The selection of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as the new pope signals the first time the Roman Catholic Church has been headed by a non-European since St. Gregory III (d. 741), who was what we would today call either a Lebanese or a Syrian. (Of course, the church holds that a Palestinian was the first pope).
The decision of the cardinals is significant not just for the Roman Catholic Church but as part of the emergence in the 21st century of the global South as a center of power, economic growth, and cultural influence. When exactly Europe began surpassing other world areas in these regards is controversial in economic history, but it was in any case several hundred years ago. The North’s dominance was extended by its other rising powers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Russia and the United States, which dominated the world in the second half of the twentieth century.
But every indication is that the global South — Latin America, Africa and Asia — will increasingly make itself felt in the coming century. Here are the signs pointing to this change:
2. The number of Catholics in Africa has more than tripled since 1978, to 176 million, or about 15% of the total.
3. Sometime in the next decade, China’s gross domestic product will likely surpass that of the United States, making it the world’s largest economy. The United States had been the world’s largest economy since 1890, when it surpassed . . . China.
4. Brazil’s gross domestic product is bigger than that of Britain.
5. India will likely be the world’s largest consumer market by 2030.
6. India is already the world’s largest producer of films, and enjoys some of the soft power benefits of the popularity of Bollywood around the world. It produces around 3000 films a year, including around 1300 feature films.
7. But Hollywood is still no. 2 for the production of feature films, right? No, it is now Nigeria.
8. The North is likely to lose population or at most remain stable in the next 40 years, but the world is likely to go from its present 6.8 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050. Africa’s population will likely double in that time, and almost all the growth will come in the global South. In turn, that development will make northerners a small minority of some 1.5 billion, about a 6th of the total. The typical human being 40 years from now will be an Asian from India, China or Indonesia.
9. Nearly a third of humankind could well be Muslim by mid-century.
10. In 1905, both the US and Germany for the first time out-produced Britain in steel, which historians see as a turning point in the history of geopolitics. But in 2013, the Chinese produce more steel than all of Europe and the US combined. Even India alone is probably only a few years away from producing more steel annually than the US, and it already out-produces Russia and Germany.