The holidays have come and gone and 2014 has been ushered in. With the start of the New Year, it’s fair to speculate what the biggest developments in economic, political, and technological news will be.
2013 was certainly an eventful year with a new Pope, warming relations with Iran, a North Korea that seems bent on confrontation, and budget battles in Washington. Still, compared to years past, 2013 was a relatively tame year compared to most years since the turn of the millennium.
There was the Boston Bombing that shocked the nation, and Washington’s political dogfights nearly ground the country to a halt on numerous occasions. Still, the crisis in the European Union subsided, the American recovery gained some strength, and major international snafus were largely avoided.
Technology: Computers will begin to fully integrate themselves into our lives
Will 2014 finally bring flying cars, artificial intelligence, and a perfected green energy source? Probably not, but continued advances in technology will have profound impacts on our lives. Instead of major technology breakthroughs, it’s more likely that computer technology will continue to enmesh itself further with our daily lives.
Already, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) are gearing up to put their operating systems in our cars, while Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and other car companies are working to build self-operating cars. Expect Google and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) to both unveil in-car computing systems that will turn your car’s dashboard into a tablet. The systems themselves likely won’t reach car models until 2015 or 2016, but the new systems will generate plenty of buzz.
Computers won’t just stop at our cars, either. Already, the XBox One is trying to position itself as an in-home entertainment nexus, while Smart-Tvs are beginning to rival computers in their online capabilities. As time goes on, houses should become more technologically integrated, with everything from garage doors, to ovens being linked to a smartphone or other computing system. Many of these technologies are already available, but 2014 could be the year such systems start to pick up steam.
Politics: An exhausted stability
The world has grown tired. Sanctions, economic crises, wars, deaths, elections, natural disasters, you name it, the last decade has seen plenty of it. 2013 saw tensions cool down, for the most part, and 2014 will see the international community stay at a low simmer.
China might cause a ruckus over the South China Sea, but with its numerous internal problems (debt, increasing civic pressures, etc.), and increasing external threats, including a rising Japan and stubborn United States, China likely won’t make the South China Sea a major issue in 2014. What it may do is re-entrench and position itself for a conflict or diplomatic row in the following years. Still, don’t be surprised if the South China Sea conflict snags a few headlines but do be surprised if it boils over into a major situation.
Iran will continue to move back towards integrating with the international community, but expect it to be a bumpy ride. Most likely, for every two steps forward, Iran will take one step backwards. With internal political alliances and visions for the future of the country so divided, there will likely be a lot of in-fighting that will make itself
The United States will continue to dial down its “imperial” presence. With huge budget deficits, America will be looking to install its more mobile and finesse military and likely won’t be drawn into any conflicts. The 2014 election season could be contentious, especially for far right Republicans. After dropping the ball in 2013, however, the GOP should suffer losses in the election but may be able to maintain a majority in the house. Either way, it should be a close match but the GOP should be able to maintain a thin majority.
Economic: A mixed message as the inequality gap grows
The global economy suffered some scares this year, especially in the European Union where lingering debt problems made headlines several times. Still, most of the major issues now seem to be under control, the E.U. appears to have bottomed out, Asia has sustained its boom, and the U.S. recovery is gaining steam.
If any country does upset the global stability, the perpetrator this time around won’t be the United States or the European Union. Instead China, which has been the world’s economy darling, could become a cause of concern. China’s 3 trillion dollars in local debt could become a major issue if cities start to default. So far, early reports indicate that this could indeed be an issue, but the Chinese government has plenty of resources to deal with the issue, so long as they take the right measures.
What will be the biggest story, will also likely be the one that doesn’t make many headlines: the growing gap between the rich and the poor. As the global economy continues to advance, the distance between the have’s and the have-nots will continue to widen. Further, with college prices soaring across the West, and fewer jobs available to younger members of the workforce, the gap will likely continue to widen.
While this issue might not come to a head this year, if trends don’t reverse it could became a major issue in years to come. Given the strength of protests in Europe, and both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, it’s not hard to imagine that civil unrest could eventually be caused by the growing income gap.
The biggest stories of 2014 will likely not be caused by any particular event, but instead how governments and leaders react to them. If the world’s leaders do not handle the issues that do arise properly, seeming minor situations could quickly spin out of control. Even if minor issues are resolved, if leaders do not address long-term issues, such as the widening income gap, 2014 may set the stage for more turbulent years to come.
Note: These projections solely reflect the view of the author.