Assessing Global Trends for 2025
Four policy experts examine the implications of a U.S. national security
report and come to different conclusions about prospects for U.S.
influence in the future global economy.
[Purchase the PDF version]
November 2008, the National Intelligence Council released a landmark
study, Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World. The report lays
out the possibility of a future very different from the reality to which
most of the world is accustomed. Among the key possible futures:
U.S. influence and power will wane, and the United States will face
constricted freedom of action in 2025. China and Russia will grow in
influence. Wealth will also shift away from the United States toward
Russia and China.
broader conflict, possibly a nuclear war, could erupt between India and
Pakistan. This could cause other nations to align themselves with
existing nuclear powers for protection.
Rising world population, affluence, and shifts in Western dietary habits
will increase global demand for food by 50% by 2030 (World Bank
statistic). Some 1.4 billion people will lack access to safe drinking
the report was published in the midst of a historic financial crisis,
some of these scenarios now seem not so much wild cards as prescient
depictions of a near-certain future. Others, in retrospect, seem further
away. The once-indomitable engine of Chinese growth now seems
significantly less robust. At 6%, the country’s GDP is scheduled to grow
at half of last year’s pace, but still much faster than the United
States. The question becomes, which scenarios remain credible, and which
no longer apply?
FUTURIST asked four experts — Newt Gingrich, former U.S. House
speaker; Elaine C. Kamarck, a senior policy adviser for Democrat
Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign;
Peter Schiff, economics
adviser to Republican congressman Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign;
and Democratic congressman
— for their views on
the report’s key forecasts and what the future of the United States,
Asia, and the global economy looks like now, in the wake of the global
Interviews by Patrick Tucker
Newt Gingrich: Rising to Meet Global Challenges
To what extent do you agree with the four key points outlined in the
Global Trends 2025 report?
The influence and power of the United States may decline, but this will
not be a decline in our economic, political, or military strength.
Rather than the United States enjoying the role of the world’s lone
superpower, as we do today, the influence of other countries such as
India and China will increase in relative terms. As the countries with
the two largest populations, India and China will certainly have a voice
in the next quarter century, and their current economic growth, along
with the attendant increase in their military strength, will support
respect to India and Pakistan, the United States can do much in the way
of reducing tensions between them. What we are witnessing is a
continuing ascendance in the strategic importance of both nations. The
November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai have raised tensions between
India and Pakistan considerably. The United States can continue to work
with both nations to reduce these tensions, find common ground where
possible, and forge a cooperative relationship between them.
Are the events laid out in the report inevitable?
Nothing is inevitable. In my book, Implementing the Art of
Transformation, I provide a point of reference for considering what
the decades ahead may look like. There will be more growth in scientific
knowledge in the next 25 years than occurred during the past 100 years.
We are exceeding, by four to seven times, the rate of change of the past
25 years. This means that, by even the most conservative estimate, in
the next 25 years, we will experience the scale of change experienced
between 1909 and 2009.
How might the negative scenarios be averted?
Access to natural resources and energy may be the most important
challenge the world faces in the next quarter century. We must develop a
strategy for global energy abundance that maximizes both production and
the efficiency with which energy is used. This sort of strategy would
have a significant positive impact toward reducing or preventing future
How might the U.S. government, and how might U.S. citizens, cope with a
state of diminished influence, a wealthier and more powerful Asia, and
intensified competition over resources?
Education will be the key issue that determines our continued strength
and prosperity in a world where China and India have increased
influence. If you read A Nation at Risk, published more than 25 years
ago, it makes clear that the education of our children is a serious
national security concern and that parents, administrators, teachers,
lawmakers, and leaders of this nation need to view it as such and
respond accordingly. Finding innovative ways to dramatically improve how
our children learn — especially in math and science — will make the
biggest difference for our future.
What do you see as the worst-case scenario, and the best-case scenario,
of the above events coming to pass?
