The World In 2030: Twenty-Somethings Will Define The 2020s
Students participate in the Global Climate Strike, in Guwahati, Assam, on Sept. 20, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)

The World In 2030: Twenty-Somethings Will Define The 2020s


Twenty-Somethings will define the world in 2030. All other generations would be wise to follow the advice of surrealist artist Salvador Dalí: “The problem with today’s youth is not being a part of it anymore.”

Thanks to Twenty-Somethings, across the next decade, international trade will be managed for social justice, Islamist extremism will be moribund, liberal arts will flourish again, and ecological sins will be repented. To those today to whom “O.K., Boomer” is rightly said, the world in 2030 will look surreal.

The World In 2030: Twenty-Somethings Will Define The 2020s

Twenty-Somethings are Generation Z, which includes Generation Alpha. They are no older than 24 years in 2020, yet their cross-border movements back-foot formal institutional structures that Boomers head.

The World In 2030: Twenty-Somethings Will Define The 2020s
Four Twenty-Something trends will replace sexagenarian and septuagenarian intellectual rigidities and policy scleroses that polarise today’s international political economy by stoking domestic populism.

Trend #1: Managed Trade

Twenty-Somethings have no memory of the activation of any major trade agreement. Boomers birthed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, World Trade Organization agreements, North American Free Trade Agreement, and Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for a Trans Pacific Partnership. All such deals made the world safe(r) for free trade, lowering tariffs on agricultural and industrial goods, textiles and apparel, and facilitating market access in services. Free trade is the only official paradigm Twenty-Somethings have known.

But, they were schooled after the 1980s, the heyday of Chicago-style, laissez-faire theory and Reagan-Thatcher deregulation.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at Camp David in 1984. (Photograph: U.S. National Archives)
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at Camp David in 1984. (Photograph: U.S. National Archives)

They see free trade as an ideology, not an efficiency-maximising axiom. They see the truth that trade always has been managed to one degree or another: what differed was why.

Boomer free-traders up through the Obama Era allowed tariff peaks and quantitative restrictions, and imposed remedies, to protect sensitive domestic sectors.

The Trump Raj manages trade in a mercantilist manner, connecting export maximisation, import minimisation, and trade surpluses with a national security motive: boost manufacturing jobs and incomes, and protect intellectual property, because self-reliance, not interdependence, strengthens the military-industrial complex.

Twenty-Somethings regard past protectionism as mollycoddling plutocratic elites, and present economic nationalism as short-term expediency to curry political favor. Social justice is their motive for managing trade.

Twenty-Somethings appreciate trade agreements are opportunities to promote human dignity and the common good, and express a preferential option for the poor.

That’s evident from the new Protocol to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, with revisions negotiated from August 2017 to September 2018 and signed on Nov. 30, 2018, and then renegotiated in autumn-2019 and signed on Dec. 10, 2019.

Workers build an irrigation canal in the town of Pueblo Nuevo,  Mexico, on Dec. 14, 2018. (Photographer: Cesar Rodriguez/Bloomberg)
Workers build an irrigation canal in the town of Pueblo Nuevo, Mexico, on Dec. 14, 2018. (Photographer: Cesar Rodriguez/Bloomberg)

Enforcement of labour rights in Mexico was a central issue in the talks about NAFTA 2.0 Protocol. Trump Raj negotiators sought higher standards thinking they would lead to higher wages and thus stem the northward flow of illegal migration from Mexico, and reverse outsourcing of U.S. jobs to cheaper-wage Mexican factories. Those aren’t the key reasons of interest to twenty-Somethings. Rather, they regard worker rights are intrinsically important.

Mexico agreed to three unprecedented provisions in the Protocol:

  1. Establishment of ‘Rapid Response Labor Bilateral Enforcement Panels’, which the U.S. can use to investigate allegations by unions that Mexico abridges freedom to organise or engage in collective bargaining.
  2. Reversal of the normal evidentiary burden on Mexico to facilitate investigations of forced labour complaints, meaning Mexico’s failure to comply with its obligations is presumed to affect trade and investment.
  3. The possibility the U.S. need not wait for Panel approval before barring importation of merchandise from a Mexican facility alleged to violate its labour rules.

These innovations bespeak the management of trade to promote social justice.

To be sure, Twenty-Somethings did not lead the United States Trade Representative’s negotiating team. They didn’t need to. Their social justice values were voiced through the Democrats they helped elect in November 2018 to the House of Representatives, whom the 72-year-old USTR had to please to secure USMCA passage (which he did, 385-41, on Dec. 19, 2019, the day after the House impeached his boss).

