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A Needier Era

January 30, 2010

From The Economist:

The 1990s was “the age of abundance”, argued Brink Lindsey in a book of that title. Round the world, incomes were rising; capital markets were processing endless flows of money and investment; technological gains meant that ever more information was available ever more cheaply. And politics in the age of abundance, Mr Lindsey claimed, was all about values. In America this was the period of the “culture wars” over abortion and gun ownership; internationally, there was a huge expansion in concern over human rights.

The 2010s, it is sometimes said, will be an age of scarcity. The warning signs of change are said to be the food-price spike of 2007-08, the bid by China and others to grab access to oil, iron ore and farmland and the global recession. The main problems of scarcity are water and food shortages, demographic change and state failure. How will that change politics?

In the domestic debates of some rich democracies, things are shifting already. In Europe the talk is of how to distribute the pain of cutting public debts. In America the return of mad-as-hell populism looks like a turn away from the politics of abundance (see article). Now, a report for the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington, DC, and the Centre on International Co-operation at New York University* looks at international politics in an age of want.

The sort of problems governments increasingly face, they say, will be much less predictable than those associated with old great-power rivalries. Pressure from demography, climate change and shifts in economic power builds up quietly for a long time—and then triggers abrupt shifts. [More]

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