What Lies Ahead

The economic forecast for 2015: volatile, with the chance of stormy competition.

By Nader Museitif

This year wasn’t a normal one on many levels, and there’s no reason to expect a normal 2015. But amidst all the assessment, soul searching, and forward planning, one question stands out above all others: Are you competitive enough for what lies ahead?

We face continued uncertainty from the ongoing geopolitical storm raging around us. Nothing new there, you might say, but it’s still piling pressure on sentiments and investments. The scene doesn’t look immediately promising and unless serious measures are taken, things will probably get worse before they get better. With this in mind, an economy like ours cannot operate in isolation, and instability has already affected businesses negatively.

The global scene isn’t short of volatility either. Oil prices have dipped, reducing essential revenues to big exporters. That should provide some relief for Jordan in terms of daily costs and overheads due to cheaper energy bills, but might cause smaller funds available for investment. Global economies, with the exception of the United States, are still in choppy waters. China, Japan, Russia, Germany, and the rest of Europe are showing little or no signs of forward momentum. Now that the global engine of supply and demand has moved beyond being a sum of parts, interdependency has become critical, so much so that a manufacturing report in China will send ripples into US markets as soon as its stock exchanges open.

But despite the regional and global volatility, there’s a clear and underlying wave of change. It’s almost independent and unaffected by anything other than its own development and evolution.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times was in Dubai recently to speak about his upcoming book. In a mini seminar he talked about the trends taking the world into new and uncharted territories. One observation was that technology is fundamentally changing societies. Politics, employment, learning, communication, and even leadership are no longer easily defined concepts. The hyper connected world as he termed it, is making everything more complex to manage and predict. More importantly, it’s making it harder to compete.

Friedman made a good point: Technological innovation is the main driver behind this century’s behemoths from Silicon Valley’s Google and Uber, to China’s Alibaba and Tencent. Globalization isn’t only about the movement of goods and people. It is now also about the continuous availability of information and skills.

Everything we do is being redesigned by technology. The smartphone is changing the way we play, work, meet, buy groceries, and make decisions. Social media has transformed so much of how our societies work, from birthdays all the way to elections. And make no mistake, the last point of defense, a country’s physical borders will not protect the uncompetitive. Amazon will soon eat away sales on Wakalat Street, and Google’s self-driving cars will replace taxi drivers. If this doesn’t rouse our competitive instincts, then we’ve lost already.