Based on the current rate of growth of world human population, the year 2050 is a fair estimate of when the 9 billionth baby will be born. The rate of scientific and technological advancement in the last few centuries has happened at an unprecedented pace. As recent as the beginning of the 19th century, societies across the globe were functioning on the feudalistic model, where local landlords and warlords ruled their dominions with brute authority. The agrarian societies of the time quickly gave way to the mass industrial economic models, where, as Adam Smith famously pointed out, division of labor and efficiency of production were given great importance. This era lasted a century and half till the 1970, by which time a new global economic paradigm was beginning to take shape.
The 1970s is the pivotal decade in which the neo-liberal economic model (also commonly called ‘globalization’) was being adopted as the core government policy. The United States can be said to have masterminded this transition from industrial-capitalist to the global neo-liberal program. It is not a straight forward case of unrelenting progress from agrarian to industrial to neo-liberal economic structures. If the growing disparity in distribution of health and wealth across the globe is taken into account, then it is easy to get nostalgic about the ‘good old days’. At the time when globalization was being adopted as the preferred system, the United States was engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union. The threat of war and the paranoia surrounding Russian nuclear arsenal enabled successive American governments to enact policies that favored select elite interests. A majority of the population was left out of the decision making process, whereas business leaders got to dictate policies to those inhabiting the executive branch of government. In this sense, it is fair to say that the era of globalization was kick started by the Jimmy Carter administration and consolidated and taken forward by all successive governments.
Globalization would not have been as ubiquitous today, if not for the co-operation and co-option of most national governments. Though the United States and some Western European powers masterminded the globalization process, it would not have materialized without the assent (willing or compelled) of various regional leaders across the globe. To give it due credit, erstwhile lagging economies of countries like Japan, Taiwan, Korea and China really prospered during the era of globalization. Numerous other countries like India, Brazil and Russia are beginning to develop their economies in an impressive manner. But the economic gains created under globalization were seldom equitably distributed. To the contrary, it has created vast schisms in the fabric of many societies, leading to civil unrest and mass movements. Even in the United States, the Occupy Wall Street movement amply demonstrated this discontent. (Alexander, 2006) What this suggests is that the quality of life of the 9 billionth baby is very likely to be tough. Unless the baby happens to be born to parents who are part of the economic elite, the prospects for survival in what would be an ultra-competitive environment of 2050 would be weak.
In order for the human race to cross the 9 billion mark, it somehow has to manage to survive till then. As it stands presently, the two major threats to the survival of the species are nuclear warfare and climatic catastrophe. Every developed nation in the world already possesses nuclear military capability. Those aspiring to make their sovereignty known to the rest of the world – mostly from the developing world – are also resorting to nuclear weapons as a way of improving their status in global geo-politics. There is also the very legitimate claim of self-defense. With the United States and its allies having engaged unilaterally in many military conflicts across the world, it is not unreasonable for emerging economies to fortify their sovereignty through military posturing. India, Pakistan, Iran, China and North Korea have legitimate security concerns. But history has shown how quickly and devastatingly a nuclear weapon can annihilate societies – mostly beyond repair. The cases of Hiroshima and Nagasaki serve as ghastly reminders of mind-numbing irrationality of human agency. Hence, the transformation from relative peace to Armageddon like atomic warfare is a real possibility confronting the human race. With more countries aspiring to join the nuclear club – partly on the back of economic insecurities created by the neo-liberal regime – the threat looms ever larger. The birth of the 9 billionth child four decades down the line looks very hypothetical in this context. In her book The Shock Doctrine, author Naomi Klein tells how,
“for more than three decades, neoliberals (sometimes called neoconservatives) have been perfecting a strategy: waiting for a major crisis, selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock, and then quietly making the “reforms” permanent. At times, they actually created a crisis rather than waiting for one to happen. Klein points out that 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq provided a bonanza for disaster capitalism: “Policing, surveillance, detention, and war-making powers of the executive were dramatically increased, though nothing in the [U.S.] Constitution permits it. Then the whole package, including occupation and reconstruction, was outsourced to well-connected private firms that responded with generous campaign funds.”” (LaBerge, 2007)
If this practice of ‘disaster capitalism’ continues into the future, then we may not cross the 9 billion mark at all. Further, globalization, with its thrust on economic prosperity at the cost of everything else poses serious challenges to people’s sense of identities, their affiliations to their ethnic and cultural heritage and their philosophies of life. For example, the mass consumerist culture that is ubiquitous today is largely a product of globalization. For capitalism to work, short-term profits of a business corporation are all that matters. This is a dangerous principle, for, if everyone is only looking at the short-term and profit-maximization, then a tipping point can precipitate an all consuming doom. It is this doctrine of short-term commercial gain that has largely accelerated global warming. Business corporations are promoting the use of cars, fossil fuels and other consumer activities that contribute to green house gas accumulation. The last thing in the mind of a CEO of a major automobile manufacturer is the state of the ecosystem, for such considerations undermines the immediate profits to be had. One of the reasons behind the success of globalization is the improved transport infrastructure across the globe. Added to this is the superfast telecommunications infrastructure that has been developed more recently. But these developments are as much a curse as they are a boon, for their sustained is impossible in a planet with finite resources. Seen in this backdrop, once again, the life of the 9 billionth human baby appears to be precarious. My sincere advice to the baby is to avoid being born.