Sharp changes are afoot throughout the globe. Demographics are shifting, technology is advancing at unprecedented rates, and these changes are being felt everywhere. How should we develop strategies to deal with this emerging new world? We can begin by understanding it. First, there is the changing composition of the world population, which will have a profound impact on societies. Developed countries are experiencing falling fertility and increasing life expectancy. As working-age populations shrink and pensions and care costs for the elderly rise, it becomes harder for governments to afford other productive investments.
After sparking two world wars that brought horrific destruction to its own ancient civilizations, Europe finished the 20th century riding a wave of economic and political success. With decisive economic, political, and military support from the United States, the 15 countries that would form the European Union had rebuilt themselves and helped the United States prevail in the Cold War. They gradually would welcome 13 more countries into their organization, which became widely seen as a pathway to prosperity and a guardrail against the embittered, competing nationalisms that had led to war. Some members of the EU even adopted a common currency, in part to emphasize the benefits of nations working together through economic cooperation rather than trying to dominate each other.
Public opinion and political attitudes have been less welcoming to new technology in Europe than in either the United States or China (and the rest of fast-growing Asia). Although many politicians have acknowledged the importance of fostering the digital economy, European countries have struggled to build a dynamic home-grown tech sector and have been wary of foreign—mainly U.S.—internet companies. There are a number of reasons for Europe’s reluctance to embrace the new technology of the digital era.
In December, a group of the French protesters known as gilets jaunes were stopping motorists at a traffic circle where the N151 meets the D951A, next to a forested hill in Burgundy. The gilets, so called for their distinctive yellow traffic-emergency vests, had banded together a month before to rally against a tax on diesel. Over several weeks, though, their grievance had grown less political (about this or that policy) and more existential (about the impossibility of making ends meet in France’s boondocks).
Europe faces a bewildering array of challenges, including weak banks, immigration, a growing gap between rich and poor, an East-West divide over democratic values, and of course Brexit. But perhaps the most profound and pervasive source of upheaval in Europe arises from current revolutions in information technology, social media, and artificial intelligence. As French President Emmanuel Macron has warned,1 Europe faces a disruptive onslaught on several fronts from three outside big powers. Their deployment of new technologies in the 21st century could undermine Europe’s future as the world’s most powerful and prosperous economic union.
The European Union (EU) is a large and powerful economic area. With a gross domestic product of around 19 trillion dollars in 2018, the EU has a similar economic size as the United States of America.1 It is home to 512 million inhabitants and will remain more populous than the United States even after the possible departure of Great Britain in March 2019.2 Europe hosts numerous world market leading firms, especially in manufacturing, which export high-quality products everywhere. It is a highly competitive and advanced economy.