What is your outlook?

Question: Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic?

Ferguson: I’m temperamentally a very pessimistic person. I think that’s probably a function of my west of Scotland upbringing.

But the great thing about pessimism is that you’re never disappointed. And when you’re wrong, you’re pleasantly surprised.

So I find this a congenial working assumption for life.

When it comes to the issue of international security, I’m on balance pessimistic. On the one hand I see the American empire waning. At the same time, I see forces of ethnic hatred growing, rather than diminishing, particularly in the Middle East, but not only there.

And then there’s a third issue and that is economic stability. In the "War of the World," I made the point that 20th century conflict correlates quite closely to three things: empires in decline, ethnic disintegration, and economic volatility.

We’ve been through – all in 10 years – a very low economic volatility in most of the world, and that’s had all kinds of benign consequences. It’s been possible for economies to grow that previously were bedeviled by instability. But it’s hard to believe that this low volatility environment will continue indefinitely. And it may be ending as we speak, in the sense that there have been, since the middle of 2007, ructions in financial markets unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time.

So if you take these things together, I’m pessimistic not only about international security issues; not only about the endurance of American power; but also about financial stability.

And a lesson I take away from history is that financial instability can have all kinds of second order affects that aren’t very pretty. So from this point of view, I think there are some quite ugly scenarios quite near to us; nearer to us in time than a profound change in the earth’s climate. And of course, there’s a danger that if we devote too much time and energy to worrying about climate change over 100 years, we could lose sight of our ability to destroy ourselves within five years.

 

Recorded on: Oct 15 2007

 

The American empire is waning, ethnic hatred is growing and economic stability is crumbling.

Car culture and suburban sprawl create rifts in society, claims study

New research links urban planning and political polarization.

Pixabay
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Canadian researchers find that excessive reliance on cars changes political views.
  • Decades of car-centric urban planning normalized unsustainable lifestyles.
  • People who prefer personal comfort elect politicians who represent such views.
Keep reading Show less

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
  • Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Keep reading Show less

NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller on ​the multiple dimensions of space and human sexuality

Science and the squishiness of the human mind. The joys of wearing whatever the hell you want, and so much more.

Flickr / 13winds
Think Again Podcasts
  • Why can't we have a human-sized cat tree?
  • What would happen if you got a spoonful of a neutron star?
  • Why do we insist on dividing our wonderfully complex selves into boring little boxes
Keep reading Show less