Countries of the future
Readers familiar with my thinking know that I see the world in patterns. Societies develop in dynamic waves, moving to the next level when the time is ripe. Our modern history is defined by human societies in quest of trying to reach adequate living standards. One of my favorite sources, Oxford Illustrated History of the World, gives a beautiful account of the industrial pioneers and specifically the rise of Great Britain to world power thanks to “a tendency to move further and faster in that direction than the great majority of the rest of the world”. In this particular case, it meant that the landed noble class, reigning in the 18th century England, “took care to defend the commercial interests of the country and accepted the leadership and guidance in this of the collective wisdom of the City of London”. As it were, the freedom and social acceptance awarded to this growing group of merchants enabled England to assume leadership in world affairs for most of the 19th century.
In our current times, we might ask ourselves: who are the leaders of the coming decades if not the forthcoming century? Which countries “move further and faster” towards future? Looking at the world today I dare to admit there is one country above everybody else that comes to mind: Germany. Two recent developments illustrate its leadership: first, they took a bold step called “Energiwende” – policies were put in place to let go of older forms of power generation and to welcome new sources of energy in a massive way. Result: close to half a million new jobs have been created in the renewable energy sector . While the costs to support this transition are high – - counted as 21 billion euros up to 2015 – the total investment in the renewable energy between 2000 and 2014 was about 220 billion euros. Initial development costs of emerging technologies, in this case in particular Solar PV, are always substantial but will moderate in time.
Second,under Angela Merkel’s leadership Germany has taken a remarkably emphatic and liberal stance on the refugee problem. In 2015, close to 2 million immigrants arrived on German ground. Even though close to half of those immigrants who mostly came from conflict-ridden areas of the Middle East, later departed for other countries, Germany has shown itself generous and has applied an ethical approach towards the human misery caused by wars in Syria and elsewhere.
In fact, adding up all the other future-prone initiatives of this remarkable country – and there are many, I can tell you – it all expresses, interestingly, and time and again, the attitude of “moving faster and further” than others. The leaders of Germany are willing to take enormous political risks for the sake of common good and ethical standards play a significant role in making difficult decisions.
You may ask what this has to do with the rise of Great Britain two hundred years ago? Well - let us look at Great Britain (and the Netherlands) a bit closer. These countries were the quickest to change from a society based solely on agriculture and led by aristocracy towards a wider social stratification. They had one thing in common: their commercial success matched with their distance to Catholic Church. Having wielded enormous power over the centuries preceding the industrial revolution, the Catholic Church had essentially caused stagnation in the societies by not encouraging innovation in any way. On the contrary, the Catholic Church enforced formal hierarchies and rigid structures. Another, perhaps a more mundane reason was the relative scarcity lof the land.
The pattern, we may conclude, is the following: the countries that pick up global concerns and are ready to tackle the challenges will lead the way towards our future. While landed nobility in England two hundred years ago helped commerce to expand rapidly, thus giving way to the proliferation of a new social middle class, the policies of today’s Germany have shown a way towards a more socially inclusive society and set a pace for a new industrial revolution based on renewable energy technologies.
We should raise our hats in tribute to the boldness of German policies.
 Oxford Illustrated History of the World, vol 6, p. 33