ARCS Of Progress – The Arctic World In 2050

Editorial note: This article was first published at Arctic Progress in February 2011. In the next few weeks I will be reposting the best material from there.

The Arctic to become a pole of global economic growth? Image credit – Scenic Reflections.

Behold! Far north along the shores of the Arctic a quiver of upspringing settlements fringes the coast. Boats swarm around canning factories, smoke flutters above smelters, herds of reindeer dot the prairies… And here or there, on every street-corner, glimmer out the lights of theaters where moving-pictures entertain white people through the sunless weeks of the midwinter dancing-time, the singing-time, the laughing-time of Eskimo Land.

- Northward ho!: An account of the far North and its people.

In 2003, Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill wrote the now famous paper Dreaming with BRIC’s, predicting that Brazil, Russia, India and China would overtake the developed G8 nations within a few decades and make astounding returns for faithful investors. The BRIC’s concept entered the conventional wisdom, spawning a host of related acronyms (BASICBRICSA, etc) – and if anything, realizing its promise well ahead of schedule. Last year, China’s real GDP possibly overtook America’s, and Russia’s approached Germany’s.

Yet for all their successes, the BRIC’s may not fulfill their expected roles as the stars of the global economy in the 21st century. The level of education is horrid in Brazil and atrocious in India; without the requisite human capital, these two countries will find it difficult to rapidly “converge” to developed world standards. China is much better off in this respect, but its high growth trajectory may in turn be disturbed by energy shortages and environmental degradation. China produces half the world’s coal, which is patently unsustainable given its limited reserves. But since coal accounts for 75% of China’s primary energy consumption and fuels the factories that keep its workforce employed, there is little it can do to mitigate this dependence. Meanwhile, China’s overpopulation, pollution and climate change predicament is so well known as to not require elaboration. Many other countries flirting around the edges of BRIC status – Indonesia, South Africa, Vietnam, etc. – face serious challenges in the form of low human capital, uncertain energy and food supplies and a rising incidence of AGW-induced droughts, floods and heatwaves.

There is one global region that may hold the key to resolving these intertwined problems – and even to become a major pole of global growth in its own right. For the most part, it is now an empty wilderness, but climate change is opening it up as potential living space. Its exploitation has the potential to halve the length of global freight transport routes while increasing their security, uncover sizable to gigantic new sources of hydrocarbons and minerals, and stabilize global food prices through the expansion of arable land. Its experience of management and conflict resolution may inspire a global model of cooperation – or it may degenerate into an economic, legal, or even military battlefield over shipping routes and sub-sea resources.

This global region is the Arctic Rim, and its adjoining ARCS: Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia. The ARCS of Progress in the 21st century.

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Here Be Dragons: World Map Of Women’s Studies Programs

One notices a remarkable correlation between this, and the perceived attitudes of local women and their obesity rates.

(The map above was made by RVF commentator “durangotang” based on the geographic data here).

Money Mania, By Country

The Economist lies about Russia, it has beef with France, and in general it is far more useful as a barometer of Anglo-Saxon elite opinion than as a good source of objective information on the real world. Nonetheless, it does have the occasional gold nugget, and even one gold vein – its Daily Charts blog.

After all, one can rarely argue with cold, raw statistics, and opinion polls.

Above is a chart from early April about the importance Europeans attach to being rich. It’s funny the extent to which it confirms almost every relevant stereotype in the book (in general, the act of stereotyping is very much maligned, but that’s for another post). Russians and Ukrainian gold-diggers, oligarchs, mafia. Israel – Jews LOL. Greeks have a reputation for being a very mercantile people. Czechs are individualists, so it makes sense that they’re high up there too.

At the other end of the scale, you have the Scandinavian countries that operate under the self-effacing principles of Jante Law, and the French with their rich anti-capitalist intellectual traditions and love for existentialist philosophy. In the middle we have quintessentially bourgeois nations such as the UK, and Germany – they love themselves some money, but Protestantism has long encouraged them to be low-key about it.

Europe, The Black Continent

I am going to start off by looking at Europe, defined as the region under the influence of Western Christianity and/or the European Union (not Russia or Turkey, which will be covered in a later Eurasia Report).

The Big Questions

  1. Demographic problems: aging, low fertility and Eurabia?
  2. The unsustainability of the modern welfare state?
  3. Cultural decline & reaction against liberal rationalism?
  4. The return of Great Power politics? (e.g. Mearsheimer 1990), & the decline of the EU and growing centrality of Franco-German relations, – or will the EU survive, and if so in what form?
  5. National trends: a secure, “flourishing” France; a troubled but powerful Germany; Poland beset on two fronts; marginalized Britain, Spain & Italy, all in decline; Sweden as preeminent Baltic power; on the outskirts, both Russia and Turkey increase their power – realistic?
  6. The retreat into authoritarianism and militarism? Europe as a Black Continent?

European Trends

Without much exaggeration, demography is Europe’s central issue for the foreseeable future. Just to keep the labor force constant, the EU needs 1.6mn immigrants annually (current population: 500mn); to maintain a 3:1 ratio of labor force to retirees, it will need 3.1mn immigrants yearly to offset the aging of the population. These kinds of numbers are probably unrealistic due to (justified?) European xenophobia, especially in the east and center.

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