The European fin de siècle

The long era of peace, prosperity and ever closer integration which the European continent has experienced since the end of the Cold War is coming to an end. Perceptive observers of world affairs sense that something profound is changing and 2016 is starting to go down as the year that the political centre finally started to crack.

The first geopolitical earthquake to hit was the narrow victory of the Leave campaign in Britain’s referendum on membership of the European Union (“EU”). The overwhelming consensus of the political and media elites (the “Pundocracy”) was that the British electorate would narrowly vote to remain in the EU. I was among the few voices in the wilderness who predicted that the Leave campaign would win at the beginning of the year.

The second earthquake to hit has been the “summer of terror” with a series of horrific terror attacks by largely Islamist terrorists in France and Germany. The beleaguered French and German political elites appear unable to defend their citizens from jihadi terrorists’ intent on torturing, murdering and maiming men, woman and children. It is not a surprise that European electorates are losing faith in the ability of their elected governments to keep them and their families safe.

I have a dreadful feeling that a Beslan style atrocity will be coming Europe’s way with armed jihadi gunmen storming a school and slaughtering as many young innocents as possible before being killed or blowing themselves up. The political ramifications of hundreds of children being tortured and murdered in a provincial French or German town will be enormous. If such a horror ever comes to pass, the pressure on European governments to implement draconian measures on radical Islamic extremism will become overwhelming.

The draconian measures which could be implemented can already been seen in the debate in France over domestic security post-Nice. The conservative opposition have advocated indefinite internment of known jihadi extremists which would effectively see the return of a police state in France. Other measures could include the deportment of extremists, the shutting down of mosques and the restriction of further Muslim migration into the country.

The rise of public concern over immigration, terrorism and broader issues of economic stagnation has sharpened the debate over freedom of movement within the EU. The new Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has already started informal talks over leaving the EU and appears to have received an important concession on controls over EU migration. The Guardian reported last weekend that the EU is considering a 7 year migration “emergency break” along with continued access to the single market. My prediction of a “soft Brexit” whereby Britain keeps access to the single market in return for control over immigration appears to be gaining ground.

The fallout of the Brexit referendum continues to impact Labour politics. The Labour party now faces a second leadership election with Owen Smith challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership. I have predicted that Corbyn will narrowly win the leadership contest.

It is looking increasingly likely that the Conservatives may trigger a general election next year, once a rough deal has emerged with Brussels, over Brexit. Prime Minister May will wish a popular mandate on a “soft Brexit” deal to weaken the hardliners within the Conservative Party who will cry betrayal over any softening of the exit. Should a general election be triggered it is likely that the Conservative Party will win with a majority of around a 100 MP’s. Theresa May has surprised many observers by proving to be a risk taker so far in her premiership so a general election in either the spring or autumn next year must be considered a possibility.

A recent Scottish poll indicates that my prediction that there would not be a surge of support for Scottish independence among the Scottish public was correct. According to a Yougov poll, 53% of Scottish wished to stay within the United Kingdom, hardly different from the referendum result in 2014. Unless we see a serious and sustained shift in public opinion, the prospects of a second referendum on independence look increasingly improbable.

The Brussels elite face a series of further European elections, most notably a re-run of the Austrian presidential election in October. The far-right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer is narrowly leading in the polls according to new Gallup poll. Should the far right win the election in Austria, it will be further evidence of the rise of populist and nationalistic parties, which I have written already in my post “Winter is Coming”. The Hungarians will also be voting on whether they approve the government’s position on the refugee crisis which is expected to be a landslide result. If the Hungarian electorate support their government’s hostile attitude to refugees, this will only contribute to the growing fissures within the EU.

Overall, the European governing class is rapidly losing their grip as right-wing populist and nationalistic forces march ever closer to power across the Continent. Post-Brexit Britain, despite its own troubles, may become a relative safe haven in an increasingly troubled Continent in the years to come.

The European fin de siècle

The German powder keg

Germany is a social powder keg waiting to explode after two terrorist attacks within the past weeks. The first was a lone wolf Islamist Afghan refugee who seriously injured, with an axe and knife, Hong Kong tourists on a train in southern Germany. On Friday 22nd July, a dual nationality Iranian-German teenage gunman called Ali Sonboly deliberately killed children eating at a McDonalds in Munich, Germany before continuing his killing spree in a shopping mall.

