Predictions made at the end of a year about the upcoming year are usually almost worthless, but this year, anyone tempted to prophesy faces formidable difficulties. From Brexit to the Cubs to Trump, highly improbable events have shaken our faith in even vaguely seeing into the future.
This may not be much of a loss, as year-end forecasts were mostly for entertainment. That said, we already know a few things about 2017 that should frame our expectations.
First, we have to widen the range of what is possible. For example, the possibility of the US defaulting on the national debt is less unthinkable. We need to ponder what that might mean. The same goes for closer ties to Russia, a tariff war and broad tax reform. Things that seemed politically impossible are in play.
Second, we could see abrupt changes. While our government, economy, and culture possess an enormous amount of inertia, the forces are in place to make step changes, not gradual shifts in policy and our economy.
Third, while we will be focused on actions here in the US, previously improbable outcomes are possible around the globe. And despite our recent inward turn what happens outside our borders will continue to rattle our cage.
Fourth, there will undoubtedly be positive results from these changes. But there will be greater risk of unforeseen consequences as we try new policies in a very complex world. Those Americans discontented with the status quo may be surprised at what replaces institutions and rules that we seem likely to jettison. Like remodeling, the tearing down is actually the easy part. Any change generates its own resistance, and radical changes can cause radical responses.
Finally, all of us will be playing more defense. As we work to protect our cultural and economic assets, we will slow the machinery of progress with distrust and lack of cooperation. Virtually every aspect of our lives will require more effort and certainly more thought before action.
In short, 2017 is going to take our best effort to manage. So, in a one sense, it will be something like 2016.