James Sasso, Associate Editor
As the tumultuous 2011 comes down to its final day, this column could contain an obnoxious summary of the year’s extraordinary events. Rather than once again discussing the protests around the world, the death of Osama Bin Laden, Fukushima, America’s political ineptitude, Europe’s demise or the increasingly frightful weather patterns, here I attempt to predict what 2012 holds in store.
In Europe, a sovereign debt crisis has put the laudable cross-national attempt at economic unity in peril. A system in which Germany and France bolster the international economies of countries like Greece and Spain, can only exist if the countries unite their economies fully. The debt crisis has proven that systems similar to the Articles of Confederation, with a shared currency, but few other shared fiscal responsibilities for a weak central government, ultimately fail. The Euro cannot remain in its present economic structure; it either must fall, allowing each country to coin its own currency, or it must become more centralized, allowing the EU government more control over the economic decisions of each member country. Recent decisions by the member countries, including tighter central fiscal controls and cheap money available for loan from the European Central Bank, indicate that many of the EU member countries desire to move in the latter direction. Europe’s countries have already come together on social issues, such as health care policy and immigration, which suggests that the next step is economics. Once united, it’s hard for countries, especially the fiscally weaker ones, to want to devolve the Euro and step out on their own without the protection that comes from the still-strong Euro. Although they will continue to resist further centralization, I would be surprised if the European leaders decided to allow the Euro to die.
Turning from Europe to America, 2011 finished with an economy that showed signs of improvement. Unemployment has declined steadily since the summer. Though the economy has failed to add enough jobs at a fast enough pace, 2012 looks bright. The housing market has shown faint signs of light. Business confidence is slightly up and the GDP grew at a faster than expected rate this quarter. No, these indications do not mean that America’s economy is steady, settled or recovered, but they demonstrate that 2012 could finally be the year of economic resurgence. There could be hope yet across the American horizon.
Unfortunately, the political stalemate of 2011 slowed the actual and potential economic growth of America. Partisan fighting prevented a major jobs-bill, a true compromise on the debt ceiling, and real cuts in non-discretionary spending or proper investment in America’s future. Instead, Congress continually passed short-term “solutions,” which only put off the tough problems for future (read our) generations. With the presidential election in 2012, there is little hope that Congressional Republicans will be willing to succumb to Barack Obama’s intelligent economic ideas. Their strategy of making Obama lose at any cost has threatened the American economy for the past couple of years and no one should assume they will stop. Especially in an election year, Republicans will not want to deliver Obama any legislative victories. The coming year, then, will involve worse partisan stalemate and no real legislative action on a recovering economy.
The presidential election will be an ugly one. The invention of Super PACs has already allowed candidates, such as Mitt Romney, to run negative campaign ads without technically authorizing them. Today, the Times ran an article describing one of Romney’s Super PACs, Restore Our Future, which has spent $2.9 million attacking Newt Gingrich in Iowa. While the people who run Restore Our Future are technically independent of Romney, there is no denying the personal connection and intimate involvement with the Romney campaign. The misguided decision of the Supreme Court in Citizens United worsened the political inequality in America by granting the wealthy an avenue by which to influence elections uninhibitedly. While each citizen technically has one vote, the voices of the rich continuously ring louder than the average American. Campaigns cost incredible amounts of money and candidates need to rely on America’s richest citizens and companies to pay for those costs. The political wishes of America’s wealthiest gain the ears of politicians, while the rest remain locked out of the political system. In 2012, the presidential election will fully demonstrate the ever-increasing political and economic gap between the most and least affluent Americans.
The Occupy Wall Street protests will likely continue to embolden President Obama’s rhetoric about economic inequality. More importantly, I would hope that the protests force the issue to come to the forefront of politics and make politicians finally respond with equalizing policies. If Obama and the Democrats successfully grab this message as their own, and build upon it with legislative proposals, then the Democrats could more strongly fight Republican gains in the 2012 election. For most of 2011, pundits rightfully expressed a view that Democrats would face potential losses with the struggling economy. With a rebounding economy, and grabbing this populist message, I believe that President Obama could once again win over the minds of the young and independent voters who bolstered his victory in 2008. Until recently, I had predicted that President Obama would narrowly retain victory, while the Republicans would win the Senate and hold the House. If that were the case, 2012 would be the beginning of terrible partisan bickering and four years of valueless political action. Now, though, I am more hopeful that the Democrats will retain the Senate and perhaps lessen the Republican hold on the House. The Tea Party has lost its popularity and Congressional Republicans have abysmal approval ratings. Democratic prospects look hopeful for the first time since 2009.
While the Occupy Wall Street protests have activated America’s new call for equality, the Arab Spring continued throughout 2011. Protests demanding greater political freedom rock Syria, which threatens to fall into civil war, and Egypt, which languishes under a military dictatorship despite democratic elections. The Arab Spring has been anything but predictable, and therefore I cannot pretend to know what will happen in 2012. Certainly, though, Egypt’s military will either have to allow the democratically elected government to take power, or clamp its iron fist on a restless country. Even though the popularly elected government contained many religious elements, Egypt should be allowed to follow its path of democracy. Syria, and some of the Arab countries like Bahrain face the similar challenge of autocratic leaders who refuse to loosen their hold on power. In Syria, at least, it seems that the people have finally had enough. They defied President Bashar al-Assad in the city of Homs, taking to streets. As had happened in Libya, some members of the Syrian military have defected to the side of the protestors. An internal military clash appears inevitable, especially if Arab Union countries continue to refuse to intervene. Tragically, 2012 has the potential to be another bloody year of democratic uprisings.
Besides these manmade dilemmas, the environment, and environmental catastrophes, will continue in 2012. Already the Northeastern United States is experiencing an unseasonably warm winter and the ice caps are melting faster than ever. Saharan Africa, especially in Somalia, is withering under a brutal draught, which has caused a disastrous famine. Whether or not a person professes to “believe in” global warming, he should want to protect the natural heaven with which humanity has been blessed. Why should we want to pollute it and waste its valuable resources? People need to realize that mankind cannot survive without a healthy environment. Sadly, it might take a natural disaster of unimaginable size to force people, especially Americans, to act unilaterally in favor of environmental protection. If the Republicans were to win in 2012, it would spell years of environmental deregulation, which would derail any progress that could be made to help save the environment.
So, 2012 will undoubtedly be an interesting year. It could be wonderful or it could be devastating, but like every year it will be a mixture of both.. Either way, the world will continue. There will be new problems and old ones. There will be solutions and there will be stalemate. All we can hope for is that 2012 is better than 2011 because every year should improve upon the last one. Happy New Year everyone!