The Arab Spring. The European debt crisis. The Republican presidential race. The death of Steve Jobs. The killing of Osama bin Laden. These were some of the stories that dominated page one this year.
But there were other developments and trends in the world that didn’t make it to the headlines, even though they are arguably, if not, more important to what you couldn’t escape on your television.
Here are four big developments of 2011 that didn’t make it to the front page — and sometimes no pages at all.
Light Manufacturing Leaves China
It’s been predicted and predicted. It started happening this year. A September UBS study showed that China’s share of manufactured exports was starting to fall, especially in low-end stuff. Chinese labour is becoming simply too expensive. The Middle Kingdom’s GDP touched $7 billion this year.
A related World Bank study concluded earlier this year that 80-85 million such jobs would leave China over the next three to five years.
The study noted that China’s share of light manufacturing exports in the two largest markets of the European Union and the United States had peaked and begun heading southward.
Where are these jobs going? The evidence as that these were now migrating to countries offering cheaper labour. These countries included Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and even Mexico. China continues to hold onto infotech electronics exports, its traditional core strength. But it is haemorrhaging jobs in everything else. The only sad part: as the UBS study notes, “India is nowhere to be seen” in the job shift.
Men Not At Work
Businessweek has called it the Year of the Fist. Time magazine has made “the protestor” its person of 2011. And why has the riot become such a popular pastime? One reason may be lots of idle young men.
Across the West and parts of the developing world, men without jobs is almost the norm rather than the exception. The US, which has traditionally had male workforce unemployment rates of 5% even during recessions, has seen that figure rise to 20%. This can be traced back to the 1970s, notes economist Larry Summers, “a seemingly inexorable trend that changes every aspect of society.”
In other words, it won’t get much better even after a recovery. Male unemployment in countries like Spain and Greece are a staggering 30 or 40%.
In the years before the Arab awakening, joblessness in Arab countries was sky-high. The highest figures were 30 and 25% plus.
These were for Egypt and Tunisia, respectively. No surprise that in 2011 they both blew. Syria, where joblessness was 15% or more, just took a little longer for the streets to erupt.
Pakistan’s Secret War
Have you heard about the fifth Baluchi rebellion? It’s going on right now in Pakistan and if no one is noticing it’s only because India’s western neighbour has so many other problems going on right now.
Baluchis are again rebelling against the rule of Islamabad. The province has seen the worst violence of any Pakistani province in the past two years.
Foreign Policy magazine says the province has been wracked by “multiple bombings of key gas pipelines, the murder of Punjab settlers who have moved to the region, and the assassinations of several prominent politicians and oil-company employees.” It calls this Pakistan’s “secret war.”
Human Rights Watch says the Pakistani security forces have responded with at least 150 Baluchi leaders and activists having disappeared or killed the past year.
This rebellion, led by the Baluchistan Liberation Army, is a secular nationalist one quite separate from the Taliban and Islamist violence that is now part of day-to-day life in this and other provinces of Pakistan.
Pakistan, which likes to blame its problems on everyone except itself, blames this rebellion on India even though, privately, Pakistan army officers will point their finger at the Afghanistan regime of Hamid Karzai.
Beginning of the End of the Carter Doctrine
Since the 1970s, the United States has guaranteed oil supplies through the Persian Gulf, the so-called Carter Doctrine. It got itself into some pretty messy wars to do so and earned itself a lot of Muslim enmity.
Three new sources of oil and a revolution in gas supplies will allow the Americas to say goodbye to Persian Gulf hydrocarbons in just a few years. The first is the technological breakthrough that makes Canadian tar sands economically viable. The second is the discovery of Brazilian oil. The last is horizontal drilling that is allowing the US to tap “tight oil” reserves under its own soil.
The last has already resulted in the shale gas revolution that has made the US a net exporter of natural gas at rock-bottom prices.
US industry and power is now almost wholly coal or gas. Oil is now only a transport fuel.
As analysts like Daniel Yergin have noted, US oil imports have now plateaued off for three years running. The US, in other words, is on the verge of curing itself of its addiction to Arab oil thanks to gas, new oil supplies and tight fuel-efficiency vehicle norms.
Logically, its strategic interest in policing that part of the world will dwindle. So who depends on Persian Gulf oil? The economies of Asia. The Americans are leaving.