How The World Will Look in 50 Years


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Another major plus for the emergent democracies will be the eagerness of governments in the West to do everything necessary to build prosperity in the East in order to keep waves of economic migrants from rolling over Germany, Italy, France and their neighbors. As Western investments and technical assistance take hold, the East will forge ahead. East Europeans will drop their most extreme nationalist and ethnic preoccupations in order to qualify for the economic payoffs they expect from association with the E.C. Of course, some countries, including Romania, Bulgaria and Albania, will simply not be able to transform themselves.

On the other side of the world, the astonishing Asians will continue their success story, but with more diversity and less coordination than Europeans. Japan will not have things so much its own way in the next century. Its ultramodern and finely calibrated economy will not falter, but several factors will impose limits on its once seemingly boundless growth.

To begin with, Japan's special sort of samurai work ethic will be under assault. Coming generations of young "salarymen" will be less willing to work such grueling hours. They will want more leisure time, larger apartments, shorter commutes. Japanese men and women alike, no longer content to be poor people in a rich country, as they describe themselves, will demand a larger share of the national wealth they create. The resulting higher consumption at home will inevitably mean more imports and a reduction in Japan's trade surpluses.

Problems for Japan are already building up in the Pacific Rim and are bound to intensify. Tokyo's long-range plan for growth is to bring in the raw materials it needs from Russia and steadily increase its sales of manufactured products to what it envisions as a vast market in China. But things will not work out quite that way. Communism will collapse in China, clearing the way for the powerhouse of Taiwan to join Hong Kong as a special economic zone of the Chinese motherland.

Even with their help, however, China cannot grow into an industrial giant in the 21st century. Its population is too large and its gross domestic product too small (it is expected to reach only $900 per capita by the year 2000). China's economy seems to be growing at 7% in 1992, but, as the former Soviet Union and East Germany once did, Beijing cranks out phony statistics. Moreover, China's growth projections are based essentially on light industry.

China will have a potential alternative supplier in Korea, where communism will be abolished in the North. The merged Koreas will prove to be a strong competitor to Japan. Right now, all Asia's "little tigers" -- South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore -- run considerable deficits in their trade with Japan. In the 21st century, they will be as much Japan's rivals as its trading partners. Like the rest of the world, they will be less willing to buy from a Japan that does not buy much from them.

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