Within the key points you provide, the worst-case scenario would be a
belligerent China and a resurgent and belligerent Russia. Likewise, a
complete breakdown in relations between India and Pakistan and a
corresponding threat of nuclear war would be destabilizing to the entire
Obviously, the best-case scenario would be increased cooperation and
stronger, closer relationships among the United States, China, Russia,
India, as well as Pakistan. A common recognition of the future threats
to our livelihood that the global community faces as our populations
increase and our needs for greater amounts of energy increase is
essential. This recognition by all today and cooperation in achieving
solutions would do much in terms of growing the global economy, as well
as enabling health and prosperity for all.
Might decreased geopolitical influence, with increased power in China,
actually be good for the United States in some way?
It depends. We have a choice with China: cooperation or competition.
Certainly if we strengthen our relationship with China, an economically
and militarily strong China would be within our national interests to
maintain stability in the Western Pacific region.
What is the report overlooking?
The report doesn’t look closely enough at the impact of a failed Mexico.
A failed state on our southern border is a significant national security
threat to the United States.
What would you add to the above list of key points?
Cybersecurity. As we continue to integrate computers into every single
aspect of our lives, we are creating a significant vulnerability to our
very livelihood. What we need today is a cyber think tank staffed by the
generation today that lives and breathes in the electronic world. The
institution would be set up much like the RAND Corporation was, with the
exclusive purpose of ensuring the survivability of our networks and
What’s the most important trend that will shape U.S. policy in the next
Increasing worldwide demand for energy with decreasing resources. We
must take concrete steps today to become energy independent.
What can we begin doing now to ease our transition into this new world?
We must make smart choices today that are an investment in our future.
We need to fundamentally transform litigation, regulation, taxation,
education, health, energy, infrastructure, and our national security
apparatuses. The policies that we have in place today reflect the
realities of the twentieth century. We can’t compete globally with our
current laws, systems, and obsolete bureaucracies; they don’t have the
flexibility or effectiveness required to manage the issues of the day.
All of this seems to be a huge undertaking — and it is — but it can be
done. It must be done.
[Return to top]
Elaine Kamarck: Moving Forward with Innovation and Intelligence
To what extent do you think the above outlined points — such as a wealth
migration from the United States to Asia, potential war between India
and Pakistan — are likely?
I don’t see a shift in wealth away from the United States toward Russia
or China, especially not Russia. That’s too pessimistic precisely
because the structural components of innovation in the United States —
culturally, legally — are so strong. The cultural and legal components
for innovation in the rest of the world are, frankly, so weak.
Broader conflict between India and Pakistan? I don’t see the United
States allowing that to happen. I think that, as bad as the United
States has been when it comes to predicting asymmetric warfare, the
United States is adept and prepared for more traditional kinds of
warfare. We monitor nuclear materials around the world carefully.
for rising world population and affluence, surely we’re already seeing
shifts in Western dietary habits. There will be increases in world
population, in demand for food, and in affluence, but this will be
countermanded by the downsides of Western dietary habits — such as
obesity and all the diseases that come from obesity — and there will be
significant environmental problems resulting from the provision of all
this food. This is a pretty complicated situation. Countries may take
countermeasures instead of adopting Western dietary standards, for both
environmental and human health.
What you are saying is that the primary focus in the United States must
be maintaining a culture of innovation and economic openness?
That includes controversial things like keeping fairly open immigration.
Immigration is one of the best sources of American talent, and so we
have to be careful not to give in to those who would cut off
immigration. There are a lot of things that go into the American
economic competitive advantage, from education to innovation.
Fundamentally, we’re the most innovative economy in the world. There are
very few signs that any of the other big economies will surpass the
United States in innovation.
What about an apocalyptic scenario, where being more innovative
economically and producing goods valued higher than goods produced
elsewhere doesn’t matter? How likely is that?
