There are some massive challenges coming up that provide compelling reasons to adopt a different approach to political economy as matter of urgency, see (WEF Global Risks) and (Jackson and Webster). This is a short summary. I am trying to retain balance and not be unduly alarmist or pessimistic. Also look at the follow on discussion in Possible Futures, it is all too easy to envisage a perfect storm in the confluence of several of these sometime in the next 100 years and give up.
Power Bloc competition and an undermining of weak international institutions.
It is generally agreed that the world that emerged from the WW2 settlement and ensuing Cold War has ended. The international institutions that was put in place after WW2 (primarily the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund) were the foundations of what is referred to as a rules based system of international relations. To what extent the rules were actually followed or it just looked like it from a western perspective with relationships locked in by the Cold War is a debating point. There is always a large amount of realpolitik and naked power in foreign relations. But there there is no doubt that following the collapse of communism in 1989, the terror attack of 9/11 and the financial crash of 2008, that world has changed (Chatham House) there is no doubt.
The new contenders, are the Brazil, Russia, India and China, to which we can add US and the EU. In the future it may be necessary to add the African Union or the Union of South American Nations (although this seems to be loosing members and was only created in 2008). Then there are the regional powers in the economic analysis that identified BRICs the next 11 in terms of economic potential Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey, South Korea and Vietnam, interestingly no other South American countries. There may be other players who are poorer but take a military route, Japan is considering rearming, and the so called rogue states or failed states which may pose challenges. (Note: BRIC Countries, Rogue States and Conflicts)
What we have here, with weaker international institutions and a willingness of countries to act alone, is something akin to the c18th and 19th power politics between European Countries and alliances but this time played out on a global scale. As we know that did not end well.
World population and Resource pressure
Population will peak (Note: Population Growth). The problems associated with an aging population will increase and alongside that pressure on resources will increase. Where the scarcity is most severe expect famine & drought, migration and conflict – all of which will be reflected in the power bloc rivalries above.
Climate Change disruption
As the impact of global warming increases, although no one knows the tipping point at which a runaway greenhouse effect will becomes a major disaster, even its lesser effects are likely to act as an amplifier to power bloc competition, population and resource pressure. There is a massive literature here are two sources (Lovelock, Klein)
Whilst there is a theoretical end to Moors Law (Note: Moore's Law) we seem to be finding ways to keep this going. Some people talk about the singularity (Note: The Singularity). Whether or not that happens there is a massive impact coming. 30% of the workforces are drivers; driverless vehicles are now being road tested (Note: Danger of Forecasting). Just because we can make and do stuff without people does not mean that the society we create will be any good unless we make it so.
We overuse antibiotics and the bugs develop resistance. In order to conserve antibiotics they need to be used less. This has led to a reduction in profits and hence in research. Pharma companies have been leaving the sector, in 2018 Sanofi and Novartis joined the others in stopping anti-biotic research leaving only three doing any anti-biotic work (GlaxoSmithKlein, Pfizer and Merck) and these at a reduced level with no new studies. c. 2019 some action is being taken but whether or not it will be enough it open to question. The action is simply government providing lots of money to the Pharma Companies who have left the field; the hand of the market doing exactly the wrong thing from a societal perspective.(New Scientist, Antibiotic Resistance).
In the c14th the world population was reduced from an estimated 450 million to somewhere between 350 and 375 million. (Note: Impact of the Black Death) We are foolish if we think it cannot happen again (Rosling p75-77)
Not one of these problems is unanticipated after all the WEF does an annual risk review. There is not one of them cannot be solved (or managed) by human ingenuity. But when a crisis occurs it is that ideas that are around at the time that get used because, in a crisis, there is not time to time to work it out. If we leave it to chance all we can be sure of is that we will be part of history (Note: Leaving it to Chance)
All the factors above need to be managed if we are to achieve a stable population; this illuminating video by Hans Rosling at a TED talk captures it precisely...
If we have not learned to be more cooperative and collective and the perfect storm develops we can easily be looking at societal collapse, possibly even World War III; the devil is of course in the detail of how it plays out. Some of that we can anticipate for instance we know that population growth is uneven and desertification is occurring in known places, we can anticipate where the pressure points are likely to be and help. The key is not be become overwhelmed by pessimism - read on...