Think tank VP predicts changes

Friday, February 16, 2007

More than ever, people must take a wider view of the world, the vice president of a think tank told about 200 people at Glenn Auditorium on Thursday.

"It's incumbent on all of us to think with a global perspective," said Erik Peterson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. "We're at a moment of incredible transformation in regards to the international landscape."

Peterson was making his second presentation on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University in less than a year. Thursday evening's lecture was titled "Discover Seven Futures" and outlined long-term trends for seven areas of the world.

For each section of the world he analyzed, Peterson played the part of shaman predicting its future based on demographics, recent economic trends, leadership and other factors. He did not discuss the future of the United States during his talk and avoided discussion of the Iraq war, saying he preferred to sketch trends largely ignored in the mainstream media.


Economic growth in some countries, he said, will run into the wall of aging populations.

For instance, Brazil, often regarded as the engine driving South America after the economically stagnant 1980s, is projected to have a median age of 40 by 2050. The future for Brazil and most of Latin America, Peterson said, will be decided by its commitment to economic liberalization and its acceptance or rejection of Hugo Chavez-style populism.

The age question also applies to Europe, which could see its population shrink by almost 100 million by 2050.

Europe's future will be decided by the European Union's ability to unify behind common policies and goals. Many European countries will see a growth in immigrant populations, and Peterson will watch anxiously to see how they are folded in culturally and politically.

Probably the biggest population decline will happen in Russia, which is on pace to shrink to less than 1 percent of the world's population by 2050. This is down from a 4 percent share during the communist era.

Russia's potential for prosperity will depend on its decision to embrace the free market or revert to old authoritarian ways, Peterson said.

The 2008 election, in which President Vladimir Putin will not run, "will be interesting to see how voters balance the legacy of corrosive forces together with the new dynamism of its economy," he said.

Growth in China and India

The two newest and biggest economic power players are China and India, Peterson said. India is projected to overtake China in population in coming decades, and its biggest city, Mumbai, could grow to around 33 million people in 2025.

Peterson is optimistic about India. "In my opinion the most likely future is the turbo-charged, fasten-your-seat-belt road forward in India."

China also has reason for hope but faces more challenges, he said.

He calls its meteoric economic rise the biggest force of change on the planet in recent years.

"Since 1978, the push of more than 250 million people out of abject poverty in this part of the world is one of the more stunning achievements in the history of humanity," he said.

China's population growth will level off at around 1.4 billion in 2050, Peterson said, due in large part to its "one child" policy. To maintain its rapid economic growth, China will likely be forced to liberalize its politics.

"Will we see politics catch up with the economy? In our view, probably not," he said.

Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa

Both of these areas, Peterson said, will see growing populations. Neither is likely to see corresponding economic growth.

Africa is shackled by an HIV/AIDS epidemic that results in one death every 10 seconds, and its economy has been unable to sell its goods freely and fairly on the global market so far. The Middle East has overawing political insecurity that does not lend itself to economic growth.

Up to 26 Southeast juniors and seniors will travel to Washington during spring break in March to participate in a four-day seminar at CSIS.

Edward Graef, a senior physics major at Southeast who will take part in the trip to Washington, enjoyed the lecture.

"It was interesting the way he explained the seven futures of different regions and how social stratification and political turmoil play a part in their development," he said.

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