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A Look Ahead: Where’s 2020 Going?

From climate emergencies to ever-expanding Big Tech to fears over the very future of democracy, the stakes in 2019 couldn’t have been higher. What will 2020 have in store for the world?

2019 has been a whirlwind of upheaval and change around the world. Altamar has had no shortage of global issues to jump into, from the colossal but rocky U.S.-China trade relationship to tiny Guyana’s oil bonanza. Throw in protests in Hong Kong, the return of Peronism to Argentina, growing cyberwarfare and worldwide attacks on press freedom for good measure. It’s been a turbulent year. And, it begs the question – what will 2020 have in store?

David Rothkopf joins Altamar to peer into the crystal ball and predict the primary global issues to track in the coming year. Rothkopf is a prolific author and journalist who writes extensively on international affairs. He is the CEO of The Rothkopf Group and was also the former Editor in Chief of Foreign Policy magazine and served as U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade.

Before we met with Rothkopf, we identified the top five trends we believe will shape the international political stage in 2020. First and foremost, citizen unrest will continue to be a major global force as citizens worldwide take the streets to express discontent with governments across the political spectrum. We’re also witnessing the decline of the West, including the dominance of its institutions and cultural influence that spread in the wake of WWII. 2020’s third trend will also undoubtedly be the ongoing climate emergency, as humanity pushes ever closer to the point of no return in addressing climate change. Fourth, the end of privacy could be upon us with the rise of Big Data, coordinated election interference and worldwide disinformation campaigns. Finally, we agree that the new face of trade will be something to keep a close eye on in the new year. Rising globalization fears has sparked a backlash, prompting countries to eschew favorable trade policies and regulate it instead – tariffs for instance became a weapon of choice among global players, a trend that’s unlikely to abate any time soon. 

Rothkopf also brought his own ideas to the table. Among the myriad challenges, Rothkopf agreed that the current climate emergency looms larger than anything else: “The damage that is being done in some cases irreversibly to the planet is going to have consequences that extend as far as we can see and result in tens of thousands of lost lives, hundreds of millions of people dislocated, tens of billions, hundreds of billions of dollars in cost, and some of the world’s leading countries are doing very little about it… We need to set real standards, to hold people to them, to penalize people for not achieving those standards, and to hold accountable those who are doing damage that the Earth cannot recover from.”

The rapidly evolving role of tech also makes Rothkopf believe that this issue will rise fast in 2020. He thinks that simultaneous advances in artificial intelligence, big data and the loss of privacy will soon produce a global backlash: “We’re starting to see it now, but we’re only in the very early days. Because we haven’t really seen governments go Big Brother on this stuff, although the Chinese are getting closer and closer to it with facial recognition and giving people social points that they get charged and sort of moving us into real Black Mirror territory, and I think that’s going to happen increasingly.”

Rothkopf flags the decline of liberalism worldwide as another major, foundational change: “I think that democracy is in trouble. It’s in trouble in the United States. It never really got a foothold in China, and it’s being further suppressed there. It’s in trouble in the world’s largest democracy in India. It’s in trouble in Europe, where the Russians and the far-right and ethno-nationalists are actively working against shared institutions and democratic processes and undermining those processes.”

To protect Western institutions, Rothkopf warns that we need to update the international system: “We need to go back to these institutions and fix the ones that are old and broken… And then we need to recognize some institutional gaps that we have that need to be addressed, whether that’s an alliance for security in the Pacific which doesn’t exist, or whether that’s global institutions to deal with climate change or transmigration or issues like common network standards.”

Rothkopf is worried that global economic inequality has created further distress worldwide. “The top 0.01% of the US population has wealth equivalent to the bottom 90% of the US population. So, democracy is being quashed, free markets have gotten out of hand, and inequality is growing at a record pace,” explained Rothkopf. Addressing this issue head on will require enormous political will and institutional change: “I think we need to make some fundamental structural changes in our society that take the power away from those who would despoil the environment in order to profit in the short term, and give it back to the people who are going to have to live in that environment, notably both those who are disenfranchised economically and those who are disenfranchised because they haven’t been born yet.”

According to Rothkopf, world leaders need to work together in order to combat these global, existential threats – and fast: “The next generation of leaders, have the job before them sort of present at the creation 2.0. They need to reimagine global institutions.” But perhaps there is room for hope, he argued: “The best part about 2020 is that it won’t be 2019.” Listen to the Altamar’s predictions for what’s to come in 2020 — available for download here.


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Episode 62