One hundred years ago, the decade began with hope and promise. The First World War was over and the victors in Europe and North America were experiencing rebirth economically and socially. Even revolutionary Russia had an air of new beginnings after the dictatorship of the tsars and the unknown dictatorship of the Bolsheviks and their communist promise.
It was all a façade.
The excesses of the 1920s, including years of growing debt, led to worldwide depression in the 1930s and ultimately, also partly due to continued nationalism and a horrible man, to the Second World War in 1939 and into the 1940s. So what’s new?
Not much. History continues to repeat itself. Here’s what we have:
• Nationalism is on the rise again. International treaties and relations are breaking down.
• Militarism is still on the rise. Not only are the big three – U.S., Russia and China – well and dangerously armed, so are many smaller nations and groups.
• Growth in personal, corporate and government debt is growing, everywhere. A debt crisis is pending.
• The strongest, most able leaders are heads of powerful, dictatorial nations, namely Putin in Russia and Xi in China. We are dependent on their judgments and actions.
• The rise of populism in democracies is creating opportunities for renegade, right-wing leadership, such as in the U.S., Britain and growingly in Europe.
• The Middle East, countries arbitrarily carved out by the Treaty of Versailles after the First World War, continues to boil and threaten world stability.
• Even though populations around the world are decreasing, except for Africa and a few other nations, we are an overpopulated world.
• Global migration – a natural, historical phenomenon – remains a threat to world stability, continuing to threaten targeted nations.
So why hope for a good and prosperous new year?
We’re smarter now, at least better informed of what’s happening everywhere. A national leader cannot commit an act, good or bad, without the world knowing about it immediately. There is effective global response to them. It tends to curtail leadership excess.
Nationalistic as we may be, our economies are not isolated. Our countries and regions are dependent on trade. Brexit, for example, may free England from a current arrangement with the European Common Market but it won’t free it from trade with Europe. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales remind them of that.
Our children, the main perpetrators and beneficiaries of mass information exchange, are smarter and more socially aware. They are more immune to racial differences, respectful of our environment, distrustful of “trust me” leadership. Despite smartphones, social media and the internet, they are socially connected and responsible. They are as economically naïve and debt-driven as their parents and grandparents, but that’s partly due to easier access to so many goods and services.
History repeats itself. There will always be military conflicts followed by peace. There will always be poverty and hardships for many, and charity by and opportunity for most. There will always be dire events to worry us and happy ones to give us hope. There’s always hope.
Roger Jackson is a former deputy minister and a St. Albert resident.