The next big thing in the 21st century will be a global austerity. Not the budgetary austerity currently being bandied about in one Eurozone crisis after another, but austerity as it was coined by the ancient Greeks – bitter. Society must swallow a bitter pill and accept the realities of a very crowded planet with finite resources. Modern technology has given us a greater capacity to exploit the planet than ever before, perilously ignoring all constraints. This is necessary to prop up an economic model that is premised on relentless consumption achieved by under-pricing resources and externalizing costs. It thus cannot be the basis by which the 10 billion people of 2050 will live. Narrow business interests must not be allowed to usurp the role of the state and dictate the public good. This will be by far the most important political challenge of the 21st century and Asia’s size means it will be at the centre of this struggle.
The conventional wisdom used to be that globalization and economic deregulation had brought about an age of unending prosperity for all. The end of that delusion took the form of the financial crisis. Now the hope is that a rising tide of Asian consumers will lift all boats. This is precisely the same kind of willful blindness. Accepting the reality of global austerity will not be without its advantages - there is room for savvy investors to take advantage of the widespread unwillingness to accept reality, and Asian governments will have the chance to prove their legitimacy by properly confronting the challenge.