2018: Year of football, Trump and technology

2018: Year of football, Trump and technology

Early in 2018, I will scrounge around for tickets for the football World Cup in Russia. The year belongs to football. From 14 June to 15 July, we will forget political spats, economic woes and social injustices and adore the beautiful game.

Elsewhere in 2018, Donald Trump will continue to astonish us with measures to save American jobs for Americans. He is a businessman and may even tackle the American debt of $19.8 trillion through ingenious trade deals with China and Japan. He may even start constructing the promised wall along the borders of Mexico. Expect the unexpected, from Trump. Hopefully his business instincts will prevail over his politics.

Angela Merkel will gradually and sadly lose shine. She had been the beacon light of Europe. Theresa May will spend sleepless nights negotiating a cantankerous divorce under Brexit. Europe will look to young French President Emmanuel Macron for leadership.

Putin with cult-like leadership status in Russia is powerful. He will be re-elected till 2023 and may continue infuriating the West with his support for Syria. Brazil will tussle, unsure of its leaders, including the new President Michel Temer. The middle classes writhe in Brazil. Colombia may see growth after the settlement with the rebel group FARC.

The Middle East will continue to be furiously volatile. War-torn countries will haemorrhage and overflow with the pains of hunger, refugees and cholera. Expect Saudi Arabia to play a more assertive role in the Middle East, though it is in the midst of economic and sociological changes. Women will drive and work; youngsters will watch movies in the Kingdom from 2018.

With Robert Mugabe out, Zimbabwe has a chance to breathe and build a democratic nation. Expect Palestinians to be truculent for many years with Israel’s new capital in Jerusalem.

In India, Narendra Modi will drive GDP growth and jobs before 2019 elections. Expect Rahul Gandhi to be aggressive. China’s Xi is well ensconced in his party for another term. He will shut down inefficient plants at home and drive more investments in Africa to secure future markets.

Shinzo Abe having won another term will undertake some surgery of the economy, but will not boost growth beyond one percent in Japan. Aung San Suu Kyi will continue balancing military demands, the needs of her people and international pressures, as in the treatment of the Rohingya refugees. She walks a very tight rope. Hopefully Kim Jong-un will not throw any nuclear tantrums.

Global economic growth will be optimistic and robust, cruising between 3.7 to 4 percent, a marginal improvement from the 3.6 percent expected in 2017. Investor and consumer confidence is recovering, after the 2008 financial trauma. US growth may stay at around 2 percent. The European Union could see growth of around 1.9 to 2 percent. However, growth will be static in China at about 6.4 percent and in India about 7 percent.

Inflation will be steady around 3 percent globally but will be higher in developing countries like India at about 5 percent and Brazil at 4 percent. The growth gains in India will be neutralised by retail price increases. However, China will manage inflation at 2.5 percent. The developing world will pay more for food and rent.

Most governments will be cash strapped. However, they will not raise taxes to boost revenues. Across the world, common citizens are under pressure and seek benefits, medical services and pensions.

Commodity prices may rise marginally. Oil, which averaged $53 a barrel in 2017, is likely to move to around $60 per barrel due to augmenting demand and cuts in production by producing countries. Food and grain prices will augment marginally by 2 to 4 percent. Even then food will not be available in countries of strife like Sudan or in drought impacted countries like Ethiopia and Somalia. Gold prices will remain steady around $1,250 per ounce, due to expectations of an increase in interest rates in America. Gold is yet a wise investment.

So, the international economy will remain steady. There are a few downsides like further trade protectionism, economic policy uncertainty or financial market disruption. Investors will continue to dance with joy as their stock indices jump. Businesses may hire and spend more. Global consumers may open their wallets in 2018 to buy Guccis and Rolexes. Nevertheless, nations must guard against overconfidence.

Economic stability will not, unfortunately, put more food on the plates of the hungry. Poverty is still the biggest problem confronting the world. Large swathes of the world population live in slums, e.g. India 24 percent, Liberia 66 percent, Somalia 74 percent, Iran 47 percent, South Asia 31 percent and Sub-Saharan Africa 55 percent.

Poverty is also fuelled by massive inequalities in the world. A 2017 Oxfam report reveals that just eight rich men have as much wealth as is owned by the 3.6 billion of the bottom population of the world, i.e. half the global population. The affluent can influence governments on all policy matters. Money talks loudly. Public angst with massive inequalities drives the rise of conservatism in many countries and its influence can be seen in the victories of Donald Trump and Brexit. Again, consider that 844 million people lack access to clean drinking water and 2.4 billion people need improved sanitation facilities.

Yet governments quarrel, instead of easing the heavy burdens of the poor and sick.

Smart corporations will become market leaders without owning physical assets. Companies like Amazon do not own production factories or large stores. They deploy information technology to create a global electronic market, linking consumers and vendors. They provide the best customer service in the world, even though you do not meet any of their employees.

Again, consider Uber. The largest global car hiring company does not own a car. Technology is changing business paradigms. By 2030, computers may be smarter than human beings.

The first driverless car is expected in 2018. Then you need not own a car. Just call for it and it takes you where you want. Then, it goes. You do not need parking space. Traditional car companies are sleepless, fearing bankruptcy. Innovators like Tesla, pioneering the electric and driverless cars, will speed ahead.

Artificial intelligence and robots will replace jobs. In the next two to three decades, the number of jobs could be reduced by around 30 to 40 percent. Robots will undertake manifold agricultural and industrial functions.

Watson machines may gradually diagnose cancer more accurately than doctors. In faraway Tanzania, drones deliver medicines to 10 million people. These changes are chilling. We have to re-engineer our lives and careers, to survive in a world controlled by software and technologies. Expect unremitting disruptions and to be monitored ceaselessly. Forget your privacy.

In the midst all these discontinuities and travails, for a month the world’s eyes will be on excellence, at the FIFA World Cup. Russia and Putin will exult.

Hopefully Tiger Woods will sparkle again in 2018. Federer and Nadal will battle for the tennis crown, with Djokovic losing self-confidence and form. Virat Kohli will continue devastating cricketing milestones to becoming the greatest batsmen ever.

Women across the world may feel safer after the “Me Too” campaign, courtesy of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Hopefully Brad Pritt or Tom Cruise will make stirring films like “Citizen Kane”, “High Noon” or “Last Train from Gun Hill”, which may inspire a generation lost in social media like Facebook and Twitter to social service and leadership. We are becoming too narcissistic. There is a big world beyond laptops and smart phones, like mountains, rivers, flowers, clouds and sunsets.

Despite robots, artificial intelligence and breathtaking technological disruptions, we wait for cures for AIDS and cancer, two huge killers of our times.

The Big Four, i.e., Trump, Putin, Xi and Abe all have safe tenures for three to five years. Perhaps they can focus on the global economy and ending the misery of battle weary countries.

So, our best expectation for 2018 can be: continuance of global growth of 3.8 to 4 percent, President Trump being discrete politically, end of war in Syria, few job losses due to robots and artificial intelligence and no further loss of privacy due to digitization and social media.

Personally, I hope that in the 2018 World Cup, the players do not kick each other, but only the ball, so that we have a beautiful game. But more fervently, I hope we find out what happened to the 239 missing passengers and crew of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370.

We cannot forget them.

The author is the Managing Director of a management consulting firm.