Europe in 2030: An Optimist Predicts

Tom Marcinko @ 22-07-2009

small worldSo you want an optmistic vision? How about a vision named after Voltaire’s absurdly optimistic hero?

Publishing “Candide’s Garden” in Spielgel Online, Wolfram Eilenberg, who teaches international studies at Indiana University, advances this bracing hypothesis:

Anyone who now wants to talk about the future of Europe must first grasp the fact that we are — at this moment — experiencing a European utopia that has been cultivated for millennia.

The dogma-free, democratic marketplace of ideas, for which Socrates gave his life in Athens, is today a communicative reality in which hundreds of millions of citizens are actively taking part.

Eilenberger, who it turns out is not Dr. Pangloss after all, warns of big changes ahead, but he believes the European Union is well-positioned to weather them. We are entering an age of instant information accompanied by a scarcity of fuel, food, and water.

Put simply, the world will become bigger again.

… Instead of a globalized world economy that crosses continental barriers with ease, we will see continental autarchic zones being formed that will be shaped by the military defense of the basic resources available in each zone. We will thus see the logic of imperial expansion replaced by an aspiration to autarchic inclusion (already the EU strategy). The internal market of each zone will reassume economic primacy. This process does not have to end in war. It could well take an ordered course and lead to a multipolar equilibrium, the stability of which — like that of the Cold War — is guaranteed by an awareness of what military options are not available.

OK, that is sounding a good deal less optimistic. “Does not have to end in war” could mean “may well end that way.” But Eilenberger believes the EU is well positioned to weather these changes:

In cultural terms, Europe is equipped with a plurality of languages that lends itself to innovation as well as a global lingua franca: English (though by 2030 Spanish will be the European Union’s second main language). It is not burdened by any politically effective fundamentalisms, and Europe’s communications and transportation infrastructure leads the world. The thesis of a relative optimum also holds in demographic terms.

As for the USA – well, it’s up to those of us who live there, and our willingness to adapt.

An entire way of life, including the country’s suburban landscapes, will have to be fundamentally restructured. Today it is estimated that this inevitable process of economic and infrastructural renewal — one that will certainly also present new opportunities — will take at least twenty years to complete and, as is already becoming evident, will follow the process of reorientation to internal markets characteristic of autarchic zones. Furthermore, the already irreversible linguistic and cultural Hispanicization of its southern regions means that the United States will face greater integration challenges than will Europe with its smaller Muslim minorities.

Put in more positive terms, the way the United States develops will depend crucially on its readiness to consciously Hispanicize itself and — together with Brazil — to see itself in the long term as the strongest link within a pan-American community.

Which underlines the need to improve our discourse. Europeans, you should hear what our Confederate Party says about you, not to mention about people who speak Spanish. (Oops, is calling Republicans mean names the best way to improve our discourse? Self-criticism to follow. Could just be the reaction of an American with Euro-envy.)

I have no idea whether Eilenberger is right, but it’s a well-thought-out, wide-screen argument that he lays out. We need more of that in science fiction, too.

[Image: JasonRogersFooDogGiraffeBee]

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6 Responses to “Europe in 2030: An Optimist Predicts”

  1. Holly Wade Matter says:

    “An entire way of life, including the country’s suburban landscapes, will have to be fundamentally restructured.” Absolutely. See _Superbia!_ by Daniel D Chiras and David Wann for one model.

  2. antares says:

    ‘It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.’ — Yogi Berra (alleged)

    The first generation of immigrants speaks Spanish. The second speaks Spanish first, English second. The third speaks English first, Spanish second. The fourth speaks only English.

    That is not a prediction. That is history.

    What will be the case in 2030? Same as it ever was.

  3. Rindan says:

    Eh, I think this guy is living in a delusional past. FYI, for anyone who didn’t pick up on it, “autarchic” is an archaic English term that means ‘self sufficient’. The North Koreans would slap this guy on the back and give him high fives for excellent political philosophy.

    He basically is arguing that Europe is going to become a mostly self sufficient zone and implies that its economic connections to the outside world are going to decrease. This is silly. Can anyone REALLY argue with a straight face that the future is a world where it is HARDER to move goods, information, and people across borders? It is entirely the opposite. We are barreling full steam down the path of globalization. The world is going to open up faster and more rapidly.

    The cost of sending physical assets, people, and information across national ‘borders’ is going to continue its rapid decrease, not magically reverse as this guy claims. Nations that continue to struggle to control this movement are going to find themselves marginalized and undermined. In fact, national borders are going to start to crack under the strain of the rapid flow of goods, people, and information across them. There is nothing Europe can do to stop this. At best, they could feebly attempt to wall up and suffer a slow xenophobic inevitable decay.

