Since When Did the National Intelligence Council Start Sounding Like CGD?

December 19, 2012

I thought I would take a look to see if the recently released National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 report had anything of interest to say on development-related issues.And whoa, did it. The report is essentially a primer on why—from regional instability to the global economy to the US role in the international system—policymakers need to care about development. All 160 pages of it tell the story of why the US needs to place greater emphasis on development policies that go beyond aid.NIC’s four “megatrends” heading into 2030 are:

  • Individual empowerment“Individual empowerment will accelerate owing to poverty reduction, growth of the middle class, greater educational attainment, widespread use of new communications and manufacturing technologies and health-care advances.”
Agreed, NIC. But let’s keep in mind Andy Sumner’s “buoyant billions” proposition:  that middle-income countries are now home to billions of people who are no longer desperately poor, yet not secure from falling back into extreme poverty—but still far from what we would recognize as middle class. See also Nancy Birdsall on “Economists in Confused Search for the Middle Class in Developing Countries” and the implications for Latin America and India, where she sees a new class of not-poor, not-middle class “4-10s.”
  • Diffusion of Power – “There will not be any hegemonic power. Power will shift to networks and coalitions in a multipolar world.”
So, it’s not about the decline of US power, the rise of China, or any one country’s hegemony, it’s about a new kind of coalition power, leveled by technology.  For Nancy’s suggestions about how global citizens can address market failures in a multipolar world, see here.NIC also argues that this 2030 world will be a new kind of economy where “the health of the global economy increasingly will be linked to how well the developing world does—more so than the traditional West.” All the more reason the US needs to be thinking about how to improve its Commitment to Development. Starting with reforming US trade policies could help our economy too.
  • Demographic Patterns – “The demographic arc of instability will narrow. Economic growth might decline in ‘aging’ countries. Sixty percent of the world’s population will live in urbanized areas; migration will increase.”
As urbanization increases, should we revisit Paul Romer’s “charter cities:” well-designed, densely populated cities on currently empty and arid coasts, fueled by wind and sun, with water from desalinization plants, built around container ports and airports, that provide immigrants from anywhere in the world with education and jobs? What should UNFPA be doing in countries where birthrates remain extraordinarily high? Why aren’t we talking more about contraception? And what should the US and other high-income countries  be doing to better tap the power of migration to fuel their own sagging economic growth?
  • Food, Water, Energy Nexus – “Demand for these resources will grow substantially owing to an increase in the global population. Tackling problems pertaining to one commodity will be linked to supply and demand for others.”
NIC notes that “climate change will worsen the outlook for the availability of these critical resources.” And this is why Doha was (unsurprisingly) a disappointment, even notwithstanding low expectations. So let’s start talking about how this multipolar world can address climate change, including with green technologies. But not forgetting the need to address hunger, water, and energy poverty.Do you agree with the megatrends NIC identified? What do they mean for those of us working in development? Let me know!


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.