There have been contradictory reports on the motives of the gunman, with CNN reporting that a Muslim witness confirmed that he screamed “Allahu Akbar” as he fired his gun in McDonalds. German authorities have downplayed any Islamist connection and have tried to link him to the far-right fanatic Anders Breivik. Whilst there is no doubt that the teenage killer was a deeply disturbed loner with homicidal tendencies, it is likely that he was influenced by the broader currents of radical Islam.

Germany has a highly organised network of far-right activists across the country prepared to commit revenge attacks against migrant centres or mosques. Hans-Georg Maassen, chief of the German security services Bundesamts für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), warned on radio that  right-wing radicalization, spurred by the European migrant crisis, may see Germany collapse into a civil war between left-wing and right-wing demonstrators.

Already, demonstrations between hard left and extreme right elements have descended into violence in Berlin and there are regular protests against refugees in the former Eastern Germany. Whether the explosion of violence actually happens this year is another matter, but there is no doubt that the German authorities are very alarmed at the prospect.

On a European level, counterterrorism experts are extremely pessimistic about the risk of a European 9/11, with the continent facing “simultaneous attacks on the same day in several countries, several places”. I have predicted a pan-European jihadi terror attack in my first blog post, with the attack likely to happen in September or October this year. Hopefully I will be proven wrong in this grim prediction, which if accurate, will have profound implications for the future of European politics.

The German powder keg

Republican Cleveland Convention

On 21 July 2016 Donald Trump formally accepted the Republican nomination as candidate to be the next US president. Although this was predicted in my first blog post, many political experts considered the unthinkable, well unthinkable. On the Radio 4 Correspondents Look Ahead at the beginning of the year, not a single one of the experts predicted that Donald Trump would actually win the GOP nomination.

I have written before on the need for Trump to introduce himself onto the national stage, articulate his national vision for the country and to detoxify his personal reputation with the American electorate. Overall, he has succeeded in all three of these priorities.

The convention speech was presidential, solid and hard-hitting on his core policies on law-and-order, national security and economic populism. It was a Putinesque speech with Trump, the blue-collar billionaire, auditioning himself as America’s strongman capable of overcoming the economic and national malaise affecting the country.

Trump’s unpolished, unspun and at times brutal speech dissected using economic data the parlous state of Middle America. For the working and middle classes listening, it was inspiring to hear an US politician speak frankly of the dire state of the economy, the national debt and the levels of crime in a way that treated the voter as an adult, not a child. Trump speech chimed with the day-to-day experiences of that 75% of the population who have not benefited from the economic recovery and are most exposed to the rising violence against policemen in America’s towns and cities.

The critics within the Pundocracy dismissed the speech as “dark” but this reflects more on how distant the upper classes are in America to the true economic realities facing ordinary Americans. A CNN poll conducted just after the speech confirmed that 75% of Americans had a positive reaction to the Donald’s speech and 57% would be more likely to vote for him in a general election. There is a massive gulf between the financially comfortable upper echelons within American society who live in a First World golden bubble and the rest of the population who are sinking into Third World poverty.

The Pundocracy talking heads made much of the plagiarizing row which blew up after Trumps wife Melanie made her speech. The truth is that the average voter would have barely registered the “scandal”. What actually matters is that the public saw a beautiful, polished and elegant First Lady in making who clearly loves and admires her husband. No words can fake the true emotion that Melanie Trump clearly feels for Donald Trump, and the voters picked that up.

I have written before that the greatest handicap facing Trump is the successful portrayal of him as a racist buffoon by the Clinton campaign and the media establishment. The most significant legacy of the convention will be the humanizing of the candidate to those open to voting for him in the country. The speeches by the Trump clan, in particular his sons and daughters, make clear that Donald Trump, whatever his other flaws, has been a great father. Focus groups have picked this up and it has transformed their perception of the Republican nominee.

Donald Trumps narrative of economic decline and grave domestic and foreign threats was ridiculed by the Pundocracy as dystopian and dark. To Middle America, watching the news every night with coverage dominated by police being gunned down and horrific Islamist terror attacks in Europe, the world is frightening and scary. Right now, only Donald Trump is taking seriously their concerns, which is why he is very likely to end up in the White House.

Republican Cleveland Convention

Winter is Coming

The television series Game of Thrones warns darkly of a coming winter when cities are destroyed, crops fail and thousands of people die of cold, famine and war. What I intend to explore in this post is the future of our contemporary industrial civilisation and whether we are heading towards an equivalent winter in the coming decades.

To peer into the future the past is often a good place to start. During the 1970’s concerns regarding resource depletion, sustainability and future availability of oil supplies were major issues which were widely discussed in the public sphere. A widely misunderstood group attempted to forecast the future trajectory of civilisation through a computer simulation which calculated the consequences of interactions between the Earth’s and human systems. In 1972 the book Limits to Growth was published with various scenarios including a “business-as-usual” standard model (the “standard model”).

