A Smaller, More Dangerous World

by admin

Ransomware.  That’s some scary s&*%.  Take a hospital hostage.  Threaten the passengers by shutting down critical care.  Demand ransom.  Do all of this from a remote location, likely far offshore from the hospital itself.  This is James Bond-uber villain-Blofeld type of stuff.  Yet it has become common in today’s world.


Technology is a century ahead of societal progress

Our technological accomplishments are a century ahead of our political and societal accomplishments.  We have made the world much smaller but not any safer.  There is huge risk associated with that which makes the current democracy crisis more than just an intellectual concern.  There are dangerous, practical implications.


Conflict is common and only development makes a difference

History is mostly conflict, war, strife, instability, and oppression.  That’s true for Europe, N. America, S. America, Africa, Asia, everywhere.  The only thing that seems to be able to ameliorate these problems is progress and development.  The Advanced Democracies, while far from perfect, seem clearly less likely to go to war or to suffer severe domestic instability and dislocation.  Yet, 85% of the people in the world live outside of the Advanced Democracies, in societies where these type of behaviors are much more common.


Technology connects us all and broadens the impact of all events

At the same time, we’ve made the world smaller.  Planes can fly anywhere and can do so faster than ever.  Missiles can do the same.  The internet connects all four corners of the Earth.  Social media turns the digital connection into a human one, making communication, collaboration, and even manipulation a global phenomenon.


Advanced Democracies are getting weaker

There’s one more critical element.  The Advanced Democracies are growing weaker.  The unprecedented global debt load of 350% of GDP, mostly concentrated in Advanced Democracies, is slowing growth and making economies fragile.  This makes it harder to finance actions that are necessary to address risks and provide for national defense.  A good example would be the reaction to the COVID pandemic.  Economic activity was heavily impacted by quarantines.  The Advanced Democracies, led by the US, flooded their economies with money to support the economy.  Unfortunately, the Advanced Democracies, including the US, were already highly leveraged and liquid.  So the monetary stimulus quickly turned into the highest inflation rate of seen in more than three decades.  The temporary benefit was quickly overwhelmed by high inflation which basically amounts to a pay cut which has the highest impact on the working class.  The fact is, at the time of the Global Financial Crisis and Great Depression, global debt to GDP was roughly 300% of GDP.  It has increased to 350%.  So, instead of getting stronger, the Advanced Democracies are getting weaker.  This will have a huge impact it the future.


To summarize, the Advanced Democracies are surrounded by people who, culturally and societally, are at a similar position to the Advanced Democracies one or two centuries ago, when the Advanced Democracies themselves were much more prone to conflict, war, and instability.  Plus, technology means that overseas risks and events have a much greater likelihood of impacting everyone.  This is not a recipe for peace and tranquility.  Let’s consider some of the risks.


Nuclear Proliferation: Not getting better.  Maybe poised to get worse.

We haven’t made much progress in this area.  The primary concerns—Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan—haven’t changed their behavior much and also haven’t made much progress societally in 50 years.  So this risk isn’t falling.  It might even get worse as time passes and more countries stagnate.


Conflict Growing: Poverty and Emboldened Adversaries

Continued endemic poverty means that many countries are still susceptible to conflict and war.  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Hamas attack on Israel are the kind of bold, assertive moves not seen in decades.  This potentially reflects the perception that, particularly after Afghanistan, the US and its allies are not willing or able to intervene in any significant degree.  There continue to be many hotspots, danger zones, and potential conflicts around the world (Ethiopia, Yemen, Syria, N. Africa, China/Taiwan, etc.).  We shouldn’t be surprised if we see more assertive behavior and more conflict.


Instability which crosses the border: Migration and Terrorism

The US has an unprecedented border crisis to the South.  Europe continues to deal with extremely high levels of migrants.  Global instability (poverty, wars, oppression, crime) push people across borders.  This will continue to challenge the entire world, including the Advanced Democracies.  Controlling the borders, certainly a worthwhile goal, will be a labor intensive and costly endeavor.


Terrorist organizations are growing in Africa and will have the opportunity to grow again in South Asia.  Such organizations are generally born out of a combination of poverty, politics, religious or nationalistic zeal, desperation, crime and other factors.  They destabilize their home countries and then tend to leak into other countries.  Everything from terrorist attacks and war to disruption of key parts of the supply chain are at risk.  Those risks aren’t decreasing.


Technology allows the bad guys to reach out and touch everybody

Technology is amoral.  Drugs and flight have made great contributions to the world and have also created great destruction.  Digital technology certainly has benefits.  But it has risks, one of which is making everyone a potential victim of misdeeds originating almost anywhere.  Unfortunately, we have much improvement to make before we can well mitigate these risks.  Examples include:


  • Ransomware: Hospitals, power plants, financial markets, held hostage by criminal elements overseas (Eastern Europe seems to be a common site.)


  • Industrial espionage: Businesses under constant assault by groups (often overseas) looking to sell secrets and technology to the highest bidder.


  • Recruiting for terror and crime: Terrorist and criminal organizations use social media for recruiting and efforts to curtail this have proved mostly fruitless thus far.


  • Election interference: Enemies and opponents of democracy using social media influencing and vote machine hacking to meddle in elections. It’s already started and we should expect more.


The above is not terribly detailed nor is it intended as an exhaustive list of global risks.  The point is simply that those risks are considerable and growing.  A smaller world where prosperity, freedom and democracy have not spread very far.  This is the main result of our failure to understand how to genuinely spread progress (prosperity and freedom).  This is a recipe for trouble—conflict, instability, war, disaster, etc.  We shouldn’t be surprised when we see more of those things.  We should be taking the steps to strengthen ourselves domestically so we can better deal with the challenges ahead.  But we aren’t doing that.  At least, not yet.

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