Iain Martin closed the old year with 15 reasons to be cheerful about 2015. Let me open the new one with 16 reasons to be cheerful about 2016.
1. The world will be richer. According to the IMF, global GDP will increase by 3.8 per cent in 2016, up from 3.3 per cent in 2015. It’s easy, when you’re sitting at a computer screen in a developed country, to say “GDP isn’t everything”. But, in most of the world, 3.8 per cent growth means vaccines and schoolbooks and clean water and bicycles and electricity.
2. The world will be cleverer. IQ is rising by around three points a decade. There are various explanations as to why: better nutrition, smaller families, a greater propensity to abstract reasoning in post-agrarian societies. Whatever its cause, the trend shows no sign of slowing. As well as getting better at using our brains, we know more. We now have a better understanding of evolution than Darwin, a better understanding of economics than Hayek – not because we are brighter than those titans, but because we are a click away from information beyond their imagining.
3. ISIS will be defeated. So says Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, and there is reason to believe him. His troops ended 2015 by recapturing Ramadi. Mosul – the desert Kharijites’ biggest prize – will be next. The seeming invulnerability of Islamic State, which exerted such a pull on potential recruits, has been shattered.
4. Driverless cars are coming. Google and Ford have just announced that they are joining forces to design autonomous vehicles. Several other giants, including Apple, Tesla and Nissan, are already engaged. Alright, I can’t prove that 2016 will be the breakthrough year. But technology has a way of moving to what Stuart Kauffman calls the next “adjacent possible”.
5. Piracy will become rarer. Recently a huge threat to maritime commerce, piracy in East Africa has been defeated. While there are still some illegal seizures in other parts of the world – indeed, in the region of the Malacca Straits, the problem has become slightly worse – the overall trend is firmly downwards.
6. Humanity will become interconnected. In developed countries, we will benefit from the spread of social media and Uber and Airbnb. But the real breakthrough is in poorer countries, where the challenge has been getting Internet access at all. Various schemes are now underway to bring the world online, including a plan by Google to use balloons. It’s worth noting that these networks are developing because of the profit motive, not because of state aid.
7. Energy will be cheap. Some analysts expect the price of oil to continue to slide, perhaps to as little as $20 a barrel. Others forecast a slight recovery. But no one thinks it will return to the three-figure sums that we recently took for granted. Cheap energy isn’t just good news for consumers. It also means cheaper production costs, and a competitive lift to the entire economy. And, as a bonus…
8. Despots will be weaker. Which countries stand to lose most from the plummeting oil price? Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela. Speaking of which…
9. Populist socialism will peak. A year ago, pundits were wondering whether Syriza and Podemos were the future for Europe. In the event, those parties have dropped most of their radicalism. Meanwhile, South America looks set to follow the trend of Argentina and Venezuela away from Chavist autocracy.
10. Poverty will fall. According to the World Bank, fewer than ten per cent of the world now live in extreme poverty, defined as $1.90 a day or less. That figure has fallen by more than two thirds since 1990, as previously closed economies joined the global market system. The total eradication of extreme poverty now looks not just feasible but likely.
11. India will become a global power. The world’s largest democracy is, for the first time, becoming an active international sponsor of democracy.
12. The world will be greener. The Paris Conference marked a shift toward achievable carbon targets embraced voluntarily by nation-states – a far more realistic policy than the previous idea of rules enforced by a global bureaucracy. But there is more to environmentalism than global warming. Indoor cooking fires, which are arguably the most noxious pollutant of all, are being dispaced. More agrarian land will be “rewilded” in 2016, as modern farming leads to greater yields from the same acreage. More species will be taken off the endangered list.
13. The world will be healthier. It looks as though we have seen the last case of polio in Africa, and the disease may be eradicated from its last hideouts in Afghanistan and Pakistan this year. Yaws and malaria may not be far behind; even measles and rubella are on their way to extinction.
14. The risk of nuclear war will recede. Iran’s abandonment of its nuclear ambitions has made the world safer. It’s easy to forget that as many states have renounced their nuclear their nuclear programmes than have fulfilled them: Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Egypt among others.
15. Britain will vote to leave the EU. At any rate, let’s hope so.
16. CapX will become the world’s premier free-market website. A non-corporatist alternative to the FT or the Economist, this website quadrupled its traffic in 2015, and there is every reason to expect it to grow exponentially during the next 12 months.