Isn’t that the basis of economic growth? Why would growth deteriorate
other than in a severe recession? We’re not going to be in a severe
recession until 2025, if that’s your time frame. In the short term,
everybody has a problem, but between now and 2025 there will be new
business cycles. We’ll likely lead the world out of the current
Okay, but might one of these other developing nations develop an
innovation model to match that of the United States in the decades
The big question is China, because China certainly has an
entrepreneurial people and culture. But they still have an overhang from
their communist era. When it comes to information, they’re still a
closed society. It’s hard to imagine a society being truly innovative
when there are so many restrictions on freedom of speech, as there still
are in China. If that would change dramatically, and certainly the
Internet is pushing at it to change, then China could become very
second thing about China is that they still have significant corruption
problems and they don’t have a rule of law that respects contracts. It’s
hard to attract significant investments from people when investors have
doubts about getting their money out, or when there’s the question of
state nationalization of industry. It’s not a legal structure that
fosters innovation. Until that changes in other parts of the world,
people will still come to the United States to develop new products.
What about the theory that the U.S. consumer market is tapped, that real
consumer growth lies in other countries because of the amount of debt
the United States has accrued as a nation? Is it overly pessimistic to
think the U.S. is played out as a consumer market?
It’s not overly pessimistic for the short term. There’s still a lot of
debt to be worked off in the U.S. economy. However, there is a very
large generation coming up, the millennial generation. They’re bigger
than the baby-boomer generation. They’re now in high school and in
college. They’ll need to purchase homes and consumer durables. They’ll
have children. As people work themselves out of debt, and as a new
generation that doesn’t have this debt (because they’re kids) become
adults, you can see a return to a more normal set of consumption
patterns in the economy. Hopefully, you won’t see a return to
overconsumption. We’ve swung dramatically from buying everything with
money we didn’t have to buying nothing. Clearly there’s someplace in the
The issue of the amount of debt that is being placed on the backs of
younger generations is of great concern to me. The average college
graduate carries $19,000 in school loans and an additional $12,000 in
credit-card debt before they get out of school. When you add on future
entitlement spending (Social Security and Medicare) as the baby boomers
retire, the cost begins to sound significant. Many young people are
leaving school with bleak job prospects and burdens that the generation
before them didn’t have. How would you rate that as a challenge for the
United States going forward?
When you talk about debt to future generations in the U.S. economy as a
whole, that’s different from school loans. People get upset about loans,
but loans are politically and practically a different thing. I think
there will be 10 hard years. That’s how long it will take for the
overspending to move its way out. Eventually, people will need to buy
cars, refrigerators, and houses again. That, plus whatever the Obama
administration does by way of government spending, should help younger
people to get jobs when they get out of college.
You think it will take 10 years to fully move out of this current
It depends on how effective the stimulus package is and how quickly it
succeeds in doing two things: It has to stop the rise in unemployment,
and it has to get the credit markets moving again so that the banks have
some trust and can start lending to people forming new businesses. Then
you start having a more normal economy. That’s why for the time being,
frankly, spending is a lot more important than thinking about deficits.
Once the economy gets moving again, then you’ll have to confront the
deficit crisis. If the stimulus works to really get the economy growing
again, you’ll grow out of some of the deficits. The question is, what is
an acceptable level of debt as an aspect of GDP? Who knows if we’ll ever
get back to the Clinton administration levels? But certainly by the time
we’re coming out of this recession, hopefully the next administration
will be poised to reinvent government and try and get inefficiencies out
Assuming that we do absolutely nothing correctly in the next 15 years,
the intelligence report on 2025 has outlined what looks like a very bad
worst-case scenario. What’s your worst-case scenario?
If we do everything wrong in the short term, we face a long period of
deflation and unemployment. It becomes more difficult to meet our
international obligations and maintain our military force. Then you
begin to see some of the darker scenarios that we started this
conversation with. But there is also a feeling that the U.S. economy has
enough flexibility in it that people will work out of the present
What do you think is the most important trend to shape U.S. policy over
the next two decades?
Domestic or international?
