Humanity has come a long way in a very short time. When one takes a moment to consider just how much has changed in our world within the last 50 years alone (a very small amount of time in the grand scheme of things), it isn’t difficult to be impressed by the sheer degree of change that has taken place.
In 1964, for example, the age of legal, state-sanctioned racial segregation in the USA was only just being brought to an end. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was still a global superpower. The last baby boomers were still being born. Human spaceflight was merely 3 years old.
Fast forward to the present day. The USSR is dead, baby boomers are beginning to retire en masse, we have semi-permanent research platforms in orbit, and the American president is black.
What will the USA and the rest of our world look like in another 50 years? I have a few predictions.
1. Enhanced Racial Tensions in the USA
The age of the minority-majority is coming very soon. The USA has always been a predominantly white nation. Demographers estimate that this will change during the early 2040’s thanks to low white fertility rates and extensive immigration. By 2064, this nation will have possibly been majority non-white for almost a generation. Most of these non-whites will be hispanic, though the black and Asian populations will grow significantly as well. That in and of itself is going to bring a big difference in perspective within this society.
Many whites do not feel entirely comfortable with the fact that they may soon be outnumbered in a land that was once undoubtedly their own, and they’re not going to ride quietly into the sunset as the social and political consequences of this demographic shift make themselves apparent. You will see the pushback in politics as demographic shifts begin to frame policy debates and party lines become increasingly racially defined, and with regard to population dynamics as white flight accelerates and the level of segregation increases (fortifying a dwindling number of white communities and increasing the number of minority-dominated areas).
Many observers assumed that the rise of Obama signaled a positive shift in the nature of America’s race relations and the beginning of a truly “post-racial America.” If America could finally tolerate a black man in its highest office, they reasoned, surely they would follow through with more positive views of and harmonious relations with their fellow Americans of all backgrounds.
Available evidence suggests that this view was optimistic, as Mark Potok noted in the New York Times just under a year ago:
Have race relations worsened since Obama was elected? The best data, two polls commissioned by The Associated Press, suggest the answer is yes. The number of Americans with “explicit anti-black attitudes” rose from 48 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2012, while implicit racist attitudes went from 49 percent to 56 percent. Another set of A.P. polls showed anti-Latino attitudes had climbed between 2011 and 2012.
Other evidence supports the A.P. findings. According to counts by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in America rose from 926 in 2008 to 1,007 in 2012, while other types of radical-right groups rose much faster.
Potok goes on to argue that there is still potential for improvement, but I’m simply not seeing much room for optimism. The melting pot is not coming, and recent data is only adding further confirmation of this:
Public attitudes about race relations have plummeted since the historic election of President Barack Obama, according to a new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.
Only 52 percent of whites and 38 percent of blacks have a favorable opinion of race relations in the country, according to the poll, which has tracked race relations since 1994 and was conducted in mid-July by Hart Research Associations and Public Opinion Strategies.
That’s a sharp drop from the beginning of Obama’s first term, when 79 percent of whites and 63 percent of blacks held a favorable view of American race relations.
And just this month:
Nearly 9 in 10 people say race relations in the United States have not improved under President Obama, according to a new poll.
Obama did not bring “the melting pot” together; on the contrary, Americans of different ethnicities are only growing further apart, and there is little reason to suspect that this trend will not continue.
2. Increased Religiosity and Conservatism
Expect more religiosity and conservatism overall. This is a function of demography. Among whites, conservatives are rapidly outbreeding their more secular counterparts, and the outflow from these ideologies to more secular trains of thought is simply not keeping up (apples are not falling far from their trees). The majority of white children being born today are being born in conservative households and often are raised with religious values.
Those chickens are going to come home to roost within the coming 20, 30, and 40 years as liberal whites continue to decline as a percentage of their population. Combine this phenomenon with a non-white majority (non-whites being generally more religious and socially conservative than whites), and you’re going to see a significantly more conservative America during this century. Demographic weight is going to tip the balance in the culture wars to the more conservative side, and hot-button issues like abortion are going to be in the cross fire.
Some of the more progressive victories won during these recent culture wars (I include the gender wars among these) may be seriously challenged. Those on the left already lament the rollback of many progressive victories in recent years (ex: growing legislative war on birth control at the state level), but demographic realities will ensure that the assault is far from over.
3. The Recovery of American Industry
This prediction is more tenuous, but I foresee a positive outlook for American industry as labor costs in traditional destinations for outsourcing (e.g. China) begin to rise and erode the advantage they once enjoyed. Europe’s demographic issues will also benefit us by raising labor costs, and incentivizing some corporations (e.g. Mercedes) to move operations to the United States, a massive market that will maintain a much younger and cheaper (yet still highly capable) workforce.
America’s demographic strength will help it remain economically powerful well into the current century. Many of its competitors on the international economic stage are staring demographic crises directly in the face—they have very low birth rates and rapidly aging populations. The USA will be in a much better position to weather the entitlement storm brought on by the baby-boomers than Europe and even China, thanks to its higher fertility rates, younger population, and strong ability to attract young and talented immigrants from across the planet.
We may never see 1950’s-style prosperity here again, but I still think that there will be better times in America’s future. The current state of affairs is not, in my estimation, a permanent one.
4. The Marginalization of Fat Acceptance
Americans will get thinner. Awareness of the negative consequences brought by obesity is spreading rapidly, and has gone far enough already to constitute common knowledge. The discussion and promotion of anti-obesity measures has remained outside the realm of political incorrectness, and I predict that increasing awareness of the dangers associated with obesity will only enhance this reality. Add to this the possible arrival of several medical procedures capable of rapidly limiting obesity by the middle of the century, and I expect the anti-obesity campaign to ramp up significantly.
I see some parallels between our current cultural tangle with obesity and the one our parents dealt with when it came to smoking. Like smoking, obesity is going to become increasingly less of a tolerable social norm. The fat-acceptance movement, in my estimation, has no hope in the long term.
5. A Stagnant China
China will not be a superpower by 2064. Instead, it will be an aging nation with a stagnant (or even negative) economic growth rate, similar to its European counterparts today. It will remain a great power, but it will not occupy the role that the USA currently fills. Demographics will ensure this—low fertility rates will accelerate population aging and decline (along with the skills shortages and high labor costs that will accompany it), and imbalanced gender ratios will create legions of young, troublesome men with nothing to lose. China will get old before it gets rich.
What are your perspective on the next half century ahead of us?
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