In some respect, historical trends have given populations in modern societies excessive trust in the ability of their institutions to remain operational, untended by their populations. As a result, governments have grown larger and less efficient, and have arrogated to themselves more and more of the resources of societies, thereby inhibiting productivity. At some point, those societies, when beleaguered and impoverished, lose faith in the institutions of governance and leadership succession.
It is possible that the end of the second decade of the 21st Century will see exactly that tipping point, at which faith — a psychological attribute — disappears, and either rigid reaction or anomie and chaos intervene. This forecast is based on the existing performance of most governments of modern economies, but reactions of their societies will vary based on their individual natures, their reserves of wealth, and the degree to which government and leaders can adapt radically to reignite and impart purpose and prosperity to their societies.
At present, in 2010, we see no major societies prepared to take such radical steps to reverse trends of social distrust in systems, and, indeed, the accumulation of laws and customs actually makes such radical action infeasible or unlikely, except in the event of major external threat, such as war.
But there are other trends which will help determine outcomes over the coming decade, particularly the suddenness with which changing demographic patterns begin to bite. We can see, for example, the impact which the La Niña floods had in skewing the population dispersal patterns in Pakistan, the country with the highest level of population growth and the highest rate of urbanization. Now, the agricultural productivity of rural areas has been damaged by the flooding and more people have moved to the cities, substantially decreasing the per capita productivity there.
However, in most modern societies the peaking of population growth rates, and the move toward sudden population declines, will occur possibly within the coming decade. Population levels in a number of major nations are presently not sustainable by replacement births, and it may be that we begin to see areas gradually depopulate, reducing the demand for real estate, which has been the modern basis for wealth measurement and currency value.
The last such major depopulation occurred with the great plague which followed the globalization of Genghis Khan in the 12th and 13th centuries, but at that time abstract value — such as portable wealth, expressed in currency — was not so dependent on real estate, and particularly highly-valued urban real estate.
So the world in 2020 could see a significant decline in the availability of capital (in real terms; the availability of printed, inflated money will not be meaningful); in the mobility of societies and their ability to access goods not produced within easy reach. All this will occur unless radical steps are taken to revive real productivity and the self-reliance of societies.
And such radicalism is possible only through leadership. It is that which we await.