What's in Store for 2018? LBJ Faculty Make Their Predictions | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

From President Trump’s first year in office to the devastation left behind by Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria to women’s empowerment on both the international and national stages (and so much more!), we will not quickly forget 2017.

After such an eventful year, what could be in store for 2018? Professors from the LBJ School offer their best predictions, explaining what to keep an eye on and what may be at stake.

Jump to the Issues
North Korea
Economy
Reproductive Health
Climate Change
Environmental Protection Agency

North Korea

Alan Kuperman, associate professor of public affairs, and Jeremi Suri, the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs and a professor of public policy and history, say the situation in North Korea is one to watch in 2018.

The Issue
Kuperman: “U.S. and United Nations (UN) economic sanctions on North Korea, intended to deter its nuclear weapons program, may cut off vital supplies and thereby contribute to a humanitarian disaster.”

Suri: “The emergence of North Korea as a nuclear power with revisionist aims, and the future of peace and security in East Asia.”

What is at stake?
Kuperman: “Millions of innocent North Korean civilians may be at risk of malnutrition, disease and starvation. If North Korea successfully develops intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles, then all Americans could be threatened.”

Suri: “There is a potential for millions of deaths on the Korean peninsula and a broader war involving the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.”

Who are the key players? What are the paths to resolution?
Kuperman: “U.S., North Korea, South Korea, China, the UN. One solution would be some constraint on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in return for lifting sanctions. Another would be to expand the humanitarian exemption in the sanctions, but that could undercut the effectiveness of the sanctions.”

"Since the North Koreans probably cannot be pressured to give up their nuclear weapons program, the main effect of our sanctions may be to kill their innocent civilians. This is ironic, because we accuse them of threatening to kill our civilians." —Alan Kuperman

Suri: “Key players are North Korea, South Korea, U.S., Japan, China and Russia. Diplomacy, deference and disarmament are crucial, but VERY difficult.”

What can we expect to see over the next year?
Kuperman: “North Korea will continue its nuclear weapons program; sanctions will be strengthened; North Koreans will suffer a humanitarian disaster and blame the USA; the Trump Administration will blame the Kim regime, arguing it is spending on weapons rather than on its people; international and domestic political pressure will mount to alleviate sanctions.”

Suri: “More intensive crisis behavior (see inflammatory tweet from Donald Trump), more in-fighting with Trump administration, more conflict between U.S. and allies in the region and rising fears of war. There will also be peace overtures coming from various government and non-government groups.”

Is there anything you want to add?
Kuperman: "Since the North Koreans probably cannot be pressured to give up their nuclear weapons program, the main effect of our sanctions may be to kill their innocent civilians. This is ironic, because we accuse them of threatening to kill our civilians." 

Suri: “2018 will be the crucial year for determining the future of a nuclear North Korea and the future of security (or war) in East Asia. This crisis will affect American power in all regions of the world.”

The Economy

James Galbraith, the Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government and Business Relations and a professor of government, has his eye on the tax bill and what it could mean for economic growth.

The Issue
“In the first year or so, the mere fact of a tax cut will be positive for economic growth, adding up to a percentage point to the growth rate—possibly a bit less—in 2018 and 2019. After that, there is no further effect on the growth rate and no reason to expect any longer-term benefit in terms of productivity or any of the other criteria frequently cited.”

"In the longer run, [the tax bill] seems designed to put pressure on state and local government budgets and, therefore, on public services; in this way it is likely to hurt the middle classes and the poor." —James Galbraith

What is at stake?
“This is a tax cut for the very wealthy and for those paying themselves in dividends and stock options. It will have negative effects directly on the upper-middle classes in states with income taxes and high property values. In the longer run, it seems designed to put pressure on state and local government budgets and, therefore, on public services; in this way it is likely to hurt the middle classes and the poor." 

What can we expect to see over the next year?
“I am not a forecaster, but I believe that the major dangers to economic growth are likely to be deferred past the 2018 elections. After that, we'll see whether (in particular) a tighter monetary policy destabilizes either the world or the domestic economy.”

Reproductive Health

LBJ professor Abigail Aiken, whose research focus is reproductive health and health policy, said to keep an eye on both the U.S. and Ireland in 2018. 

United States

The Issue
“Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) are entities that provide resources to people who are pregnant and trying to make a decision about whether or not to proceed with the pregnancy. They are usually faith-based, not medically licensed and provide no regulated medical services. In fact, they are entirely unregulated in most states. Many have been shown to purvey false information and heavily biased counseling designed to dissuade people from choosing abortion. In some cases, CPCs have posed as medical facilities, including having non-medically trained staff wear white coats. There are over 3,000 CPCs around the country (outnumbering abortion clinics 4 to 1), and many receive state funding to support their operation.

“In 2015, California passed “The Reproductive FACT Act,” requiring CPCs to post a notice informing people about the availability of state programs subsidizing comprehensive family planning services, including abortion. The act also required CPCs without medical licenses to disclose the fact that no medical professionals are available to provide services. A group of CPCs, led by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), is challenging the FACT act under the grounds that it violates their rights to free speech under the First Amendment by forcing them to advertise abortion services. In November 2017, The Supreme Court announced that it will hear the case, NIFLA v. Becerra.”

What is at stake?
"The case raises important questions about how to negotiate the balance between free speech among private entities and the provision of complete and accurate information to clients. One of the most interesting aspects of the case is whether the Court will see a distinction between requiring CPCs to inform clients that abortion services are available through state programs, versus requiring CPCs to accurately represent the medical training of their staff. State and federal truth-in-advertising laws may also be pertinent to the case. Also important will be the question of whether CPCs interfere with or pose barriers to a person’s right to an abortion. Evidence pertaining to the needs, expectations and demographics of those who access CPCs, and their subsequent experiences fulfilling their wishes with respect to their pregnancy will be key.