Let’s start with domestic.
The aging population. That will determine a lot of government spending,
because elderly people vote and are sophisticated about influencing the
government. The probability of being able to achieve any significant
savings out of either Medicare or Social Security is pretty slim. And so
that will be the most significant domestic problem.
Internationally, the biggest challenge is to deal with terrorism more as
an intelligence matter and less as a military matter. The Bush
administration treated the war on terror as if it were a war, including
invading countries. When we see terrorism stop, it’s almost always the
result of something similar to effective police and detective action
rather than military action. The U.S. military, for all its talents,
isn’t well suited to the prevention of terrorist plots. We need to build
better alliances, and do better international police and intelligence
work to preempt plots. That’s a change from the way the Bush
administration dealt with the problem.
Peter Schiff: A Post-American Economy
In your television interviews and your books, you talk a lot about the
wealth transfer to Asia. According to your Web site, it’s one of the key
components of your investment strategy at EuroPacific Capital. To what
extent do you agree or disagree with some of the scenarios in the
Global Trends 2025 report?
Rising influence in Asia? I definitely agree with that, China more so
than Russia. But there are other countries in the equation, like India.
Japan will also have more clout in 2025. It won’t only be China and
Russia that will see an increase in their influence and wealth. I think
the United States will see a reduction in its economic, political, and
military power. We’re in serious trouble. Our economy is a mess, but
more worrisome is that the U.S. government is poised to completely
destroy it. What Obama is seeking to do could ruin the economy.
economy is a mess because of bad fiscal and monetary policy in the
preceding years. But what we need in order to recover is more
capitalism, more free markets. We need more savings to make credit more
available to businesses that could borrow to build more factories and
start producing again to repair the industrial base. We should make
repairs to our infrastructure, but only when we can afford it. There’s a
lot of serious work to be done. Unfortunately, President Obama seems
intent on building roadblocks that will just prevent market forces from
correcting the problems in our economy. By assuming more and more
control and micromanaging our economy, by making the government bigger,
our economy is going to be much less dynamic. The standard of living is
going to fall more precipitously than would otherwise be the case. We’re
going to recreate another great depression, only this one will be worse
than the one the government created in the 1930s.
How can individuals, particularly people in the United States, cope with
the trends you’ve laid out? What’s an action plan for them?
Their action plan is to get out of U.S. assets entirely. Don’t hold
bonds or U.S. currency. Get out of U.S. real estate. U.S. assets are
going to lose substantial value, especially relative to assets in other
parts of the world and certain commodities. People need to understand
that U.S. assets are going to be substantially marked down.
Is this something that will have an effect geopolitically and militarily
Of course. As the dollar loses value, it becomes more expensive to
maintain the military — to supply it with food, fuel, and ammunition.
Most of U.S. military equipment runs with imported components and
imported parts. If we’re going to keep our planes in the air, our tanks
rolling, and our ships steaming, we’re going to have to import more
expensive foreign components. We have military bases all around the
world. As the dollar loses value, it’s more expensive to maintain those
What about the argument that the United States will maintain its
dominance because it has a unique culture of innovation, with the
world’s best universities?
We don’t have a unique culture of anything. American citizens aren’t
innately smarter or harder working than people anywhere else. We’re no
better than the Italians, the French, the Mexicans, or the Chinese. What
enabled Americans to be so much more successful than people of other
countries was that we were freer. We had a better system of government
because we had a constitution that limited the power of government, so
we had minimal regulation and minimal taxes relative to the rest of the
world.… Now, I think, there’s more entrepreneurial capitalism going on
in places like China than there is in the United States.
Many developing nations face tremendous political uncertainty in the
years ahead. To what degree will they become more open? To what degree
will they become more democratic? Will there be social upheavals?
