9 Big Trends For 2014 (You Won't Believe What's #9)

Posted: Jan 3 2014, 6:26am CST | by , in News



It’s 2014! This blog is about analyzing all the big trends that affect the world. So here are, in no particular order, and concerning most subject areas. I think #9 will surprise you.

1. Government versus The Internet

Drones. Self-driving cars. Bitcoin. Airbnb. Uber. Software is eating the world–but the world is fighting back. As the world of bits enters the world of stuff, the rules of the world of stuff get upended. Sometimes it’s a matter of the rules simply being obsoleted and needing to be upgraded, as in the case of self-driving cars, and in most cases the evolution is going smoothly. Sometimes it’s a matter of interest groups acting like Bastiat’s candlemakers and using the government to protect their franchise at the expense of consumers, as in the case of Uber and Airbnb. Sometimes it’s a matter of the internet threatening a government function, as in the case of Bitcoin. And sometimes, of course, it’s a matter of the government using the internet for its own designs, as in the case of the NSA.

The point is that we’ve been able to behave for close to 15 years as if the internet was a regulation-free, abstract zone (of course that was never the case). More and more, government and the internet are going to rub up against each other–sometimes facing off, but sometimes corrupting each other.

2. The Booming Business Of Content

You can’t make money on the internet with content. You can’t make money on the internet with content. You can’t make money on the internet with content. You can’t…

This mantra has been around for over fifteen years. Your writer has been disputing it for almost as long. Why? Basically, people want to read content. And content that people find engaging can be monetized. Gawker Media has been proving you can make money with online content for ten years. Huffington Post for five. Buzzfeed is now proving it even more strikingly. And now we are seeing the next phase of the evolution: media entrepreneurs striking out on their own or affiliating with other brands, with outlets such as FiveThirtyEight, Re/code (formerly AllThingsD) and Wonkblog’s Ezra Klein’s supposed new media venture. Expect to see a lot more of this in 2014.

3. The New Normal: slow growth; public debt; mass unemployment; bubble talk; in-country inequality; crony capitalism

The new normal is here, and it sucks. It doesn’t have to be the new normal. But somehow it is. And in the US and in the EU, it looks like it’s here to stay for at least one more year. The US is in no mood to embark on new policies (Janet Yellen is a moderate; President Obama is a lame duck; Congress is divided), and the EU is doomed by age to irrelevance.

When you hear about the following phenomena, you can tell that people are talking about the New Normal. When people talk about slow growth, because when you have too much supply side regulation and not enough aggregate demand you get slow growth. When people talk about mounting public debt, because when growth is slow, it’s almost impossible to balance budgets (but people will see the debt as a disease, not as a symptom). When people talk about mass unemployment. Or actually, they won’t, because elites and everyone they know will be employed. When people talk about bubbles–because it increasingly seems like in a fundamentally slow-growth economy, the only way to get people jobs is by inflating bubbles. Also because for a certain kind of people even if Silicon Valley was swallowed up in lava and anyone who coded a website was shot by drones they would be screaming about a tech bubble. When people notice that inequality is increasing in (slow-growth) Western countries and in (corrupt) emerging countries. Of course it is. When growth is lower than return on assets, inequality mathematically increases. Society cleaves into the haves, who get most of the shrinking economic pie, and everybody else. People think the problem is the haves, when really the problem is that the pie is shrinking. The new normal is also crony capitalist. Governments have to Do Something about slow growth, and that means enrolling business in programs; and meanwhile, business, since it can’t find growth in the marketplace, turns to government to fill its coffers. Of course, this only increases inequality (and the unfairness of it all).

In short, in 2014 the rich world will head the way of Italy and France.

4. A semi-functioning Washington

Another mantra: Washington doesn’t work! Washington doesn’t work! Washington doesn’t work! Leaving aside that it was designed not to “work”, this mantra will prove slightly less true in 2014. Think of the recent budget deal hammered out by House GOP macher Paul Ryan. Basically everybody (including Ryan) hated it, but swallowed their bile and voted for it anyway–the way good old-fashioned Washington deal-making is supposed to happen. No shutdown. No debt-ceiling hostage crisis. Why is this likely to continue? Quite simply, because there’s an election up ahead. The Obamacare fiasco has weakened the President and the Democrats enough that the Republicans just have to play it safe to win it. That means no shutdowns, no crazy business.

Does that mean Washington is finally going to become an Olympia of enlightened policy making with grand-bargains raining down over the Washington Monument? No. But it is going to suck less in 2014.

5. More Blacklisting

When people think of the Hollywood Blacklist, they usually think of something like “Evil evil Republican evil Senator John evil McCarthy made up fake accusations of Communism to oppress good people in Hollywood and force them out of their jobs.” The reality was much more complex–and much more interesting. First of all, the simple fact of the matter is that, in Hollywood, especially before Stalin’s Purges when it became (even more) obvious that the Soviet regime was totalitarian, there were actually quite a few Communists. Second of all, the Hollywood Blacklist was mostly a private affair. It was the veterans’ group the American Legion that promoted it, threatening studios with boycotts and pickets of any movies in which a suspected Communist was involved. At first the studios tried to brush off the blackmail, but after World War II and at the height of the Cold War, facing off against a veterans’ group to protect Communists was pretty much the worst PR scenario possible, and so the studios caved in, accepting the Blacklist. It was only after that that the opportunistic McCarthy got involved.

What’s the lesson, here? The lesson is that you don’t need government to enforce speech codes, and that all societies love demonizing outsiders. And as The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher has been chronicling, this has been happening to cultural conservatives and other politically incorrect sorts at an alarming pace.

