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Fast Forward to 2025 and Beyond

Disease, drugs, crime and politics — which best characterizes the problems of the future?

February 26, 2004

Disease, drugs, crime and politics — which best characterizes the problems of the future?

By 2025, the world's population had increased to a level of about 7.5 billion people. The most dramatic demographic event in the first quarter century, however, was a precipitous drop in population growth.

This drop did not occur uniformly. The states of the developed world lost population share, declining from 21% to 12%.

This decline was especially significant because since the year 1650, that share had hovered between 34% and 26%.

Meanwhile, a number of less developed states not only managed to stabilize their populations — including China, Taiwan, Korea and Algeria — but their birthrates declined as well.

Other states — such as India, Pakistan, Mexico and Brazil — continued to grow, but then leveled off in the 2030s and 2040s. Some states — notably Nigeria, Zaire, Ethiopia and Rwanda — experienced a largely unchanged, high fertility rate.

Yet, these nations' population levels still suffered, owing to various catastrophic events. The world in 2025 saw a falling population for the first time in four centuries.

This had direct consequences on economic growth. In the developed states of the northern-tier, the demand for consumer goods was faltering as the population aged.

In the less developed southern-tier states, increasing population pressures drove up the price of foodstuffs.

Nevertheless, both regions — with the exception of some African states — were linked by commerce. There were some unattractive aspects to this flourishing trade.

For example, organ farms (really "hospitals" that removed organs from paid donors) arose in Pakistan, the Philippines and various other states to supply first-world demand for transplants, though these were ultimately replaced by transgenic methods that used animals.

Some states acquired needed capital by locating nuclear waste sites on their national territory — and by permitting mineral-extraction methods outlawed elsewhere.

For a time in the 2020s, Russia was taken over by a raw-materials development company that employed political prisoners as workers in mines. It also wholly corrupted the Duma — by giving members "derivative" sub-soil rights to the petroleum and minerals beneath Siberia.

In Russia at this time, a new form of civil right was introduced. It permitted any citizen or registered company to buy shares in the state, thus giving weighted voting according to the number of shares purchased.

As unsavory as this may sound, it did have the result of efficiently extracting Russia's abundant raw materials, which had hitherto frustrated most attempts at development.

Moreover, the privatization of the state brought sufficient capital to the country through foreign investment. As a result, perennial Russian agricultural shortfalls were finally halted through a program of genetically engineered hybridization.

Pakistan and India joined in a free trade area in 2010, providing the crucial momentum that made India the world's largest single market by 2025.

Other intermediary states flourished in the new environment of general free trade: Witness Turkey, Indonesia, South Africa, Mexico, Iran and Algeria.

A global hiring program operated on the Internet allowed anyone anywhere to access job opportunities worldwide.

As part of a universal reciprocity regime for jobs, that person also received a one-year "green card" — once employment was assured.

By 2040, the number of nominal citizens and resident citizens combined of the top 15 formerly third world countries surpassed year 2000 levels of GDP per capita for first world countries.

Successful economic reforms in these states — especially the free trade areas of India-Pakistan, China-Taiwan, Korea-Japan and Singapore-Malaysia-Indonesia-Thailand — prompted the election of ever more politicians committed to economic reform.

Increases in successful free-market reform yielded increases in individual freedom.

By contrast, per-capita consumption in the first world shifted as more emphasis was placed on quality investments such as child safety, preventive medical care and lifelong education.

Environmental quality was monitored and protected by licensed entrepreneurs who held various resources (for example, air quality) in trust for the state.

The 2020s also saw a number of innovations in civil society: Violence-prone adolescents — identified by genetic screening at birth — were monitored when convicted of violent crimes and their activities circumscribed through various electronic means.

The most serious offenders were exiled to other countries in exchange for cash payments — and there, typically turned to agricultural or military duties.

In some countries, medical and education vouchers were earned through the avoidance of legal "demerits." Citizens with a record of infractions were barred from schooling beyond high school.

They were also denied all but some inexpensive forms of acute care, unless they were able to secure their own funds.

This rather draconian system was to some extent mitigated by a system of behavior bribes whereby nonviolent offenders were paroled to specialized private corporations.

There, they were maintained as wards of the market, in comfortable circumstances performing menial tasks, so long as they refrained from further offenses.

Drug offenders were either exported to states that had legalized drug use — or confined to privately run "Virtual Holiday" camps, where non-lethal drug use was permitted.

By these various means, prison populations were dramatically reduced.

The universal communications made possible by the ubiquitous (and cheap) handheld wireless computer/telephone/television tied the world's cultures together as never before.

The reach of a single language — English — embraced 60% of the world's inhabitants by 2040.

Adapted from "The Shield of Achilles" by Philip Bobbitt. Copyright © 2003 by Philip Bobbitt. Used by permission of Philip Bobbitt.