Outside the Box

The World, 50 years from now

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down for a game of Risk, something I haven’t done since university. Risk is a board game, where players build up armies and compete to dominate a map of the World. There were six players from five nationalities around the table. It was a reminder that nothing is forever, and that geopolitical power is always shifting. It got me thinking how things might look in 50 years time…

[Editor’s note: None of what follows is meant to be taken too literally or seriously. The aim is merely to be thought provoking.]

The year is 2068. The population of the World is a little above 9 billion people and isn’t expected to grow further, due to falling fertility rates and population ageing. India is the most populous country, with 1.5 billion inhabitants, followed by China with 1.2 billion. The rest of Asia has 1.8 billion people.

There are 2 billion Africans, 10 times as many as a century earlier. North America, dominated by the USA, has swelled to half a billion and Latin America to 700 million.

Europe’s population is half a billion, virtually unchanged since the mid-20th century. The Middle East has increased to 400 million, twice its level at the beginning of the 21st century.

China, which now includes Taiwan, is the World’s dominant economy and around twice the size of second-placed India. The USA is in third place, just behind India.

China’s economic dominance is despite a massive financial crisis in the early 2030s, brought on by excessive corporate debt. It continues to be ruled by the “Communist” party, although Marx, Lenin and Mao would recognise little in common with their ideas.

Except in the poorest parts of the world, all cars are fully electric. The use of plastic has long been a social stigma in polite society, although it’s still a necessity in may instances. As a result, global oil demand peaked around 2030 and is now in sharp decline. Because of this, the US has lost interest in the Middle East, although it continues to protect Israel for now.

Saudi Arabia was abandoned by what used to be called “the Western allies”. It split up in 2043, brought on by a balance of payments crisis that was followed by a brutal civil war between rival royal factions.

The whole of the Middle East remains a highly unstable region, racked by frequent famines, wars and revolutions. From time to time, Russia and China still intervene – often together – to prevent the spread of chaos into their Muslim regions of Chechnya and Xinjiang. Russia provides most of the region’s demand for grain.

In China’s case, there are also massive infrastructure interests to protect, such as the railways, roads and pipelines. These were built in previous decades to improve trade links between China, central Asia and Europe.

In Asia, the two Koreas reunited in 2048 after a revolution in North Korea. South Korea was practically bankrupted by the cost of absorbing its impoverished neighbour, but is now doing well.

Meanwhile, Japan suffered a massive hyperinflation in the 2030s, wiping out yen bank deposits, bonds and stocks, along with most of the middle class. Tens of millions of pensioners now live in poverty.

India has become a technology and services powerhouse, since English remains the leading language for global commerce. (Even the Chinese have accepted that Mandarin is too hard for most people to learn.) India’s exports of technological goods and services ensure it can afford to import the food and other resources needed by its vast population.

The rest of the Asian countries, given little choice, signed up to “SEAFTA” 30 years ago. That’s the South-East Asia Free Trade Agreement. China sits at the centre, but a newly appointed Chinese leader wants to renegotiate terms, which she considers unfavourable to Chinese industry.

China’s vast economy requires huge resource inputs, such as iron ore. Following decades of poor relations with the government of Australia, China has occupied vast swathes of the west and north of that country. The Australians had hoped for foreign support in the brief war, but none was forthcoming. Nobody wanted to get into a fight they couldn’t possibly win…against the massed ranks of the People’s Liberation Army or Chinese Navy, now the largest in the world by far.

The Chinese government has sent 50 million of its citizens to colonise the occupied territories. Commodities such as gold and iron ore are shipped to China, and food is shipped to the colonists. Most of the produce comes from New Zealand, Vietnam, Africa and South America.

Africa remains the poorest region of the World. China and the USA have been funding proxy wars across much of sub-Saharan Africa for a quarter of a century. China has military bases dotted across the continent to provide support to governments or rebels, subject to requirements. Most of the actually fighting is done by robots and drones, but human civilian casualties are high.

In China’s case, it’s involved because it needs the resources and has major infrastructure investments to protect. In the USA’s case, it’s because it has to justify the huge military budget that continues to grease the palms in Washington…plus everywhere else in the world is better armed.

As for the USA itself, it continues to claim that it’s a democracy, and goes through the motions of elections every four years. But the Republican and Democrat parties – seeing the success of China’s one-party political system – merged into one party back in 2037.

They eventually realised that, since they both represented the deep state and the oligarchy, they may as well join forces. The new party is called the Justice & Freedom Alliance.

Political historians, witnessing no coherent political agenda other than opportunistic populism and corruption, draw comparisons with the Argentine Peronism of old. Opposition parties are weak, underfunded and don’t last long.

Apart from in Africa, the US plays little part in global geopolitics these days. With no further need for oil imports, and being outgunned in Asia by the China-Russia alliance, it’s turned inwards. However, US domestic terrorism and a huge economic underclass – as the middle class has been hollowed out by automation – make revolution or civil war a constant threat.

Latin America is of little interest, since the US is self-sufficient in food. Although trade links are strong due to the shared Spanish language. Europe holds nothing of value, in resource terms, so is largely ignored.

