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Coping with uncertainty: managing the present, planning the future

  • Milan
  • 8 April 2024

        Uncertainty has become a structural part of daily life. This lack of fixed points of reference is having a major impact on people’s lives as well as on social and economic systems. The perception is heightened by the simultaneous presence of a variety of threats for which humanity is unprepared, from the demographic decline to the climate crisis to the implications of new technologies. The possible result of the interlinking of these synergically dystopian uncertainties is the development of scenarios of unprecedented gravity at a rate never seen before.

        Furthermore, the amount of information now available to both individuals and society as a whole is astounding. Uncertainty has been historically associated with a lack of elements with which to interpret events, yet today’s overabundance of data is raising the level of complexity of interpretation. The only effective tool for navigating this is critical thinking, which is essential to the government’s ability to meet current challenges.

        Investing in the future requires capacity for vision, which must certainly include growth in economic prosperity, or at least maintenance of levels achieved over time. The world has experienced one development wave after another since the 1960s, each of which has been marked by moments of disruption: the first in the mid-1980s, with the end of the Cold War, followed by globalization in the 1990s, which led to deep changes in productive systems triggered by the creation of global value chains.

        Yet 2008 seems to have been the real watershed, primarily for the Western world. The United States, which had generated the financial downturn, managed to rebound quickly. Europe, on the other hand, had a harder time of it, as modest growth alternated with critical periods. The continent lost economic competitiveness, finding itself in various sectors (e.g. digital technology) struggling to catch up with the enormous advances of the United States, but also of China, whose development has been continuous. Also, China enjoys the support of its own vast domestic market. 

        Europe needs to make the most of its manufacturing prominence, starting with the many technological application sectors where it leads, as well as with its high standard of living. Nevertheless, in order not to find itself lagging behind Washington and Beijing, the Old World must muster the same strength with which it has faced other crises. Prioritizing strategic autonomy in a range of contexts – starting with defense, a particularly significant concern in view of the Russia/Ukraine conflict – is a good place to start.

        Apart from economic competitiveness, Europe seems also to have lost its political centrality. At this fragmented moment, the Global South appears to be straying from Western liberal-democratic models, as it is partly attracted by China and is partly searching for new systems of political organization and international relations of its own.

        Finally, notwithstanding widespread conflict and uncertainty, global commerce seems unphased. Of course, while de-globalization is getting underway on the one hand, on the other a sort of zone-specific re-globalization appears to be in the works. Value chains are diversifying. Global trade is not lessening but rather shifting in the interests of stronger intra-regional relations. The challenge here remains to find a language common to the various regions for confronting global uncertainty, while also avoiding a solidifying of the China-Russia bond that could present a concrete threat to the future of the West.

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