There will be social upheavals in the United States. We’re going into a
situation with severe economic hardship in this country. The inflation
that the U.S. government is unleashing will lead to spectacular
increases in the cost of living. Ultimately, it will lead the Obama
administration to implement price controls for products, including food
and energy, which will result in food and energy price wars. When people
are cold and hungry, there’s a tendency to commit crimes, and this will
lead to social unrest. There are a lot of problems in that respect
coming to the United States. There’s also the chance the United States
government will act in much more oppressive ways. I think the U.S.
government might start seizing assets from its citizens, such as
precious metals and foreign stocks. There could be outright confiscation
and seizure. Moving money out of the country could be very difficult.
Do you think there is any chance that the U.S. government would begin to
pursue an open market strategy?
don’t see that happening soon. I see a lot more damage occurring in our
economy before Obama comes to that revelation. But hopefully he comes to
it in time. The failure to come to it in time will produce a
hyperinflation. The dollar will be wiped out completely. That economic
crisis will be far worse than the one we’re dealing with today. The
United States will not be the largest economy based on GDP well before
2025. It will be China. The United States will still be behind Japan and
it will no longer be in the top 20 countries in per capita GDP. We’ll
see a significant reduction in our stature in the world.
Do you think China and Japan will be able to shift from being export
economies toward being economies that stimulate domestic consumer
They will certainly be consuming a lot more domestically, particularly
China. But Japan and a lot of countries that are now exporting to the
United States will simply export to other countries. For instance,
Japanese exports to China will pick up significantly. It’s certain that
a country that’s going to see one of the most dramatic increases in
domestic consumption will be a country like China.
When does it get very bad for the United States?
When the only buyer left for U.S. debt is the Federal Reserve itself,
that’s when hyperinflation kicks in. That’s when the bond market plunges
and consumer prices really take off. That’s when we’re really up against
a serious crisis.
That can happen anytime between now and …
That can happen any day. It could happen tomorrow morning, next year,
two years. You just don’t know. The fact is it will happen. Even Bernie
Madoff knew he would be found out eventually. Ponzi schemes can’t go on
forever. That’s why they’re illegal. If you could make it work then it
wouldn’t be illegal.
[Return to top]
Dennis Kucinich: Securing Peace and Prosperity
To what extent do you find these scenarios to be credible?
I would suggest that such reports are interesting, but they’re not
constructive because they don’t allow for our ability to change the
direction of events. If the United States does not take control of its
economic destiny, and if the country keeps spending money on wars and
allowing the accelerated creation of material wealth — either through
the instrumentation of government of because of the theft of Wall Street
— certainly the United States will be in a precarious position.
it comes to the globe, we need to look at ourselves not as a nation
apart from other nations but as a nation among nations. We need to come
into resonance with the founding principles of this country and its
first motto: E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one). We are one
people, not just fifty states, but we’re also one with a world that is
increasingly interconnected. Why not rally around these ideas to save
the world from scarcity, from drought, and from hunger? We need to do
that now, not in 2025. These warnings that we get from economists, from
environmentalists, from people who study global trends are warnings we
should pay attention to not because they predict the future but because
they give us a snapshot of what’s happening today. We can change the
Getting more specific, what do you see as the most important trend that
will shape U.S. policy over the course the next two decades?
The trend toward a more equitable distribution of wealth. In the last
few decades, the United States has become a massive machine where all
the instruments in government were aimed at accelerating the creation
and accumulation of wealth. The last administration put in place more
than a trillion dollars in tax cuts that went to the wealthiest 1% of
the U.S. population. Our military spending is used to accelerate the
accumulation wealth of the nation through war and huge amounts of
defense spending. Our environmental policies deteriorated the quality of
our air and water and appreciated the financial assets of companies who
contaminated our environment. Our energy policies accelerated the
accumulation of wealth by turning over our energy supply to the oil
companies. These companies [were able to] determine the kinds of energy
We’ve allowed insurance companies to run our health-care systems. One
hundred million people in the United States are either underinsured or
uninsured. Massive displacements are going on economically because
people can’t afford health care.
can look at every system of government over the last few decades and you
can see how special interests have allowed the acceleration of the
creation of wealth. We’re living with the culmination of lack of
regulation. This lack resulted in fraud. We need to have a system that
causes a more equitable distribution.