By 2030, when the USTR – and her counterparts across the world – is a Twenty-Something, rigorous labour rights provisions and complementary anti-climate change (discussed below) ones will be the core template of trade agreements. They’ll look askance at a deal that offers duty-free, quota-free treatment to merchandise trade, and open trade for services, but fails to manage negative externalities of free trade.

Trend #2: Islamic Moderation

Twenty-Somethings have no memory of 9/11, nor of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and at best, limited memories of the terrorist atrocities in Bali (2002), Madrid (2004), London (2005), Mumbai (2008), and Paris (2015). But, their memories of hatred these events spurred are vivid. Their knowledge of the escalating vengeful rhetoric and violence between the U.S. and Iran connected to the Jan. 3, 2020, assassination of Qassem Soleimani is in real time. They see the consequences: young American veterans afflicted by amputations and PTSD; young Iranian students suffering under sanctions. Twenty-Somethings see no future in Islamist extremism.

The Muslim Brotherhood slogan, “Islam is the Solution,” falls flat as a macroeconomic strategy to replicate the 20th-century Far East Miracle in the 21st-century Middle East.

Misinterpreted, it also suffocates love, as between Twenty-Somethings from different religious traditions or the same sexual orientation and gender identity group.

Not surprisingly, Twenty-Somethings took to the streets across Iran in November 2019 and Iraq in October to protest economic mismanagement and social orthodoxies. Distinctly, the December protests at the American Embassy in Baghdad were about U.S. interference in Iraq. These protesters won’t turn back to extremist ideologies, as occurred in Assad’s Syria and Mubarak’s Egypt in 2010-2011, if they recall the corruption, non-transparency, misogyny, and homophobia of extremists in power.

Anti-government protesters march in Baghdad, Iraq, on Nov. 3, 2019. (Photograph: AP/PTI)
Anti-government protesters march in Baghdad, Iraq, on Nov. 3, 2019. (Photograph: AP/PTI)

Also read: What to Know About the Massive Protests Roiling Iraq

Rather, by 2030, Twenty-Somethings will have reinforced Islam’s covenant with moderation. Otherwise, they’ll have migrated, resulting in the greatest brain drain from the Middle East since the advent of that great faith.

Either way, these Twenty-Somethings will join Christian Generation Z’ers, who are abandoning conservative churches fastened to right-wing politics and nasty to their LGBTQ+ friends. Between 2006 and 2018, the percentage of white Evangelical Protestants among the U.S. population fell from 23 to 15.3. And, they’ll join their Hindu sisters and brothers who opted in droves for secularism over sectarianism and protested in December 2019 against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Thus, aside from isolated God-forsaken geographic strips, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ISIS will be in 2030 what the Sinhalese Liberation Army (1973-75), Baader Meinhof Gang (1970-1998), and Japanese Red Army (1971-2002) are today.

Trend #3: Human Capitalism

Twenty-Somethings have at best a sketchy memory of Plato’s dialogues or Shakespeare’s dramas. Their primary and secondary school years followed the Culture Wars fought on the battleground of whether to continue the classic literary curriculum for Generations X and Y. The common civilisation, transmitted through that curriculum, of the Silent Generation and early Boomers eroded as enduring works were cast out from syllabi as pale, male, and stale in favor of de rigueur idiosyncratic, identity-based pieces. For academics, these Culture Wars were zero-sum conflicts, and as much as the academy champions originality, few lesson plans were creative enough to take an inclusive, both-and approach to classic and contemporary culture. For Generation Z, the Culture Wars signalled humanities were anything but humane or humanising.

Faced with the reality of crushing student debt, and assaulted by present discounted-value calculations of returns to a Business, Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics degree, tertiary-level students flocked to B-STEM programs. In them, they learned all that modernity can do with artificial intelligence, programming, data analytics, genetics, and pharmaceuticals. But B-STEM did not teach them whether they should do all that they can. Should they, for example, help weaponise space? Only ‘A’ – the Arts – can answer these questions.

Students in a third grade technology class  on laptops in  Boston, Massachusetts. (Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg)
Students in a third grade technology class on laptops in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg)

Already, albeit anecdotally, many B-STEM graduates are self-educating to B-STEAM. And, they’re opting not to join Big Tech or pharmaceuticals, and to forgo investment banking and management consultancy. For them, work is about purpose over profit. Start-ups, non-governmental organisations, and charities are where they can do what they ought.