Nowadays, employers are pressured to fire employees who make politically incorrect statements, such as Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and my former colleague Pax Dickinson. As the liberal victory in the culture wars becomes absolute, expect them to keep doing more of this. While they do it, expect them to explain that the First Amendment doesn’t protect someone’s job, an argument they had zero patience for during the Blacklist. Expect them to righteously intone about the importance of using social stigma to uphold proper norms of behavior, a fundamentally conservative argument which they find repulsive and totalitarian in every other context. Expect them to equate reluctance to see someone fired for their views with an endorsement of those views. Expect them to have absolutely no humor. And of course, social media makes speech policing and two-minutes-hate-ing all the more easier (Justine Sacco, we hardly knew ye).

6. Corruption in China

China is one of the most corrupt countries on Earth. China is one of the most corrupt countries on Earth. China is one of the most corrupt countries on Earth. This is probably the most underreported fact about the Middle Kingdom, along with its birth rate and birth gender ratio, and these facts together tell you everything you know about China’s prospects as a future economic powerhouse (let alone future superpower).

There has long been a bizarre coalition of interests to ignore this problem of Chinese corruption. Western businessmen found it easy to ignore because it allowed them to hire slave labor at slave wage rates. Western pundits found it easy to ignore for a perhaps even more perverse reason, which is that most elites secretly dislike democracy and admire authoritarian governments because under authoritarianism (they think) they would have more power. See Friedman, Tom. The myth that authoritarian governments are more efficient is strangely resilient given that history shows the opposite. Under Mussolini, the trains were even more late. And of course, the control of the media by the Chinese Communist Party made it hard for many stories to come out.

In any case–China is a very corrupt country. It is basically a kleptocracy. When JP Morgan gives jobs to the children of the elite to secure contracts, this is not a matter of provincial backwater officials taking bribes, it is a matter of the entire system being corrupt, top to botto.

Why does this matter? Well, because this has taken up all of China’s economy. China is in a massive credit bubble, and one big reason for the bubble has been that the allocation of credit has been driven, not by market forces, but by favoritism. In other words, state-owned or -backed banks extending loans to state-favored companies and people, regardless of the merits. See the link with corruption? What do you think will happen when the house of cards collapses?

I am not predicting some big China crash in 2014. But expect the drumbeat of China corruption stories (which has always been there for those with ears to listen) to get louder in 2014.

7. The Shia-Sunni Great Game In The Middle East

When people think about the divides in the Middle East, they usually think first in terms of Israel-Palestine. Or in terms of oil. And those are obviously important dynamics. But it’s been increasingly clear that the dominant narrative in the Middle East for the past few years has been the great game between the Sunni and Shia (or, if you prefer, Arab and Persian; Iran and everyone else) spheres for control of the region. This is basically the central dynamic of the Syrian conflict: Syria being aligned with Iran (Assad’s Alawites being neither Shia nor Sunni) and under suspicion of falling in the other column. This has made for some rather strange bed-fellows. Israel and Saudi Arabia. America and Al Qaeda. Welcome to the Middle East!

This is why the Saudis are freaking out so much about America’s (very relative, but real) rapprochement with Iran. The US merely sees itself as trying to find a way to prevent nuclear proliferation in the region. But Saudi Arabia sees itself engaged in a death struggle for control of the region with an absolute enemy (and Iran very much agrees), and sees the US either switching sides in that historic struggle, or just getting suckered.

Of course, this all began over 10 years ago. America’s ludicrously disastrous invasion of Iraq created the opening for Iran to take control of that country through its Shia majority, and thereby assert its dominance. Since then, Iranian oil, money, weapons, spying and terrorism has reshaped the region.

So, what should the US do? Ha! Beats me!

But in 2014, the best lens through which to look at the Middle East will be through the Sunni-Shia Great Game.

8. Porn Addiction

The psychological and social consequences of limitless porn consumption have got to be a slow-moving disaster. Saying so automatically puts you among the most hidebound of doctrinaire reactionaries. But the thing is, there’s a qualitative difference between a world where porn looks like Playboy, and a world where porn looks like “Any imaginable sex act, in high def video, at your fingertips, all the time, everywhere.” Porn is addictive and destructive. Because it’s something most people won’t admit to, we have to assume it’s much more widespread than we think. The stigma against talking about the negative consequences of pornography and masturbation is still very strong.

But after a while, some of us will wake up. Alain de Botton has been the first recent non-curmudgeon to point out the obvious. Because our society has replaced the language of sin with the language of addiction, that’s the language we’ll use to talk about it. But I expect in 2014, in a small way, some voices will talk about porn addiction as a serious thing.

9. Less Listicles!

People who blame the internet for lists haven’t been paying attention. As Buzzfeed co-founder Jonah Peretti has noted, God’s Commandments are a list. Umberto Eco wrote a whole book about the grasp lists have on our imagination (Eco’s thesis is that by making list of things, we try to get a handle on the world, and therefore our own mortality).

That being said, one can’t deny that the popularity of lists has influenced much internet writing (like this post). Nevertheless, I expect their popularity to abate somewhat in 2014. Why? Because virality is changing. The latest viral sensation is Upworthy, and Upworthy doesn’t make lists. It doesn’t crank out thousands of posts hoping to eke out enough pageviews with each one. Instead it creates hundreds of posts waiting for one of them to go truly viral. Because people actually want to share it with their friends, not because it’s a list. As media outlets try to imitate Upworthy, I think we’ll see more posts hand-crafted for shareability. And that will mean less listicles.

After this one, that is.

Source: Forbes

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