Around this time of year, some brave souls venture to put their reputations at risk by attempting to predict what the next year will bring. Some do so with uncanny accuracy, others — not so much. Being a serious author who hardly ever makes jokes, I generally sit out this annual bout of frivolity, but, noting that a new decade is about to burst upon us, I thought it reasonably safe to paint a picture of how I see the next decade. (In the unlikely case that my predictions turn out to be completely wrong, I would think that they will have been very thoroughly forgotten by the time 2020 rolls around.) And so, without further ado, here are my predictions for what it will be like in The United States of America during the second decade of the XXI century.
The decade will be marked by many instances of autophagy, in business, government, and in the higher echelons of society, as players at all levels find that they are unable to control their appetites or alter their behavior in any meaningful way, even in the face of radically altered circumstances, and are thus compelled to consume themselves into oblivion, as so many disemboweled yet still ravenous sharks endlessly gorging themselves on their own billowing entrails.
Governments will find that they are unable to restrain themselves from printing ever more money in an endless wave of uncontrolled emission. At the same time, rising taxes, commodity prices, and costs of all kinds, coupled with a rising overall level of uncertainty and disruption, will curtail economic activity to a point where little of that money will still circulate. Inflationists and deflationists will endlessly debate whether this should be called inflation or deflation, unconsciously emulating the big-endians and little-endians of Jonathan Swifts Gulliver's Travels, who endlessly debated the proper end from which to eat a soft-boiled egg. The citizenry, their nest egg boiled down to the size of a dried pea, will not be particularly vexed by the question of exactly how they should try to eat it, and will regard the question as academic, if not idiotic.
Distressed municipalities throughout the country will resort to charging exorbitant fees for such things as dog licenses. Many will experiment with imprisoning those unable to pay these fees in state and county jails, only to release them again as the jails continuously overflow and resources run low. The citizenry will come to regard jails as conveniently combining the features of a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter. Some towns will abandon the idea of having a fire department and decide that it is more cost-effective to just let house fires run their course, to save on demolitions. In an effort to plug up ever larger holes in their budgets, states will raise taxes, driving ever more economic activity underground. In particular, state liquor tax revenues will drop for the first time in many decades as more and more Americans find that they can no longer afford beer and switch to cheap and plentiful Afghan heroin and other illegal but very affordable drugs. Marijuana smoke will edge out car exhaust as America's most prevalent smell.
Several countries around the world will be forced to declare sovereign default and join the swelling ranks of defunct nations. There will be a mad shuffle to find safe havens for hot money, but none will be found. Investors around the world will finally be forced to realize that the best way to avoid losses is to not have any money to start with. Despite their best efforts to diversify their holdings, investors will find that they are all long paper, be it stocks, bonds, deeds, promissory notes, or incomprehensible derivative contracts. They will also find that, in the new business climate, none of these instruments make particularly formidable weapons: as the friendly game of rock-paper-scissors turns hostile, they will discover that rocks stave in skulls, that scissors puncture vital organs, but that the paper, even when wielded expertly, just causes paper cuts. Those formerly well-heeled persons who tend to believe that "possession is nine-tenths of the law" will find many extralegal exorcists eager to liberate their demons. In particular, organized crime rings will start using data mining software to identify lightly guarded cabins and compounds in Montana and other remote locations that are well-stocked with canned food, weapons and gold and silver bullion, and start harvesting them by softening the target with mortars, rockets and aerial bombardment, then sending in commando teams with grenades and machine guns. Once the harvest is in, they will expatriate the proceeds using the diplomatic pouches of defunct nations held in their sway.
While the bullion is expatriated, the Pentagon will attempt to repatriate troops from Iraq, Afghanistan and the numerous US military bases around the world, soon finding that they lack the wherewithal to do so, stranding the troops wherever they are, and forcing them to resupply themselves. Military families will be invited to donate food, uniforms, clean underwear and toiletries for their loved ones overseas. American weaponry will flood the black market, driving down prices. Some servicemen will decide that returning to the US is a bad idea in any case, and go native, marrying local women and adopting local religions, customs and garb. Although national leaders will continue to prattle on about national security whenever there is a microphone pointed at them, their own personal security will become their overarching concern. Officials at all levels will attempt to assemble ever larger retinues of bodyguards and security consultants. Members of Congress will become ever more reticent and will avoid encountering their constituents as much as possible, preferring to hide in Washington's hermetically sealed high-rises, walled compounds and gated communities. Meanwhile, outside the official security perimeter, a new neighborliness will take root, as squatting becomes known as "settling in," trespassing as "beating a new path," and fences, walls and locks are everywhere replaced by watchful eyes, attentive ears and helping hands.