    As far as the US, of all the challenges the US has to face, Hispanic immigrants are pretty much at the bottom of the list. It might be a local issue in a few border towns in the way Irish immigration was an issue for Boston, but otherwise the growing Hispanic population is just the growing life force that the US desperately needs and much of Europe lacks. The influx of Hispanic immigrants has been a boost to the US. Will they change US culture? Sure… just like all the other dozens of massive immigration waves to the US did. In the end the US will stuff a few more words into the English language, the definition of “American” food will expand a little, and they will slap Cino de Mayo into the calendar next to Saint Patrick’s day and it will be used as an excuse to claim Hispanic heritage, get drunk, and eat burritos (as opposed to claiming Irish heritage, getting drunk, and eating potatoes).

    This guy is an isolationist balls to bone. The future is going to sadly disappoint him. The world is not going to wall itself up. Immigration isn’t going to end or even harm the US. And in general we are going to find a world with more open borders where goods, information, and people flow faster and cheaper than ever before.

  4. Chad says:

    Two things:

    1. “He basically is arguing that Europe is going to become a mostly self sufficient zone and implies that its economic connections to the outside world are going to decrease. This is silly. Can anyone REALLY argue with a straight face that the future is a world where it is HARDER to move goods, information, and people across borders? It is entirely the opposite. We are barreling full steam down the path of globalization. The world is going to open up faster and more rapidly.”

    The issue will be the cost of energy. In order to continue globalization oil will have to stay very cheap and that is not likely. Thus, a new cheap energy source will be necessary to continue globalization.

    2. It always amuses me how every single non-US prognosticator has the US collapsing oe way or another. I’m not saying it can’t happen, just that the desire for this to happen, from those outside fo the US, is amazing.

    This desire has to color their predictions.

  5. TomMarcinko says:

    All interesting comments — thanks. I’m less about having an opinion on this (for once in my life!) than I am about taking this out and examining it.

    Rindan, in the author’s defense, he does raise the idea of fuel shortages. I certainly hope we find a replacement for oil, but I’m not holding my breath. Certainly this issue might act to impede the flow of goods, though?

    I just assumed the use of “autarchy” was a side-effect of being German. 🙂

    Chad, it is hard to miss the hint of schadenfreude, but after 2000-2008, I can see the motivation…

    In general, I’m skeptical of predictions that anything is going to just wither away. Wasn’t that supposed to have happened to multinational corporations by now, according to the futurists of the 70s or 80s? Or are we just not giving it enough time?

  6. Rindan says:

    I personally think that the energy issue is less of an issue than people think. There are three forces that will keep energy costs in check.

    1) As oil becomes expensive more oil becomes available. Canada is sitting on top as much oil as Saudi Arabia. Hell, the US is sitting on top of a sizable chunk of oil still. It is just that no one has any desire to dig it out of the ground when fuel costs less than 100 USD a barrel. As fuel costs go up, the fuel supply goes up with it. This will keep us from one day ‘running out’ any time soon. Prices will rise, but we won’t see shortages any time in the near future. There is a lot of fuel left in this world, the price of fuel just has to be hire before it is worthwhile to try and extract it.

    2) There already exist oil alternatives. You can make synthetic gas. The Germans did it way back during World War II when their oil supplies were almost completely cut off. There are a slew of ways of making synthetic oil that are already ready and waiting. Again, the issue is just costs. When oil prices can’t stay over 100 USD a barrel for even a year, it just isn’t worth it to pursue these.

    3) Alternative energy is extremely promising and rapidly advancing. Bio fuels, plug in hybrids, fuel cells, etc, are all well along on their way. It took oil prices jumping over 100 USD for less than a year before we saw all of these alternatives to oil get a mighty shove. If the prices was ever maintained higher for more than just a year or two, I think we would see them advance even more rapidly. I actually worked in a company working on alternative fuels during price jumps of 2008. We had money raining in from the sky and did more work in a year than we did in the previous 5 before it because suddenly we were an investment opportunity, not a struggling company skimping by on government grants.

    The advantages of rapid global transit of people, goods, and information are simply too great for a world wide economy of tens of trillions of dollars to suddenly “give up” on the whole idea and revert back to isolated fiefdoms. The world economy will turn more and more of its resources towards ‘solving’ the energy issue as they become more of an issue. Even today with the paltry investments into alternative resources that we have now we are seeing great returns. If a crunch ever arises, you are going to see a huge portion of global productivity turn towards solving this problem, and I honestly believe that when you turn a few billion minds and trillions of dollars on ANY problem, it gets solved.

    That isn’t to say that we won’t have little energy crisis here and there, but the equilibrium of the world is not in isolated little self sufficient fiefdoms as this author seems to believe. The world is opening up rapidly. There is no going back. The world economy won’t LET it turn back.