Forecasts for the New World Order of 2030

(Bloomberg View) -- At a global economic conference in Dubai last weekend, the U.S. was everywhere and nowhere.

In conversations at the World Economic Forum's Global Future Councils, people wrestled with challenges to the global trading system, developing infrastructure for the 21st century, and restoring trust in experts and leadership. Donald Trump was never far off -- his election being a kind of shorthand for the urgent task of restoring faith in an open and integrated world economy.

Two parallel themes were prevalent. The first was that China will be at least as important as, if not more than, the U.S. in shaping what the world will look like in 2030. Xi Jinping's speech to the Communist Party congress last month seemed to encapsulate this, echoed by Trump's deferential visit to Asia. China now appears to be the big force for stability, predictability and defense of the global trading system.

The second theme was questioning whether the U.S. would even be a global player in the world of 2030. The whole premise of the global architecture built since 1945 is American leadership. Maybe this period of American introspection is a blip, and there's more to the U.S. than Trump's nationalism. There are civil society, capital and global supply chains built by American corporations. None of these are disappearing. And for all China's gains, the U.S. economy is still the world's largest. It's kind of mind-blowing that we have come to the point where serious people in serious forums ask whether the U.S. can mount a forceful and credible defense of free markets. Yet here we are.

There was a pervasive sense that peak U.S. leadership has passed. That passing means a lot of assumptions need to be tested. Let's start with trade, defense of which was a topic of considerable attention. There was widespread agreement that the current system needs to be both shored up and enhanced while addressing those left behind by dislocation. 

Of course, the more time spent trying to shore up the existing system, the less time, intellectual energy and political capital is spent on developing a system that can address the needs of the future. Here again, U.S. is critical. But can America be bothered?

Questions like this inevitably led to an excursion into the politics of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, the three manufacturing-rich states that narrowly swung for Trump a year ago, delivering him the election. Trump voters in those three states might be amused that their predilections figured so prominently among elite discussions in the United Arab Emirates. (Internal Chinese politics didn't get a hearing.)

One attendee mused that we may be in some interregnum period now, somewhere between the old U.S.-led order and a new arrangement. Trump didn't cause this interregnum, but he probably accelerated its arrival. What the new arrangement looks like is critical to how the world will look in 2030. And this is just in trade.

The councils press on with their task of envisaging the world of 2030. With or without the U.S.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Daniel Moss writes and edits articles on economics for Bloomberg View. Previously he was executive editor of Bloomberg News for global economics, and has led teams in Asia, Europe and North America.

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