This article is part of the Futures Forecasting series. We’ve asked experts to identify crucial trends – from a shortlist of categories – that will influence national security out to 2035 and how those trends might intersect in a future scenario.

In this article, which explores the future of globalisation, Yun Jiang concludes that we are entering an era of ‘big government’.

Key trends

1Connectivity: Citizens the world over will increasingly trade privacy for convenience and security in an environment of increased connectivity and data-sharing

In both authoritarian and democratic countries, there is a trend towards increased monitoring and surveillance of societies. This trend will be accelerated by improved technologies in data collection (monitoring) and data analytics (including using artificial intelligence) as well as genetic testing.

Both corporations and governments have strong incentives to accelerate activities related to monitoring and surveillance. Profit motivates corporations – knowledge of individual and group preferences enables them to better target marketing efforts and in customising their products. Improving capacity and capabilities of police forces and the national security community in general motivates governments to assist with increased situational awareness and analytical capabilities to enhance forecasting and risk identification.

By and large, society will welcome this outcome due to the convenience and security it offers. Consumers will find it difficult to opt out of products and services that capture and use their personal data, as diminished functionality will outweigh privacy gains. Well-publicised instances of national security agencies using data collected to thwart crime and terrorism will also convince voters to put more trust in governments’ use of such data to protect them from threats.

2Identity: Some transnational identities will strengthen, while nationalism will increase for the majority

Since the 1990s, anti-globalisation sentiments have increased. This is in part exacerbated by an increase in nationalism across numerous nations and cultures. The relatively free movement of capital, goods, and people has increased the living standards for most of the global population. Yet at the same time, resentment has also increased, as inequality has grown more visible and starker.

A sense of nostalgia is contributing to calls for a return to the ‘good old days’ of less free movement of goods, capital, and people across international borders. Increased nationalistic sentiment has taken root within societies and is unlikely to be shifted in direction in the coming years. Political representatives who make a clear delineation between ‘us’ against ‘them’ are harnessing existing resentment for their own agendas. Governments across the globe will find the temptation to ‘other’ specific groups in their own populations or other nations’ governments to redirect and benefit from more generalised dissatisfaction.

In counter to the trend of nationalism, some identities which transcend national boundaries will likely become stronger, especially among urban, well-travelled and young people. For these groups, their identity may derive more from their consumption patterns (music, clothes, culture etc) than their national identity. For example, those who are passionate about particular music genres, sports or online games might identify with each other more than their country of origin.

Identities are amorphous. People have many different identities at the same time and identities can change or evolve based on circumstances. However, the tension between nationalism and globalism will likely persist.

3Economics: Governments around the world will have increasing control over their economies. Large corporations will work closely with governments at the expense of smaller companies and a competitive market

The great power rivalry between the United States and China has been steadily increasing for two decades and will likely intensify over the next 15 years and economic tools will be increasingly utilised in a zero-sum game. The focus on prosperity, which has previously dominated politics in both countries, will give way to a focus on geoeconomic strategy. Nations will reassert their predominant power role in the international arena seeing the role and agency of global institutions, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, reduced. Might, again will make right, leaving multilateralism as a historical artefact.

The re-emergence of economic statecraft will mean that governments will have mounting control over the economy at the cost of market forces. This will require increased cooperation and synergies between governments and the dominant corporations in each country as governments will prefer the ease of coordinating with fewer large organisations than many smaller companies. This will also benefit private interests as larger organisations have greater leverage and influence as they look to benefit from government intervention in the market.

As a result, markets will be less competitive as governments will be more reluctant to break up big monopolies that help amplify their power and agenda. As an example, Facebook is highlighting concerns about US competitiveness with China as a rationale for its argument against proposals to regulate or break up the technology giant.

2035 future forecast

We are entering an era of ‘big government’ — governments around the world will have more power and control over markets and society.

Governments will increase monitoring of individuals and groups at the expense of civil liberties. Enabled by pervasive technology and the decision by most consumers to preference convenience over privacy, governments, working closely with big corporations, will increase the scale and scope of their surveillance programs, pushing deeper into the daily lives of individuals.

Nationalist political organisations and leaders will be successful in generating fear of external threats to populations. Citizens, victims of their anxiety, will be more likely to turn to their governments for solutions in what is perceived as a more uncertain world. As a result, the current trend of reduced trust in government and institutions will reverse.

Corporations and governments will work together for power and profit. While they may compete over control of and access to information, big corporations will develop mutually beneficial arrangements with governments where they assist one another to develop and deploy surveillance and monitoring technologies and to collect and utilise citizen data.

What will this mean for Australia?

Australia will likely join the trend towards increased power for government.

The Australian parliament will likely approve greater powers for the executive, in terms of monitoring, surveillance and data collection.  Concerns about privacy will diminish in importance and new legislation will be constrained by fewer privacy-based oversights and safeguards. Civil liberties may suffer as a result.

Australia is also likely to choose to be part of an intergovernmental information system for surveillance and data-collection, as the economy may be too small for indigenous companies. For example, the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing agreement may expand to become involved more in domestic policing.