In my international business classes at the University of Texas at Austin, I always incorporate one lecture on how to contemplate and plan for a potential global career. We talk about long-term international strategies, opportunities, and hidden chances, as well as visa and tax issues. In a nutshell, it’s all about how to think strategically in order to leverage the world. My main focus is encouraging my students to think for themselves – to not rely on others but use serious critical thinking to analyze the world, important trends, chances, risks, and what they all could mean for somebody’s future.
This year, I doubled the lecture time to reflect upon what could be the decisive risks that Gen Z and Millennials face in the upcoming 60-80 years they can expect to live. Sometimes looking at risks sharpens your thinking about future scenarios and how you should be positioned in life to confront them. Unfortunately, the outlook is not as bright today as it was for Boomers in the 1960s. The Four Horsemen of the Gen-Z Apocalypse are galloping at great speed towards us (and don’t you like this hyperbolic allegory? 😉).
Horseman 1 -Automation, Robots and AI
Nobody knows how fast automation, robots and AI will revolutionize each labor market. Estimates of the likely impact vary widely. Will there be just 20% or over 50% unemployment in a few years? It is safe to say that the trend might not your friend in whatever line of work you are. How many of the lost jobs due to this tech revolution can be made up by retraining workers for different, maybe robot / AI-associated, work? The trend can be your friend, though, if you can make it to the other, the winning, side. Become a shareholder in companies that own robots/AI, or work in an industry not made redundant by technology.
Horseman 2 -Debt, Debt, and More Debt
Around the world, debt levels are increasing rapidly. Whether it’s government, corporate or consumer debt, nobody expects that the trillions of dollars, yen, or euros will ever be repaid. Central banks around the globe have been experimenting with unconventional strategies after the financial crisis of 2007-9. They have been reducing interest rates to levels unseen for many decades or ever (e.g., negative interest rates in Germany), financing governments by acquiring trillions of government debt, and doing everything possible to keep the casino running.
Should this great experiment of mankind ever end in tears, all kinds of scenarios are possible. There could be hyperinflation or a full financial reset, in which existing currencies will be replaced by something new, debt cancelled, and capital controls be installed to stem the chaos. Let’s put it bluntly: when your boomer parents have passed on, you and your friends will still deal with the aftermath of their decades-long polices of debt, debt, and more debt. Higher taxes or higher defaults might be the societal choices; either way, it is likely that you are left holding the bill.
Horseman 3 – Cold or Hot War between the US and China
We mentioned the Thucydides trap in a different article. As of mid-2019, the US and China are already engaged in a bitter trade war. Further issues include forced technology transfer, stealing intellectual property, and other distortions of free trade alleged by the US. Recent events, though, from jailing citizens of the other country to shutting market access to certain high-tech companies, to quarrels of China’s more assertive claims in the South China Sea, have already morphed the situation into that of a cold war. Given what is at stake, it is not inconceivable for the cold war to turn hot, exactly as it did in former Thucydides situations. When and how, nobody knows, but it’s certain that such a conflict would ensnare respective allies of the two countries, akin to what happened in WWI and WWII. Given modern weaponry, any new war would not look like the ones in the old war movies on your screen.
Horseman 4 – Surveillance Dystopia
Let’s now turn to the last of the four horsemen of the Gen Z apocalypse. By now, you have probably heard about the dystopian surveillance state that China has been installing in some of its regions, with full roll-out in short order. Pick any dark science fiction novel, and what we see today is more powerful and more dystopian than even George Orwell could have imagined. But don’t blame only China. It’s in the US, UK, and other countries as well. Surveillance is partially in private hands (think Facebook or Google). It is often not visible but certainly existent (e.g., the tapping of phones and emails by the NSA), and increasing rapidly. Whether China assigns a social score to you, or you voluntarily have your driving monitored and your daily activities measured for insurance discounts, the difference might be small.
If you allow Alexa to spy on, err, sorry, record, you and listen to your lovemaking in your bedroom, parts of dystopia have already arrived. Moreover, expect the chipping of your kids and parents in the near future, then you. Kids will be first under the disguise of “keeping them safe” in schools. The same goes for elderly to “keep them safe” in hospitals and retirement homes. In the end, life and humankind as we know it will change forever with consequences we cannot fathom.
If you are in your 20s or 30s right now, you can expect to live to 100 years and more from a biological and medical point of view. It is a safe bet to say that many diseases will be history in the near future, thereby eliminating major causes of death. Amazing medical advancement is the good news. You face two risks, though. First, you might die of non-natural causes, such as being killed by a drone. Second, you may live in such dystopian misery, where humans are serfs to robots and 24/7 nonhuman surveillance, that you’d rather not live to an old age. Think about it this way: if only one or two of the Horseman become full-blown reality, that might be enough to rue that your parents ever gave birth to you.
Don’t despair! In upcoming posts, we will look at potential strategies of avoiding, or at least lessening, the impact of the Four Horsemen of the Gen-Z Apocalypse.
© Michael Froehls – 2019 – All Rights Reserved