The best way to get ahead in the world is to predict the future. Unfortunately, to paraphrase author and humorist Douglas Adams, people who make predictions usually end up looking very dead, very silly or both. So instead of predicting, ask questions. You won't get answers, but you'll be better prepared when the unexpected happens.
Here's what I'm asking questions about for 2015:
1. The energy market. Gasoline is a lot cheaper than it used to be. That's because the United States is getting more petroleum from fracking, the Saudis aren't pumping less, and the European economies are using less because they're back in the doldrums.
This is hilarious. Not long ago, we were told by the experts that the world was running out of oil. Green energy is already expensive energy; cheaper oil means it makes even less sense. The Economist reports that in Britain, electricity from wind farms costs twice as much as that from traditional sources, and solar power "is even more dear." The more expensive the green stuff is compared with oil, the more pressure there will be to end subsidies for it.
So green energy is a loser. But so are oil producers. The Saudis, as the lowest-cost producers, are driving down prices to hurt Iran and Russia, as well as the Syrian regime and their competitors in the United States. The Russian ruble is close to collapse, and emerging market crises rarely come singly.
But my question for 2015 is whether the Saudis will do long-term damage to U.S. fracking. Cheap energy is good energy, but fracking allows us to keep prices down over the long haul, not just when it's convenient for the Saudis. My bet is on U.S. producers -- at least, the efficient ones -- being able to reduce their production costs fast enough to keep turning a reasonable profit.
2. Islamism. Radical Islamists are good at two things: killing people and becoming unpopular. Everywhere they've taken over -- from Afghanistan to Iraq -- they've been brutal. As a result, they've rapidly lost popularity, though it has not stopped them from terrorizing their own people and us.
That's why fighting for radical Islam in Syria is more appealing to third-generation Muslim immigrants in Europe than it is to their parents, who know exactly what they emigrated to get away from. Those fighters helped radical Islam gain a lot of ground in Syria in 2014.
My question for 2015 is whether the pendulum will start to swing back in Syria, and whether many of the foreign fighters will quit -- and return to the West to commit atrocities there.
3. President Barack Obama's foreign policies. With his actions on Cuba, the president has shown, yet again, that he values dictatorial order over liberty. By emphasizing the release of Alan Gross, the American subcontractor taken prisoner more than five years ago by Cuba, Obama has taught that hostage-taking pays. And once more, he's done an end run around Congress for the sake of a foreign dictator. It all conveys nothing but weakness.
Personally, I didn't support the embargo on Cuba because I believed it would bring down the Castro regime. I supported not doing business with those dictators for the same reason that I wash my hands after I go to the bathroom: I don't like touching filth. Obviously the president feels differently.
But in foreign policy, actions have consequences, though never equal and opposite ones. So my question is not whether dictators around the world are paying attention to Obama's actions. It's what new advantages they'll take of our president, and our nation, in 2015.
Coping with the unpredictable future isn't easy. Consequences seem obvious -- once they've happened. But Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian master famous for saying that war is the continuation of politics by other means, has good advice for dealing with unpredictability: "The best strategy is always to be very strong." If you can't predict, you can at least be prepared. And right now, I doubt that Havana, or anyone else, is worried about U.S. strength.
Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Thatcher Center for Freedom.