Canada remains a democracy, but has swung to the left politically and nationalised all natural resources. Bizarrely, King William of England is still the official head of state, at the age of 85.

The old European Union is long gone. But a rump survives, consisting of Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria and the Scandinavian countries, plus Switzerland joined in 2035 (since the Swiss were nervous about events in neighbouring France and Italy). It does relatively well economically, but struggles with a heavy debt burden and ageing population.

Within this smaller union, physical cash and non-state cryptocurrencies were banned in 2031, and gold was confiscated. But many people hold hidden stashes of Russian roubles and Argentine pesos, two of the new safe-haven currencies, which they use in the thriving black market.

Early cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, were once a promising alternative. But nowadays they’re practically worthless and thinly traded. This followed a worldwide government crackdown that began in 2028, known as the  “War on Cryptos”. It uses advanced algorithms, robot hackers and undercover agents to identify illegal activity.

Financially stretched governments are desperate to preserve their currency oligopoly. But the blockchain technology lives on, and is the basis for all payments in officially-sanctioned, state crypto-fiat.

Most of Eastern Europe has joined a trade bloc along with Russia, which is now a stable democracy and an industrial, technological and agricultural powerhouse. Eastern European countries buy Russian products and, in return, Russia protects them from any spillover from the troubled Middle East.

Way back in 2022, the French people elected a nationalist government, having exhausted all other options. The nationalists quickly set about leaving the EU and the euro, throwing up trade barriers, and diminishing the institutions of democracy.

Following a financial crisis in 2035, a coup d’etat brought in a military government. However, that was overthrown in the second French revolution, which took place in 2043.

Apart from the subsequent five year period, when the conservatives took power, the French nationalists have ruled the country ever since. The city of Paris is decaying, and is now referred to as “the Buenos Aires of the North” (although Buenos Aires has recovered its early 20th century glory).

The UK was the first to escape from the disintegrating European Union, which it finally achieved fully in 2024. However, the people elected a hard-left socialist government shortly afterwards, dashing any hopes of reduced bureaucracy or economic success. The currency collapsed, and one US dollar will now buy five British pounds.

Following the economic carnage, the Scots voted for independence in 2030, and set themselves up as an offshore tax haven. New Britain – consisting of England and Wales – suffers from bitter winters (ever since climate change cut off the Gulf Stream), overcrowding, domestic terrorism, and frequent financial crises. Northern Ireland has also left the union, but is still – in theory – a protectorate.

Greece was left with no option but to exit the euro in 2027. After a 65% currency devaluation, it defaulted on its massive debts. Italy did the same the following year, breaking the record for the World’s largest ever sovereign debt default. Both countries are now classified as “frontier markets” by investors. Violent crime is rife, but they survive – just – on the income from intrepid tourists that come to visit their ancient monuments.

Spain and Portugal have been left out in the economic and political cold by the rest of Europe, although tourists still flock to their beaches in summer. They also benefit from their historical links to Latin America.

Brazil is the most stable and prosperous it’s been in its history, although crime remains a problem in the massive cities. Venezuela had a revolution in 2021, when the food finally ran out. It’s been unstable ever since – oscillating between military dictatorships and weak elected governments.

Colombia is booming from the tax revenues on narcotic production – principally cocaine and cannabis – after they were legalised in the US and much of Europe. As the lowest cost supplier, the country has gained massive market global share. Bolivia and Peru have benefitted too.

Argentina is now a wealthy and stable country, due to its huge size and resources, with the proceeds shared amongst a relatively small population of just 50 million.

The political violence and financial crises of the 20th century are now a distant memory. Given its food security and huge exports of value-added food products, Argentina now has rock solid finances.

The Argentine peso is a paragon of stability, replacing the Swiss franc of old as a safe haven in times of trouble. Customers from all over the World – especially Europe and the US – flock to Argentine banks, in search of refuge from instability at home.

Flights from London or Paris take just three hours. A new wave of immigration has begun from Europe, as people there scour the World for the hope of a better life…

Life goes on in 2068…with the only constant being constant change.

[Does that all sound far-fetched? Perhaps. But a lot can happen in 50 years. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And who won that game of Risk? That was the Argentine amongst us, who had never played before. After taking and holding North America, he launched a blitzkrieg from Alaska into Asia and Europe, to achieve his secret mission of winning 25 territories.

The Dutchman, Colombian, American and two Englishmen present accepted their defeat…until next time…]

Stay tuned OfWealthers,

Rob “Nostradamus” Marstrand

robmarstrand@ofwealth.com

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Rob is the founder of OfWealth, a service that aims to explain to private investors, in simple terms, how to maximise their investment success in world markets. Before that he spent 15 years working for investment bank UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager and stock trader with headquarters in Switzerland. During that time he was based in London, Zurich and Hong Kong and worked in many countries, especially throughout Asia. After that he was Chief Investment Strategist for the Bonner & Partners Family Office for four years, a project set up by Agora founder Bill Bonner that focuses on successful inter-generational wealth transfer and long term investment. Rob has lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the past eight years, which is the perfect place to learn about financial crises.