By Damian Reilly
After attending the Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh, Damian Reilly is clear where the future lies.
There was a point at the global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh last week when it was easy to be suspicious that the whole thing was really just a front for a good portion of the modern-day Illuminati to meet.
The Illuminati, of course, are the shadowy organisation whom conspiracy theorists have for centuries believed really run the world, secretively.
The power behind the power. There was Tony Blair in a room with Jeff Immelt and Jean-Paul Chretien, huddled in discussion, about who knows what. Everywhere were Nobel laureates, scientists and leading medical, cultural and financial thinkers. That's not to mention the CEOs of some of the world's biggest and most powerful corporations who prowled the corridors, networking easily. The roll call of power, influence and intelligence was awesome.
Of all the speakers, for my money ex-World Bank president
was the best. Grandfatherly and kindly by appearance, the vision of the near future he painted was one of very rapid seismic transfers in the world order. Forgive me for reproducing much of it here, but is worth passing it on.
He said: "By 2050, according to research undertaken by the World Bank and the UN, the demographics are pretty clear. The world will grow from six billion people as it is today to a peak of nine billion in 2050. The consensus estimate is only a hundred million of that growth, of the people between six and nine billion, goes to the so-called wealthy countries, the OECD countries, and the other 2.9 billion goes to the developing countries. And that brings with it some very dramatic consequences.
"The first is the general consensus view that by 2050 China and India will comprise approximately 50 percent of global GDP. That has happened before, it happened in 1815, and it happened in the year 1500. And if you visit China and India, I think you will conclude that Chinese development is ahead of Indian development at the moment. But you have nonetheless a very strong movement in India. My belief is that somewhere around 2035 and 2040 the US will be replaced as the number one economic power by China and then India. I believe that is almost certain to happen.
"The other direction that is clear is that world consumption shifts. Two thirds of the world's consumption from the middle class will move to Asia. It is currently one third with two thirds coming from the OECD countries. So you will have then a 4.5 billion population on the planet that is middle class, with 1.5 billion being in the OECD countries, and three billion being in China, India and Asia. The direction is totally clear, and this is the working assumption that the World Bank is currently working on."
We have all heard for a long time that India and China are on the rise, but to have it laid out so starkly and with such certainty was arresting.
Wolfensohn's message was that these shifts in financial and cultural power presented huge opportunities for the forward thinking as well as huge challenges for the governments of nations affected by the changes. He urged the Middle East to look East now to build for the future.
These demographic shifts will no doubt be the talk of Davos this week, too, where the Illuminati are currently convened.
One thing that did slightly stick in the craw in Riyadh was listening to Tony Blair talk of the need for peace and love and understanding so we can all, you know, get on with each other.
Given his role in the recent history of the Middle East it is surprising he has the gall to show his face here, let alone to come and call for Middle East education to be reformed so it turns out "open-minded" people.
Damian Reilly is the editor of Arabian Business.
Thanks. Very well presented. Not only the M.East but the OECD and the West need also to Look East.