Dear Colleagues,

Most of us would love to know what 2012 will bring to the world. Doom and gloom are a little bit out, if we can believe the Center for Global Development’s “what’s hot and what’s not” list. The world is still “getting better”, which is a message a former Belgian prime minister would surely appreciate. Guy Verhofstadt, now an influential politician in the European Parliament, reckoned “optimism is a moral duty” in the days he still had to convince Belgian voters. Verhofstadt would fit in easily in the US. But on this side of the ocean, things are perhaps not getting better any time soon.  So we rather sympathize with the ones claiming that ‘activism is a moral duty’. After all, activism should be a key social determinant of health, in the words of Mark Heywood.  And the world urgently requires sustained activism, not just in global health.

Let’s speculate a bit on what 2012 might bring. Always a fun thing to do.

In 2011 Time’s person of the year was “the demonstrator”. We reckon 2012 could very well turn out to be the year of “the extremist”, with “the (US) fundamentalist” as a close second. Put differently: there will be blood. The Economist is more upbeat and thinks elections will actually matter more this year and the next (in countries like France, the US, Germany (early 2013)). In China a power handover is foreseen too, at the end of 2012, albeit one with Chinese characteristics. And let’s not forget Russia.

Voters will indeed be important in 2012, but nevertheless, we’re afraid (far) more right and left wing extremism is to be expected, as financial turbulence in the EU will not subside – we will probably end up, sooner or later, with a smaller eurozone – and technocrats and politicians everywhere seem hapless when it comes to the challenges of the 21st century (see also Andrew Harmer on this). Add to this some nutty 2012 “end of human civilization” predictions, and we’re set for an explosive cocktail.

So yes, we could see right-wing Breivik “copy-cats” this year. As for the long-haired and pot smoking left, headquarters of multilateral institutions, financial centres, rating agencies, and investment or central bankers should probably brace themselves, as many of them are being perceived as aloof or worse. In fact, big sections of the so called “99 %” feel pretty much the same by now.  We’re worried some of the Occupiers will increasingly grow impatient with non-violence as the preferred political strategy to tackle global and national injustice, especially if slick Wall Street puppets are once again being elected or others “talk the talk” but fail to live up to their electoral promises. Whether this violence will be “piloted” (isolated acts of desperate people) or ‘scaled up’ (organized networks), and ‘targeted’ or ‘universal’ will determine the reaction of our leaders.

21st century countries still need economic growth for their legitimacy and sustainability – a worrying thought in a world with limited resources. If economic growth falters, regimes get in trouble. Whether they’re authoritarian or democratic doesn’t seem to make too much difference – they both need growth.  The Chinese communist leadership will not get a fatal blow in 2012. But just like for the Euro, we wouldn’t bet on its survival until 2020, as things stand.  At last an upbeat message to finish our predictions with.

Here comes 2012. Enjoy the ride.

Kristof Decoster

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