The world did not end this year, as some people thought it would following a Mayan prophecy (well, at least one interpretation of it), but it seems pretty certain that next year is going to be tougher than this one.
• We are entering 2013 as the Republican hardliners in the United States Congress does its utmost to weaken the federal government, using an anachronistic law on federal debt ceiling. Until the Republicans started abusing it recently, the law had been defunct in all but name. Since its enactment in 1917, the ceiling has been raised nearly a hundred times, as a ceiling set in nominal monetary terms becomes quickly obsolete in an ever-growing economy with inflation (…)
• Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the eurozone is entering a make or break year, with the social fabric of the periphery countries stretched to the limit. With its GDP 20% lower than in 2008, with 25% unemployment rate and with the wages of most of those still in work down by 40% to 50%, it is a real touch and go whether the current Greek government can survive another round of austerity. (…)
• As for the UK, 2013 may become the year when it sets a dubious world record of having an unprecedented “triple-dip recession”. Even if that is avoided, with high unemployment, real wages that are at best stagnant and swingeing welfare cuts, many people will struggle to make ends meet (…)
• Things look brighter in the Asian countries, with their economies growing much faster and with even Japan ready to make a dash for growth through more relaxed monetary and fiscal policies. However, they – especially the two giants of China and India – have their own shares of social tension to manage.
• Growth is slowing down in China. It is estimated to have grown by 7.5% in 2012, well below the usual rate of 9% to 10%. Some forecast that its growth rate will pick up again to above 8% in 2013, but others believe it will fall below 7%. Given the country’s heavy reliance on exports to the US and the European Union, the more pessimistic scenario seems likely, as things don’t look very good in those economies. With slower economic growth it will become more difficult to manage the social tension that has been bubbling up thanks to runaway inequality and high levels of corruption.
• Management of social tension will be an even bigger challenge for India. Its economic growth has significantly slowed down since 2010, and few predict a major reversal of the trend in 2013. Add to this economic difficulty deepening economic, religious and cultural divisions, and you have a heady mixture, as we see in the social unrest following the recent gang rape and death of a young medical student.
Illustration: Andrzej Krauze