Many enter 2009 disheartened by the events of late 2008 and they should prepare for more disappointments or, at the very least, a moment of pessimism. Ushered in is not a new vigor but a year of uncertainty and unpredictability. We are entering the age of turbulent dissonance, a period without much precedent.
The first change begins at home to our conceptions of the government-individual relationship. Activist government is on the rise, and for good reason. The failure in the housing sector that quickly afflicted and spread in pandemic fashion – illustrating the interdependence among numerous institutions and faculties of power and the powerlessness of individuals within this framework – shattered the myth of the corrective function of the free-market.
Hence, as a majority of Americans are eager for greater corporate oversight and more individual assistance while maintaining civil liberties, they bestowed a massive mandate for Democrats and elected the temperamentally conservative Obama as president. As David Brooks, the New York Times conservative columnist, echoed, our present challenge demands “epic legislation” and “conservative rule.” This period thus promises to be both the era of tremendous and limited government involvement, an uncharted novelty.
Our consumption habits and, by implication, our lifestyles, are also under assault. Mutual trust, the lifeblood for credit flow, is broken after continuous financial frauds and malfeasance. Like a newfound attitude, consumers are curtailing spending and expenditure – festivity sales were reportedly one of the poorest in recent memory – an end to an era based on cheap credit. For many, the need to consolidate, live within their means, save and be prudent will be prominent. Restraint displaces exuberance. The world is getting more productive, but we could be more conservative.
The general attitude towards energy consumption will be seriously altered. As energy depletes at an alarming rate and the global climate change occurs, our oil addiction faces its challenge. According to an Environmental Protection Agency projection, for instance, currently producing oil reserves meet approximately 70 percent of the global daily barrels produced. In 20 years, this resource will only accommodate 30 percent. With prices illusionary – the $100 a barrel last summer was, according to experts, still kept artificially low – discovery of alternative energies and cleaner disposal of carbon-polluting sources are critical. This energy frontier will reshape our ways of living.
Abroad, the rising economic, political and military might of numerous nations means that America’s current hegemonic stature will be diffused instead to a network of important actors. Cities of the world – London, Seoul, Buenos Aires, Madrid – are gaining critical influence, ensuring the easy transference of and access to knowledge, capital and human flow. Consequently, in a system that favors distributive, not solitary, action, individual nations will exert less control over events. For America, this challenge means a struggle between the pursuit of exceptionalism and the embrace of cooperation.
Meanwhile, the recent Israel-Palestine bombings serve as a reminder of the dangerous and fatal threat that international conflict and terrorism pose. The challenge of confronting extremists and democratic transgressors with differing intentions, however, will not be a solitary American quest. Precisely because America’s reputation is tarnished and its soft power diminished, global security is the provenance of many nations and their active participation. With the European Union reinvigorated under the powerful but previous leadership of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Asia continuing its upward ascent as the middle class grows, unilateralism will become a footnote in history.
2009 marks the beginning of a new year, but it is also an entrance into a new epoch without precedent. We’re in for an interesting time.
The New Year felt different for ZACH HAN. Agree with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.