Subject to the possibility of self-sabotage by unreconstructed tenured academics, by 2030, the liberal arts will experience a renaissance.

Twenty-Somethings will demand in higher proportions than today’s humanities majors sound training in what English literature knows as ‘Wulf to Wolf’ (meaning from Beowulf to Virginia Wolf). Concomitantly, they will demand more training in composing essays in lieu of creating yet another Excel spreadsheets or completing yet another quantitative problem set.

Their demands will work against restrictions on freedom of thought, that is, against internet censorship, inauthentic fatwā, or fanatical blasphemy allegations. Their demands will represent a global competition to nurture and retain critical analytical skills that make for top human capital. Enlightened regimes will fund free or highly-subsidise education through a first university degree, possibly in exchange for some sort of national/civilian service.

Young customers at a night cafe in Tehran, Iran, on  May 17, 2019. (Photographer: Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg)
Young customers at a night cafe in Tehran, Iran, on May 17, 2019. (Photographer: Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg)

Also read: India’s Decade Of High-Cost Government, Low-Growth Economy

Trend #4: Environmentalism

Twenty-Somethings have no living memory of energy insecurity triggered by the 1973 and 1979 oil shocks. But, they know an America that fracks and exports oil and natural gas. They observe an odd competitive alliance with a Saudi Arabia that promotes hydrocarbons while veiling truth about Jamal Khashoggi. In India’s Northern and China’s Eastern cities, they suffocate for two months every year. Across Australia, they watch their homes, animals, and forests burn periodically. On America’s Southern and Eastern coasts, and throughout the Caribbean, they get pounded by high-category hurricanes regularly. So, they know climate change is their existential issue.

A home destroyed by bush fires is seen in Carrabar, New South Wales, Australia, on  Dec. 31, 2019. (Photographer: Mark Graham/Bloomberg)
A home destroyed by bush fires is seen in Carrabar, New South Wales, Australia, on Dec. 31, 2019. (Photographer: Mark Graham/Bloomberg)

Also read: Devastating Fires Fail to Shake Australia Climate Change Inertia

They got a big, green boost with Pope Francis’ May 2015 Encyclical, Laudato Si (‘On Care for Our Common Home’). They’ll get another one soon when the Holy Father announces a major revision to the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, the 900-page volume summarising the sacred tradition, teaching (magisterium), and scripture for 1.25 billion Catholic Christians. In the list of acts and omissions to contemplate when one examines one’s conscience before prayer and/or reconciliation (confession) will appear ecological sins.

  • What did I do, or not do, to be a good steward of the environment?
  • Did I buy a conventional gasoline car when I could have purchased an electric vehicle?
  • Did I consume single-use plastics when I could have taken a cotton bag to the grocery store?
  • Did I divest from hydrocarbon stocks, as Norway’s $1-trillion sovereign wealth fund announced in March 2019?

By 2030, these introspective questions will be asked in and outside lines at confessionals before Mass. Consternation about environmental transgressions will be catholic, small ‘c’, i.e., universal, so these questions will suffuse all faiths.

Students at  the Global Climate Strike rally in Chennai, on Sept. 22, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)
Students at the Global Climate Strike rally in Chennai, on Sept. 22, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)

Also read: As Climate Protesters Fume, Envoys Build a Wall of Green Money

“O.K., Boomer, But The Torch Has Passed”

Twenty-Somethings don’t fear the future. Their good-hearted boldness sets them apart from angry Boomer populists, who, numbering 10-30 percent of the population in many societies, seem to be today’s trend-setters.

But Twenty-Somethings are troubled that Generation Y is projected to be the first cohort in history with a lower socioeconomic level than their parents. They’re next, so their collective voices are setting new trends.

Twenty-Somethings are learning economic nationalism, religious intransigence, intellectual inelasticity, and climate change scepticism won’t reverse downward mobility. So, they’re reinterpreting what America’s youngest-elected President, John F Kennedy, declared in his 1961 Inaugural Address: “the torch has been passed to a new generation.”

Raj Bhala is the inaugural Brenneisen Distinguished Professor, The University of Kansas, School of Law, and Senior Advisor to Dentons U.S. LLP. The views expressed here are his and do not necessarily represent the views of the State of Kansas or University, or Dentons or any of its clients, and do not constitute legal advice.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.

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