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Spring 2000
Futures Methods II

Analysing Scenarios


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'Now for a really conservative century' by Andrew Marr, New Statesman and Society, 2000-01-03, pp45-47.

Before launching into a possible scenario for the 21st century (mainly for the United Kingdom), the article begins with a description of the 20th. It has been described as "the Conservative Century" due to the number of years the Conservative party has been in power, but Marr goes on to point out how it could more qualitatively be described as a progressive, centre-left century:

This was the century, after all, when women got the vote, when trade unions rose to the height of their power, when the welfare state was constructed, when wealth taxes and substantial income taxation were introduced, when full employment was made an explicit part of government policy.

Rather than seeing the next hundred years continuing this theme, however, he describes the reasons why we could see a drastic shift to the right. Nations are now weaker with their economic, environmental, and defence powers restricted by supra-national organisations such as the WTO, Rio convention and NATO respectively. Despite the 20th century's egalitarian steps, the economic extremes are providing fuel for a new conservatism: the super-rich have fewer ties to culture and nationality and the poor largely ignore party politics but if anything are more likely to associate with nationalist and right-wing causes. Further, populations are ageing which is more likely to produce heavy conservative votes and larger Hindu and Muslim populations could affect traditionally liberal, anti-censorship cultures.

A weak point in the description of a future is Marr's description of rising environmentalism, for which he gives little in the way of supporting trends or explicit causes. Interestingly he sees this as a conservative reaction, rather than a radical left-leaning one, resulting in "new puritans" for whom conspicuous consumption becomes socially unacceptable and who demand "better public transport, fewer cars and more expensive organic food." This is more along the lines of conservation and traditionalism, rather than radical environmentalism. But either way, he sees it having a dramatic social effect on society, with travel and immigration restricted as countries attempt to live within their means. This traditionalism rears its head again as a reaction to the increasing pace of scientific development, similar to the public outcry over genetically modified foods.

In the expanding knowledge economy the poor and uneducated suffer greatly, unable to join in with the creation of wealth and flow of information the rest of the country takes for granted. This increasing segregation is a positive feedback loop, and governments don't help matters by altering policies towards less progressive taxation, charges for public services, and the privatisation of pensions and insurance.

Marr goes so far as to suggest dates for certain crucial events over the next few decades:

2017, the first British National Movement MPs are elected.
2024, the abolition of income tax and the introduction of food stamps for the poor.
2032, the reintroduction of the death penalty following a referendum.
2050, private cars are abolished and international travel restricted.

He summarises the condition of the world thus:

A next century that is dominated by self-righteous puritans, unprepared to pay general taxes to lift the rest of the population out of poverty, picky and suspicious of government action; where national governments are weaker economically but are required to be tougher in fighting crime and limiting migration; and where macroeconomic management has moved so far up to the global level that it is hardly connected to national democracies at all.

As a political commentator and journalist, Andrew Marr is basing his thoughts more on observation of trends and possible outcomes rather than statistics, allowing him a slightly freer and more imaginative scenario than he might otherwise have come up with. One significant flaw is the vagueness of the location he's describing; at times he seems to be describing Britain, other times what we assume is the western world, rather than the whole world. Clarification of this, and supporting more of his statements with current trends leading towards them, would have made for a more robust and believable scenario.

[ Scenario 1 | Scenario 2 | Scenario 3 ]

Index of papers Phil Gyford: web | email