Global collaboration seems to be one of your focal points. What sort of
future opportunities do you imagine for the United States to collaborate
with the developing world to improve the future?
We have an opportunity to stop looking at it as a world that needs to be
developed. These distinctions need to be challenged. There’s a lot about
the “developed” world that I don’t find particularly acceptable, such as
the geography of nowhere. This is where everything looks alike, where
local cultures are obliterated by concrete. This is an aspect of the
so-called developed world. We need to come into rhythm with the natural
world. We shouldn’t be talking about the developing world. We should be
talking about the natural world.
Do you envision a way to achieve this equilibrium you talk about and
maintain the supply-side economic system?
We can’t sustain the system we have in place. We already know that. It’s
predatory. It’s broken down — why should we revive it?
Some might argue that supply-side economics over the last two decades
has led to an increase in quality of life, especially parts of the world
outside of the United States. On that note, one of the key issues in the
Global Trends report is how the shift to Western dietary habits
in many parts of the world, particularly in Asia, is one of the primary
drivers putting strain on freshwater, because as people switch to eating
more meat they deplete groundwater. I think this speaks to your broader
point: How do you convince other people not to follow the growth path
that the United States has established?
I think that most of the rest of the world sees that supply-side
economics is a failure. If we want to restore our credibility with the
people of other nations, we need to reject the canards of the past and
start talking about human values that have proven to be sustainable. We
need to set ourselves on a path where there are jobs for all, housing
for all, education for all, health care for all, retirement security,
clean water, clean air, a sustainable food supply, and peace.
is not a pipe dream. All of this is achievable. We have it within our
reach, but we have to change our institutions so that [those]
institutions can respond and evolve with human potential.
Which institutions in particular?
Every institution. Jefferson talked about the fact that institutions
come from the mind of man and evolve with the mind of man. They have to
change. They are our products. They didn’t make us, we made them.
Why do you think it’s important for individuals to take their future
I think it’s important for individuals to live joyously. I think we need
to live without fear of the future and enjoy the moment, live it to the
utmost, and live it with great heart, love, and courage. That’s what I
think we should do. If you do that, the future will take care of itself.
[Return to top]
About the Interviewees
Gingrich served as the speaker of the United States House of
Representatives from 1995 to 1999. He is the author of more than twenty
books including, most recently, Real Change: From the World That
Fails to the World That Works. He’s also the founder of the group
American Solutions for Winning the Future. Web site
Elaine C. Kamarck is a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy
School. She was one of the founders of the New Democrat movement that
helped elect Bill Clinton president. She served in the White House from
1993 to 1997, where she created and managed the Clinton administration’s
National Performance Review, also known as “reinventing government.” She
worked as senior policy advisor to the Gore presidential campaign and is
the author of The End of Government As We Know It: Policy
Implementation in the 21st Century (Lynne Rienner Publishing, 2006).
Peter Schiff is the president of Euro Pacific Capital in Darien,
Connecticut. He is also a contributing commentator for Newsweek
International and served as an economic advisor to Republican Ron Paul’s
2008 presidential campaign. His book Crash Proof: How to Profit from
the Coming Economic Collapse was published by Wiley & Sons in 2007.
His second book, The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets: How
to Keep Your Portfolio Up When the Market Is Down, was published by
Wiley & Sons in 2008.
Dennis Kucinich is a Democratic member of the U.S. House of
Representatives, currently representing the 10th District of Ohio. He
was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the
United States in the 2004 and 2008 elections. He is the recipient of the
Gandhi Peace Award, an annual award bestowed by the Religious Society of
Friends–affiliated organization Promoting Enduring Peace. Web site
These interviews were conducted by Patrick Tucker, senior editor of THE
FUTURIST and director of communications for the World Future Society.