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Monday, December 26, 2005

Ridiculous Speculation 

I'm very bad at predictions. So much so, that stuff I keenly care about, I won't discuss in this post. Which mostly means the current federal election, about which I care more than is warranted.

So, here's some ludicrous guesses about the near-to-mid-term future, crossed with my mad prescriptions for the world.

China, bloody China: I remember when Japan was going to take over the world. Then the Yen rose, the banking system fell apart, and Japan became just another first-world nation, and not a very exciting one at that.

I think China is going to be a big deal for a long time, but I am optimistic that it's going to continue to get more press than it really deserves for another decade or so. Then it will deserve the press. Unless, of course, India just overtakes it and leaves China in the dust, economically.

More specifically, I think one of two very important things will happen in China: either they'll manage somehow to enact a functional democracy at the national level, or they'll suffer the inherent corruption of totalitarianism, and get overtaken by the populous functional democracy on their western border. India. I mean India. If China does become a reasonably free democracy, then everybody wins, big time. I really believe that. It may be the most important political development of the next decade, either way.

But like I say, I'm betting on India as the quiet source of the greatest increase in personal prosperity over the next decade.

Africa, bloody Africa: In terms of relieving human suffering, I think donations to African-focused charities are where the marginal advantage is. But you can argue that that has been true for 50 years.

What may hopefully be different today is the possibility of some of our solutions being more effective than previous efforts at actually improving prosperity in Africa. We've already tried as-needed famine relief (largely redirected for political purposes) and mega-project funding like infrastructure, airports, and such (created useless infrastructure that mostly rots and has done nothing to improve the lives of rank-and-file Africans). The new, smaller-scale ideas (microloans, equity donations like The Heifer Project, etc.) seem more promising.

Unfortunately, Africa has two major, devastating problems which are dominating the continent: AIDS and lousy leadership. The latter ranges from occasionally insane leaders in relative non-disaster nation South Africa, to deeply insane lunatics like Mugabe in Zimbabwe, to the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It all sucks.

As for AIDS, the proximate solution is treatment, and that's hard for a ton of reasons. I think the model for the continent should be Uganda, which has made a stronger commitment to abstinence education than any country on the contient, has seen its AIDS rates decline impressively, and has caused opponents of abstinence-first programs no end of trouble in their efforts to explain away the correlation.

I think there's a shorthand way of expressing this: culture, in the long term, will matter more than medicine in reducing the incidence and effects of AIDS in Africa (and for that matter, in the rest of the world, too).

Nerdery: I love a great number of web applications. In no order, let's go with flickr, gmail, and any old blogging system as my favourites, with digg as a pretty good new site. I don't have any great sense of the future in this field right now, though I am personally interested in two subsections of technology: digital photography and high-definition TV. The major development in the latter is likely to be that 2006 will be the year people plug their HD sets into actual HD content. For digital cameras, I think I'll call 2006 The Year of The Lenses: sensors are now the right combination of cheap and good such that the quality of the lens on a camera wil start to dominate both price and performance considerations at all levels of digital photography. This is another way of saying that the worst deal in digital cameras right now are the $100-200 super-cheap 3-5 megapixel cameras from off-brand makers. Most of these have horrible lenses, usually crappy primes, and sometimes they're even "focus free." Eek.

Enjoy your year.

"they'll suffer the inherent corruption of totalitarianism"

What, like Singapore is?
Good job keeping me honest!

Singapore is the great exception. Plus also Hong Kong, and Taiwan, all of which found some form of economic success before becoming functional democracies.

They're the case studies that suggest that economic freedom is probably more important to societal prosperity than political freedom.

To say the least, it's a bit surprising that democracy is of secondary importance, but there you go.

I have to check with my Singaporean friends, but I'm also under the impression that Singapore is more democratic these days than it once was. For some time they have been a nominal democracy, with free elections and everything, but they just haven't managed to have a change of government yet. It is akin to post-war Japan's 40-odd years of LDP government.

It may be that China can keep it together as a one-party state, providing that they continue to make lots of money, but my suspicion is that being a totalitarian polity is going to be a drag on their economy.

If it doesn't look that way now, it's a measure of the economic freedom that has been allowed, and how far so many Chinese have to go, economically.

But don't worry: I offer a full refund if any of my predictions are wrong.
"with free elections and everything"

As I dimly understand it, it's widely understood you're "free" to vote for whoever, but your region will be vastly overlooked by government services if it ends up voting the wrong way.
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