Researchers have regularly revisited the Limits to Growth forecasts in the proceeding decades and the standard model is in line with the real world trends to this current day. You can see the standard model and the 30 year update below. To summarise, a 1972 computer simulation has accurately predicted the major trends of the world economy and biosphere over the last four decades, yet it is hardly known to the general public. The reason why nobody wants to discuss the eerily prophetic Limits to Growth standard model may be in what it forecasts in the future.

 

futurism-got-corn-graph

  • A catastrophic global collapse in industrial output per capita and food output per capita from around the mid 2010’s onwards.
  • A massive ongoing rise in global pollution which only peaks in mid-century.
  • Services per capita peaks around 2020, after which there is a devastating collapse, with a huge drop within 20 years of the peak.
  • By around 2030 the world economy has started collapsing with ominous implications for the world population which starts to drop from that point onwards.

The only minor consolation is that on a number of the key trends, the real world data is marginally better than the forecasts by the computer simulation, although still in line with the overall model. Some may argue that technology will come to the rescue and save humanity from this bleak dystopian future. Although an energy game-changing discovery like cold fusion could avert our likely future, there is no evidence that such a technological savour is on the horizon. If the world of science is going to rescue us, it should better hurry up, as we are running out of time.

Decades ago, there was still time to ensure sufficient non-renewable resources could be preserved for future generations through a shift away from a free trade oriented world economy dedicated to economic growth. It is probably too late to avoid significant negative repercussions as our fossil fuel supplies become scarcer and ever more expensive to mine. Even the spectre of manmade climate change wreaking havoc hasn’t been a sufficiently strong reason to force world leaders away from the business-as-usual status quo. It is highly unlikely that politics can save the world now.

The trends forecast in the Limits to Growth standard model is the mega-trend driving world economic and political forces. One of the reasons why the Pundocracy increasingly fail to accurately predict major political events (for example the Brexit referendum result) is that they have a total blind spot to the biggest mega-trend impacting on the world. Ordinary voters understand at an instinctive level that the prospects of maintaining a middle class lifestyle are dying. When news viewers see thousands of migrants risking their lives to get into Fortress Europe, they sense, that this is only the beginning of a massive migration wave from a collapsing MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. And they are right.

Based on the standard model megatrend, as well as other key drivers, here is what I anticipate is likely to happen in the coming decades;

  • The eurozone will collapse around 2020

Historically, European monetary union experiments have lasted on average 20 years and the eurozone is the biggest and most ambitious monetary currency union in European history. It is however in profound trouble with openly anti-Euro parties including the French National Front and the Italian Five Star Movement enjoying a real chance of winning power in elections next year. Should either France or Italy vote to leave the Eurozone, the economic and political implications will be devastating.

The European elite have created a monetary and currency union without a corresponding fiscal, banking or political union. If the eurozone is to survive in the long-run, it needs a functioning supranational federal government which can arrange fiscal transfers from the wealthy northern countries to their poorer Mediterranean neighbours. Public opinion polls show no popular support for such a federalist vision amongst the European public. Even without the Limits to Growth megatrend, it was always unlikely that the eurozone would survive the rising populist backlash by an alienated European electorate. The only question is whether the eurozone experiment, inaugurated in 1999, will collapse in an orderly or disorderly fashion.

  • Nationalistic and populist political forces will continue gaining power

The rise of nationalistic and rightwing populist forces throughout the world is gathering pace. Russian strongman President Putin was one of the first but there are many others in power now, including President Erdogen of Turkey and the authoritarian Chinese President Xi Jinging. One could call it the Putinisation of world politics. These charismatic leaders are popular with the masses and appeal to the nationalistic feelings of their peoples.

The virus of Putinisation is spreading to the Western world. Rightwing populist parties have gained power in Poland and Hungary and only narrowly lost in the Austrian presidential elections recently. The Republican candidate Donald Trump, an admirer of President Putin, is neck to neck in the polls against Hilary Clinton and is likely to win the November general election. The election of Donald Trump as president will be a historically significant event and will signal that the liberal international order has died.

  • The return of the State

As we enter into the long twilight years of shrinking and more expensive non-renewable resources, access to oil, gas, coal and rare metals will become a matter of national security. The state will see a comeback as the market will not be relied upon to ensure sufficient supplies of strategic raw materials critical to a modern industrial society.

