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The World in 2018: Key Global Themes to Watch

The World in 2018, the annual publication from The Economist, predicts that 2018 will be a nerve-jangling year as people across the world attempt to escape the tensions of politics and the frenzies of technology. 

But the world can also look forward to an economy growing at a respectable pace and the distraction of global events including the Winter Olympics and the World Cup.

Daniel Franklin, editor of The World in 2018, said: “It will be a critical year on many fronts, including North Korea’s nuclear challenge, the Brexit negotiations, China’s economic reforms and America’s mid-term elections as well as the presidential polls in Brazil and Mexico. We will see intriguing battles for influence, ideas and leadership.” Twelve global themes for 2018 are:

1. Trumpism v Macronisme
We will see competing open v closed world views. While President Donald Trump focuses on his inward-looking “America first” agenda, France’s President Emmanuel Macron promises a new kind of pro-globalisation social contract, one that boosts competition and entrepreneurship while protecting workers who lose out. Mr Macron will emerge as a modern-day equivalent of Teddy Roosevelt, the American president most associated with the Progressive Era.

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2. Election game-changers: Brazil, Mexico, Italy and the US mid-terms
Once every 12 years elections in Latin America’s two giants, Brazil and Mexico, coincide; there and in other countries in the region’s big election year voters will demand political renewal and an end to corruption. A messy election in Italy could constrain the country’s economic recovery. In America, the Democrats could triumph in a close contest for the House of Representatives, opening the way for the possible impeachment of Donald Trump.

3. The political and economic cocktail of the Winter Olympics in South Korea and the World Cup in Russia
Two competitions will capture the world’s attention. South Korea will put on the Winter Olympics in the shadow of the North’s nuclear brinkmanship. Russia will stage the FIFA World Cup at a sensitive time in the country’s relations with the West and shortly after an election that will give Vladimir Putin another term as president. In both events, sport will compete with politics.

4. Long good-byes from leaders in Japan, Cuba and Saudi Arabia
Japan’s Emperor Akihito prepares to bow out, Cuba’s President Raúl Castro steps down, Saudi’s King Salman may abdicate. But many leaders who have overstayed their welcome (such as Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela) will try to cling to office.

5. Synchronised global economic growth, at last
Ten years after the start of the Great Recession, a sense of widespread wellness will begin to take hold in the world economy. To many it may feel as if 2018 is just the beginning of the real recovery, but it may in fact be approaching the end: the world economy tends to tip into a recession every eight to ten years, and the last one ended in 2009. The most likely cause of the next dip? Central banks tightening policy too much, too quickly.

6. Crunch time for critical global diplomacy: Brexit, NAFTA and North Korea
Fraught Brexit talks will reach a climax in the autumn of 2018, when a divorce settlement between Britain and the European Union needs to be reached if there is to be time for parliaments to ratify it by the scheduled departure date of March 2019; the chances of a no-deal Brexit are high. The year will show whether NAFTA can survive Donald Trump’s protectionist push. And – most important of all – Mr Trump will have to decide whether to deter or contain a nuclear North Korea seeking the capability to strike the United States.

7. The march of the acronyms: GDPR, MiFID2, COP24, GNH, Remote ID, 5G, AI
New European rules on data (GDPR) and finance (MiFID2, PSD) come into force. A climate-change conference in Poland (COP24) will take stock of progress on the Paris accord. Bhutan starts an intriguing experiment of applying its “gross national happiness” (GNH) to business. And in key tech developments, commercial drones develop faster thanks to rules on remote ID, the next generation of mobile technology (5G) will make its debut at the Winter Olympics and artificial intelligence (AI) will march on into more and more areas.

8. The coming “techlash”
Politicians will turn on the technology giants—Facebook, Google and Amazon in particular—saddling them with fines, regulation and a tougher interpretation of competition rules, in a 21st-century equivalent of America’s antitrust era. There will be broader pressure for transparency about the origin and accuracy of online content. And the tech behemoths’ acquisitions will come under greater scrutiny, as antitrust authorities take a harder line on attempts to squash would-be competitors by buying them.

9. Asian countries top of the league
Asian countries will be world champions in 2018—probably not in football, but in a variety of other areas. Bhutan is forecast to top the league in economic growth; China could overtake Italy to be number one in terms of UNESCO-listed world-heritage sites; and India plans to complete the world’s tallest statue, of Vallabhbhai Patel, a founding father of modern India, in Vadodara in the western state of Gujarat.

10. Signs of the times, from “peak baby” to new adventures in space and at sea
Telling trends of 2018 will include, in demography, a dip in the number of babies born around the world; the rise of private space ventures reflected most dramatically in SpaceX’s plan to send tourists around the Moon; consumers’ preference for oversized cars demonstrated in sport utility vehicles and their close cousins overtaking all other types in sales of new vehicles; and the trend towards gigantism at sea shown in the launch of Prelude FLNG, the world’s biggest vessel, displacing as much water as six aircraft carriers.

11. A new era for medicine
Medical historians of the future will describe 2018 as the year that “advanced” medicines—therapies working upstream on DNA—started to become a reality. The most important landmark will be the approval of the world’s first RNA interference drug, heralding the arrival of a new class of drug. Advances will also come in gene therapies and gene-editing. With luck, too, an old era will end, with the final eradication of polio.

12. Word of the year: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
“Mary Poppins Returns”, starring Emily Blunt, will come out in 2018, timed to coincide with the centenary of women’s suffrage in Britain. Its fiery suffragette Mrs Banks would no doubt cheer the political progress women have made since 1964 when the original film appeared – and march onwards with the influence women will have on America’s mid-terms.

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