This article in the International Business Times raises the same question, but fails miserably in providing an answer.
It is a slide show of various protests and demonstrations around the globe and notes that widespread unemployment coupled with rising prices for energy “could be the spark to set off a powder keg of long endured repression, impoverishment and inequality and make 2011 the year of global discontent.”
It think that such a scenario is entirely possible, maybe even probable, considering the state of the global economy, but the article, such as it is, does not present any arguments how any of these protests are linked to one another. Currently it is just a hodgepodge of local or regional conflicts based on local or regional issues which may or may not have causes because of the global economy. I think many of them do, and would like to see a more in-depth article showing those linkages.
I do think that Tunisia will inspire actions beyond the Arab world, but I do not see that many other regimes falling outside of that area. While those regimes need to change, regardless of what takes it place, it will just be window dressing unless those underlying causes are addressed.
Now to hijack this thread…
I think the key issue behind the discontent is not the lack of jobs and rising food prices, it is the lack of means for people to create jobs for themselves and to create sustainable societies that can provide stable supplies of food, energy and other commodities.
I think the record of the last twenty years of the ‘Washington Consensus’ is that economic development and governmental reforms to allow those with means and access to partake in the global economy is severely limited unless coupled with deep social development that allows anyone to obtain the means and access needed to join that economy.
This does not mean government programs, though those have a part, but more important are changing the rules to allow much easier independent job creation and access to commercial credit. Everyone says we need more jobs, and that somehow the existing marketplace will provide them. If supply is not meeting demand, rather than wait for existing suppliers to increase capacity, the focus should be on increasing the number of suppliers.
I do think a very important tool has been developed and is being overlooked - smart phones. These things are the great equalizer. Compared to their alternatives, they are an incredibly cheap means of access to high quality information. Focus has been on how these wonderful devices are helping the revolutions in the Arab world and elsewhere by using social networking, but I think they will be even more empowering when they can be used to provide access to markets.
This will also be known as the year when smart phones replaced debit cards - not for everyone, but for a substantial number. They then go beyond being toys for updating Facebook or playing music to become a much simpler means of providing commercial credit and banking services.
Microlending is the hot topic in economic development, but is starting to fall to the same problems as traditional lending with capital markets trying to turn a service into a commodity and suck up all the profit for themselves.
As part of the backlash against Wall Street, London, Paris and the rest of the international finance community, I think these services will be not be provided by them, but through cooperative banks and credit unions created by NGOs or social enterprises such as Grameen, possibly using a network architecture and management systems provided by the Google and similar IT companies.
The demands are not just political freedoms from corrupt capitol regimes, but economic freedom from a corrupt capital regime as well.