophisticated with language, allbeit unconventional with punctuation.  I like your topic...but I would move towards more concrete examples and conclusions...and less flowery language as the essay moves towards its conclusion.  I would make it easier for my reader to reach my intended know, considering how many contemporary Iphone zombies are out there...


Carry on I think we are all working towards the same end....


Phaethon's picture

You know, I like this.  Perhaps you can start a recurring thing: Cdad's post-giant martini "take"

Cdad's picture


Thanks.  I agree...but mostly because that would require more giant martinis to reach those "takes."

Consider your idea me, at least.  As for how others might feel about it....either "we shall see" or " they can kiss my ass 'cause this is ZH....whatever."

Cdad was here...

Chappaquiddick's picture

Very considered.  I would like to add a few mls of sodium pentathol to this debate.

Hubberts peak might be symmetrical in theory but in practice the down slope will be littered with discontinuities.  A key question that I think we need ask to frame the debate is how long into the decline before we encounter one of these.

My ongoing research into this is casting a light on a very bumpy road ahead.  To draw a very simplistic analogy in climbing terms we have climbed very high on the back of our global hydrocarbon resources but we are now at a point where we can't climb any higher but at the same time we have also realised we can't climb back down either.  We're stuck. The effect could well be a very nasty perhaps fatal fall from these dizzying heights.

I don't see a gradual decay of service or an erosion of wealth over time - for me it looks like a phase change, a sudden alarming shift will be marker to denote we just stepped into the abyss.  Of course sudden is relative to the time frame you apply and for me that might traverse a period of a handful of months or perhaps a few years.  But I'll be extremely surprised if we still blogging here in ten years.  

Thorny Xi's picture

"I'll be extremely surprised if we still blogging here in ten years."  

Indeed.  Or blogging anywhere.  Most people have no idea what it takes to keep the lights on, literally and figuratively.  The IEA WEO 2010 implictly acknowledges that Hubbert's global peak happened right on schedule - 2006.  Not to worry, since developed economy demand for oil will simply decline.  With declining foundation energy, you bet demand will decline.  Leverage depends upon an increase in future value, else the discount rate will reflect the expected loss.  With declining oil production, the future value of an oil based civilization doesn't look good at all.  Which explains the looting in Wall Street, where people have research departments and know what's coming.




Chappaquiddick's picture

The futurists at GS have enabled LB to 'Undertake' Gods work - apologies for the funereal jest - but that fucker won't be satisfied until neofuedalism has been rolled out and field tested on an eager US populace.

Gone are the hopes for human exploration of the cosmos - nope - its horse shit and gruel from now until the supernova - we blew folks, we are a collective set of cosmic cock heads -- did we really deserve anything better??

Jimmy Carter needs some recognition, as he at least tried - the rest of 'em - pay per view primetime gallows.  (The take on that would pay off the national debt!!)

mauistroker's picture

errrr.....OK? Who the fuck is THIS guy?

Misean's picture

Way way OT, but still humorous:

SGI forges overclocked servers for Wall Street

Weimar Ben Bernanke's picture

In the year 2020 the US debt crisis will begin as interest payments of 600 billion plus will be needed to service the debt it self. It amazes me that people in zero hedge still believe a dollar collapse will happen in this decade. I for one do not see a dollar collapse for another ten years,the reason being their is no good alternatitves right now. The euro? It is on life support and will ultimately die in two years max. The yuan? Hello China bubble,their rate of inflation is about to get worse. The rubble,rupee,Brititsh pound ,yen and real? Dont make me laugh. The dollar will die but it is going to take 10 more years because if you look at the post-2020 fiscal outlook it  is downright apocalyptic, for two reasons. First, the aging of the U.S. population will drive sharp increases in health care costs (and at the same time, more Americans will be retired). Second, federal interest expense will rise exponentially, as the Treasury's borrowing costs grow with the debt.  So the dollar will die but it will take more time because the current curriences are shiity like pigeon shit.

akak's picture

It amazes me that people in zero hedge still believe a dollar collapse will happen in this decade. I for one do not see a dollar collapse for another ten years,the reason being their is no good alternatitves right now.

The universe is not known for patiently waiting for "good alternatives" to patently unsustainable and failing human situations.  Reality does not recognize nor worry about anyone's emotional discomfort or arbitrary intellectual roadblocks.

Oh regional Indian's picture

Spot on akak. I think the 2020 prognosticators miss the point. In today's world, 1 year is what 20 years was in the 50's, 10 years in the 80's, 5 in the 90's and back to 1 now.

One only needs to look at the world since late 08. 07's happenings were noted by the few, the resulting bitter fruits were tasted by all (most).

We are entering the most non-linear times we or anyone alive has ever seen. They always ended in War.

War re-writes everything. Especially a global one, which of course has been long underway, only subtly. The pawns were advanced and sacrificed.

Now, the big daddies are coming into play. Kings and Queens, literal and figurative.

I say plan well for tomorrow and live fully today.

The rest, we'll watch together, eh?


Chappaquiddick's picture

How about this for a scenario - US debt default -> economic collapse -> Military collaspe. China invades US to make good on the debts owed.

BruceH's picture

the title is "shape of the world in 2020"


somehow i expected to read an answer....but you just wrote a bunch of nothing...


oh well...

Thomas's picture

The Fourth Turning ought to sell well in the decade going forward.