The writer John Greer has written about this new era of economic decline and growing world disorder, which he calls Scarcity Industrialism, in a number of articles over the years. As Greer notes, the key feature of this new era will be that “access to fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources will be the key to international power and national survival, but by that very token fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources will continue to slide down the curves of depletion. As resource production in one nation after another drops below levels that will support any kind of industrial system, industrial economies will unravel and give way to other forms of economy.”

States that have strong national security regimes and powerful militaries will be in a strong position to ensure sufficient strategic resources to keep their economies afloat. Power will shift from the finance oligarchs to the generals in the coming decades and a frightened public across the world will demand strong leaders who can preserve their crumbling way of life.

  • The international migration crisis will massively worsen

Experts on the refugee and migration crisis warn that Europe faces the prospect of waves of migration which will dwarf the million and a half that have arrived to date. The German government has been warned that up to 10 million migrants could enter Europe within the next 5 years from a troubled MENA world. As food per capita starts to fall of a cliff in the coming decades, hundreds of millions will be at risk of starvation across the African and Eurasian continents. These people will have nothing to lose by trying to enter a prosperous Europe.

The prospect of tens of millions of predominately Muslim Africans and Arabs trying to enter Europe in the coming decades will accelerate the rise of right wing populist forces to power across Europe. Where there are already significant Muslim populations in western European countries, including France, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, tensions between the Muslim and non-Muslim populations will continue to worsen.

  • The European Union (EU) will collapse around 2030

The likely collapse of the eurozone around the year 2020 will be a hammer blow to the European Project. It will still be in the interests of the major European powers to keep the union going as economic and geopolitical tensions worsen throughout the world. As the forces outlined in the Limit to Growth megatrend worsen, the ability of an increasingly fragmented and divided EU to survive will diminish, and the EU will eventually disintegrate into nationalistic power blocs.

  • Western Europe is heading towards civil war

The prediction that Western Europe is heading towards civil war may appear absurd but it is a frighteningly real possibility. The Chief of the Swiss Armed Forces, Lieutenant General André Blattmann, has publically warned of the risk of civil war, in December 2015. On 12 July 2016, it was reported that the head of French intelligence Patrick Calwar informed the French parliament that France “is on the brink of civil war” between the ultra-right and the French Muslim community. British Rear Admiral Chris Parry warned in the Sunday Times on 11 June 2006 that western civilisation faced a spectre of a Roman Empire style collapse in the coming decades as mass migration and radical Islam triggers violent unrest. European security and military circles are discussing the risks of civil war in public and almost certainly in private.

If there is widespread and violent unrest from a radicalised young Muslim population, then the cities of France, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom will bear the bulk of the fighting. Western European states have cut their military and police budgets since the end of the Cold War and would struggle to put down a violent urban uprising. European governments could have to request American military support but it is not certain that a future US president would send US military forces in a European urban insurgency. Hopefully this grim prospect will never happen and the securocrats are wrong in their fears.

To conclude, we are entering into a twilight era of Scarcity Industrialism where the current financial, economic and geopolitical framework is disintegrating. The Limits to Growth megatrend is driving a collapse of the post-Cold War liberal international order, which will be heralded when Donald Trump is likely inaugurated as America’s next president on 20 January 2017.

Winter is Coming

Et tu, Gove?

The extraordinary political assassination of the front-runner Boris Johnson by his campaign chief Michael Gove, is by any standard, the most stunning political betrayal in modern British history. The Justice Secretary Micheal Gove has spoken over the years that he would never run for the leadership of the Conservative Party. My prediction that Boris Johnson would succeed in defeating Theresa May in the Conservative Party leadership election rested on the assumption that Michael Gove would align himself with the Johnson campaign. 

Now that Michael Gove has unexpectedly become a candidate in his own right, the race for the leadership has been blown open. Boris Johnson’s withdrawal has inevitably made void my prediction of a Johnson victory and is a lesson that there are no certainties in politics. The Home Secretary Theresa May is a formidable and savvy political operator and is in a strong position to win the race. May’s biggest weakness is her timid support for the Remain camp which will do her little favour among the pro-Brexit grassroot activists. 

Michael Gove and the rising star Andrea Leadsom are in a battle for second place in advance of the final vote of the MP’s tomorrow. Whoever succeeds in rallying the pro-Brexit forces to their flag will be in a strong position as the race branches out to the 150,000 strong Tory membership. The only aspect of this race which I will state with any certainty is that Theresa May is not guaranteed to win amongst the membership who overwhelmingly backed the Leave cause. 

 

Et tu, Gove?