It's annual prediction posting time! On the happy occasion of 2016's end, we first revisit last year's predictions, before launching into next year's...
- The US economy will stall this year, as trouble abroad (in China, Canada, and other oil-based economies) hurts exports and the Fed's tentative forays into non-zero interest rates burst various mild bubbles in the stock and other asset markets. The stock market and real estate markets will fall, interest rates will remain very low, and the price of oil will not rebound significantly from its current lows.
As usual, I was early on this one--eight years into the business cycle, another recession is inevitable, but predicting its exact timing is very difficult. The previous year, I expected it to occur within the subsequent three years, and took a chance on it being in 2016. Perhaps this will be the year (see below)...
- Immigrant-related issues will continue to distract the continent from the greater threat of disintegration due to the incoherence of its monetary union. Hence bailouts of bankrupt southern members will continue as a quid pro quo for cooperation in stemming the flow of Middle Eastern and African migrants. Meanwhile, rightist, populist, nativist parties will continue to surge across the continent, jettisoning many of the domestic and foreign policies anchored into place by the previously-dominant bureaucracy/union/activist/corporatist coalition. (Hostility to Israel will of course be one of the few policies to survive the purge.)
My most accurate prediction of the year, I'd say.
- Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will narrowly win the presidential election over Republican nominee Marco Rubio, with the crucial Republican-vote-diverting assistance of third-party candidate Donald Trump. However, the Republicans will maintain their Congressional majorities--just barely, in the case of the Senate.
I completely botched my presidential prediction, of course, but I'm in pretty good company in doing so. And my congressional prediction was spot-on.
- The stalemate in Syria will continue mostly unchanged, tying down the main pro-Assad participants (Russia, Iran and Hezbollah) as well as the anti-Assad ones (Turkey, Saudi Arabia) while the US largely stays on the sidelines. ISIS will continue to weaken under the pressure of its many enemies, and its big terrorist "successes" of 2015 will be repeated very sparsely if at all. On the other hand, Israel will find itself increasingly drawn into the fray in support of the Sunni rebel side, as the Iran/Assad/Hezbollah axis intensifies its drive to establish a front along Israel's Golan Heights border with Syria. Finally, the Kurds will once again be in the region's crosshairs, as Iran, Turkey and ISIS all increase their pressure on them, each for its own reasons. The Obama administration will sit that one out as well, leaving the Kurds in a precarious state.
Generally in the right direction, but a bit off on magnitude. Russian scorched earth tactics have been more effective against the Syrian rebels, ISIS has managed to generate more terrorist attacks against the West, Israel has been more hands-off in Syria, and the Kurds have been under less pressure, than I predicted.
- The current "stabbing intifada", consisting mostly of random Palestinians spontaneously attacking random Israelis with knives, will evolve into a complex game in which the Palestinian Authority attempts to carefully calibrate the level of violence so as to keep Hamas and other radical groups occupied without provoking a major Israeli crackdown. Ultimately this strategy will fail, and at some point Israel, responding to one or more high-casualty attacks, will launch a major "lawn-mowing" operation in the West Bank to round up terrorist organizations hiding out in PA-run areas. World condemnation will follow, although European vituperation will be milder than usual, as a result of the new terrorist-hostile political environment there, as well as greater Israeli willingness to take active measures to counter European meddling.
The small-scale attacks appear to have eventually subsided, due to some extent to surprisingly effective Israeli countermeasures.
- Disney will announce that following the huge success of "Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens", Star Wars Episode 8 will be entitled, "The Force Has Breakfast".
Personally, I like my title better...
And now for this year's shots in the dark:
- All that stuff I predicted about last year's economy will apply this year. (Or next year--see above.) If you object that such a prediction is non-actionable, keep in mind Bernard Baruch's (possibly apocryphal) aphorism: "I made my money by selling too soon"...
- The right-wing resurgence in Europe will continue in 2017, with several more countries electing new nationalist, anti-immigration governments. Brexit negotiations will begin in earnest, but will not complete this year. Continuing sporadic terror attacks will be joined by increasingly frequent and more severe incidents of nativist violence against immigrants.
- Donald Trump's first year in office will be very similar to his predecessor's: lots of "I won" bluster, but very few legislative accomplishments, apart from one or two bipartisan ones driven by Congress with Democratic cooperation. (The Republicans will not abolish the Senate filibuster, although they'll keep the limitations on it instituted by the previous Democratic Senate.) Neither Obamacare nor immigration will be addressed legislatively, although many of the Obama administration's executive actions in these areas will be reversed. Reaction to Trump's usual bombastic pronouncements will be overwhelmingly partisan, and his approval ratings will therefore track his partisan support, which will hover within the 40-50-percent range.
- Trump's foreign policy will sound radically different from his predecessor's, but will in practice be similarly quiescent and timid, at least militarily--although thankfully without the open courtship of avowed enemies (with the exception of Putin's Russia) and sabotage against pro-US friends. For example, despite the new pro-Israel tone, US reaction to the recent anti-Israel UN resolution will be much more muted than the current torrent of threats suggests. Any funding cuts or formal status changes to the US' UN membership will be confined to ineffective token gestures, and the US embassy will end up not moving to Jerusalem this year.
- Both ISIS and the Syrian rebellion will continue to weaken, but will not yet disappear by the end of 2017. As the Assad regime consolidates its hold, pro-Iranian proxies will be freed up for increased attacks on Israel, and Sunni radicals as well, seeking a less ruthless target, will start turning towards Israel in earnest. Some minor attacks will occur, to which Israel will respond harshly. Meanwhile, the corruption investigation against Bibi Netanyahu will take many months to complete, and likely won't be completed by the end of this year. In any event, ultimately no charges will be laid.
- Venezuela will collapse further into failed-state status in the Zimbabwe mold, with a corrupt and incompetent government using brute force to suppress opposition amid continuing economic collapse. Meanwhile, the American opening to Cuba will do nothing for its population's destitution, and economic failure will lead to significant popular unrest in Russia, Iran and Egypt.
- The next Star Wars film will not be named either "The Force Gets Dressed" or "Rogue Two".
As always, readers are encouraged to add their own predictions as comments on this post. Until you've tried it, you can't really appreciate the truth of Niels Bohr's aphorism: "Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future"...