2016 brought big surprises, but a comparison to 1848 seems overblown

In his thought-provoking review of the year of Trump and Brexit (After the revolt comes uncertainty), the Weekend Australian’s Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan observes:

“…2016 may well be seen by historians as a year of fundamental pivot, of a change of direction on par with other great pivot points of global history. Perhaps 2016 calls most to mind the year of European revolutions in 1848.”

Sheridan is right to highlight the uncertainty we face given recent events, but comparing 2016, which had some surprising results in democratic elections, to a year in which there were actual revolutions in western nations, with barricades and street fighting in Paris, Berlin and Dresden, seems a little overblown.


Can we really compare 2016 to 1848 ?

We have no idea how the Trump administration will perform and whether Trump will remain popular and stay for two terms. Trump made some extraordinary election promises, such as his large corporate tax cut, which are expected to increase the US federal deficit and the already very high level of national debt. In turn, a debt blowout may force unpopular cuts in programs and services. If Trump makes the large policy changes he has suggested, he runs the risk of not getting a second term.

Brexit, expected in 2019, will certainly result in long-term impacts to the British and European economies, but we remain unsure exactly what they will be, as the new trade, investment and migration arrangements still need to be negotiated. Of course, much will depend on what happens to the EU, the long-term viability of which is under threat from nationalist movements, and we have to see what the French, Dutch and German elections will bring next year. After 2016, we know it is unwise to speculate on election outcomes.

All things considered, it is too early to compare 2016 to 1848.

Let us remain optimistic and look forward to an exciting and interesting 2017!

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4 Responses to 2016 brought big surprises, but a comparison to 1848 seems overblown

  1. robsonap0 says:

    Decline is always hard and frustrating. The West has been in decline (relatively) since the 1980’s. There will be more “surprises” in store. Many of the certainties from the past no longer exist, or more importantly are no longer “perceived” to exist. To some extent economic rationalism has played some part in this. At some point the West (particularly the US) will need to accept this reality. This may come about by war. This is why the South China Sea is a good barometer for whether the outcome will be war or by acceptance of the new order (I.e. China leading).

    • Gene Tunny says:

      Thanks for the comment, Alistair. I agree we should watch the South China Sea. I’d note China could always reveal a black swan – e.g. a democratic uprising that could topple the Communist Party.

  2. Mike Smith says:

    Calling Greg Sheridan’s partial and tainted “analysis” a little overblown should earn you some kind of politeness award, Gene!

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