The only thing that is certain is that the world is not coming to an end in 2012, despite the Mayan predictions that it will all be over by December. "We are so certain of this that we are prepared to take bets on it and if we're wrong, then we’ll give you your money back," quipped Daniel Franklin, executive editor of The Economist. Franklin was speaking about this year’s edition of his paper's annual publication, The World in 2012, at a Continuous Education session on IESE's Madrid campus. The session was chaired by IESE Prof. Juan José Toribio.
Among the few certainties he pointed to were the anniversaries that fall this year: 500 years since Michelangelo painted the frescoes in the Sistine chapel, 200 since the birth of Charles Dickens and a mere five years since the first iPhone was launched. And as a sign of how the economic center of gravity is shifting, emerging markets as a group will this year become the world’s biggest importers while China is about to become the world's largest luxury goods market. Meanwhile, Facebook is likely to pass the 1 billion user mark.
The big story of 2011 was the Arab spring, Franklin said, and the question now is what sort of regimes are going to emerge in those countries where dictatorships have been overthrown. "If they are going to be Islamist, will their model be Turkey or will it be Iran?" he asked. The other question is whether the spring will move south to sub-Saharan Africa. "There are nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa whose leaders have been in power for more than 20 years," Franklin noted.
The countries that occupy four of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council all face changes in leadership: China, Russia, France and the United States. "There is scope for a political upset in all of them," he said.
However, Europe's crisis is still the pivotal factor, even in the U.S., Franklin said. The euro zone is top of the world agenda and, while the good news is that Italy and the ECB both have better leaders and there is some broad agreement on fiscal discipline, the Greek outlook is still perilous. "Huge uncertainties would follow if Greece left the euro because it was never envisaged that a country would leave," he said. Spain is at the heart of the euro issue, he added. "The big question is whether the government will do the difficult things it needs to do."
On the technology front, Franklin highlighted the opportunities in location-based services via mobiles, augmented reality enhancing real experience and the huge potential business presented by mobile payments. Asked about the referendum on Scottish independence, slated for 2014, he said that it went far beyond an ancient Anglo-Scottish quarrel and that a vote in favor of independence would have huge ramifications for the rest of Europe.