"[NIFLA v. Becerra] raises important questions about how to negotiate the balance between free speech among private entities and the provision of complete and accurate information to clients." —Abigail Aiken

"If the Supreme Court rules on NIFLA v. Becerra in favor of the state, that decision could open up a pathway for further regulation of CPCs in other states across the country. However, if the Court rules in favor of CPCs, it is possible that states may feel further justified in funding CPCs through public dollars.”

Who are the key players? What are the paths to resolution?
“A U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the law on the grounds that the state is allowed to regulate professional speech because of its valid interest in safeguarding public health. At the Supreme Court level, however, the case will be the first test of abortion rights with new Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench. Many on both the pro-life and pro-choice sides will thus be looking to the case as a bellwether for future abortion rights decisions in the Trump era."

What can we expect to see over the next year?
“The Supreme Court has indicated it will consider the law in its upcoming session, but as yet there is no expected timeline to a decision. The case is likely to open up further public conversations and policy debates on the extent to which CPCs should be regulated, whether or not they cause substantial harm to pregnant people, and whether they, at a minimum, must provide medically accurate information to clients.”

Ireland

The Issue
“Ireland currently has one of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, enacted by a 67% majority in a 1983 referendum, guarantees fetuses the same rights to life as pregnant women. The amendment effectively outlaws abortion in Ireland. The “Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act,” enacted in 2013, allows only one exception: when a panel of doctors agrees that abortion is the only way to save the pregnant woman’s life.

"Amid growing feminist and human rights activism, however, Ireland is now considering the historic step of holding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment. The Irish people will be asked to decide whether or not the amendment should be repealed.”

What is at stake?
“The chance to vote on the Eighth Amendment is a pivotal moment for health and social policy in Ireland. No Irish person under the age of 53 has ever had a say in their right to an abortion in their own country. If the Eighth Amendment is repealed, it will open up the door for new legislation on abortion rights, including under what circumstances abortion will be permitted in Ireland, and how and by whom it will be provided.

"In a time when rhetoric often seems to matter more than facts, one of the most interesting and encouraging aspects of the Irish abortion debate is the central role of evidence in the policy process." —Abigail Aiken

"At the moment, many Irish people do find ways of accessing abortion, mainly by travelling abroad to England or by accessing abortion pills online through telemedicine. Although both of these options are safe and effective, they are not without challenges and risks. Travel is often expensive, stigmatizing and emotionally traumatic, while use of abortion pills at home is against the law and carries a 14-year maximum prison sentence. Moreover, many people do not feel able to seek support, advice and follow-up care from Irish doctors for fear of judgement or being reported to the authorities. Repeal of the Eighth Amendment has the potential to revolutionize Irish abortion rights: legal abortion could soon be available for Irish people in their own country, through their own healthcare system.”

Who are the key players? What are the paths to resolution?
“A committee of 99 randomly selected Irish citizens known as the Citizens’ Assembly spent five weekends hearing evidence and discussing abortion rights in Ireland. The Assembly made a slate of recommendations to the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment—a committee of 25 Irish Representatives and Senators charged with making a final recommendation to the full Irish parliament. The Assembly recommendations included a referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and its replacement with legislation allowing abortion on request up to 12 weeks gestation.”

What can we expect to see over the next year?
“After four months spent receiving expert testimony and discussing options, the Oireachtas Committee released their recommendations to the full Irish parliament in late December 2017. They recommended holding a referendum to allow the Irish people to decide whether to repeal the Eighth. If the Eighth is repealed, they also recommended replacing it with legislation to allow abortion upon request up to 12 weeks gestation, as well as removal of abortion from the criminal code. A referendum is expected to take place in May or June of 2018, so the next few months will be a critical period for public education and debate and for Parliament to decide the scope and terms of the referendum.

“The eyes of the world will also be on Ireland at this pivotal time. The United Nations has already called upon Ireland to liberalize its restrictive abortion law on several occasions. After Ireland become the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015, international governments and the Catholic church will be watching to see whether the Irish people vote for a similar progressive agenda on abortion rights.”

Is there anything you want to add? 
"In a time when rhetoric often seems to matter more than facts, one of the most interesting and encouraging aspects of the Irish abortion debate is the central role of evidence in the policy process. At each step in the process, healthcare professionals who provide abortion care to Irish people, and researchers who collect and analyze data on the experiences of Irish people accessing abortion, were invited to present their findings. The citizens and policymakers who engaged with these experts came into the process with a range of opinions of abortion. But they listened, engaged in dialogue, and used the data and facts presented to make their policy recommendations. A number of politicians even indicated that they had changed their minds about Ireland’s current abortion law because of the evidence showing that rather than preventing abortions from happening, the law only makes them less safe and supported.”

Climate Change

Josh Busby, a professor at the LBJ School and a Distinguished Scholar at the Strauss Center, said the greatest issue in 2018 is the loss of U.S. leadership at the federal level in the global approach to climate change.

"Loss of leadership has come at a critical time." —Josh Busby

The Issue
"Loss of leadership has come at a critical time. 2018 is the year when the rules governing the 2015 Paris agreement are supposed to be finalized. That's important because those rules are meant to guide what standards countries will abide by when reporting on what they are doing to address climate change. Weak standards will undermine confidence in the entire approach to climate, which is based on country's own pledges of commitment. U.S. loss of leadership removes an important driver of progress, as other countries might be less inclined to accept robust standards for measuring and reporting efforts to reduce emissions. The whole approach is based on transparency and sunlight, which we might see less of because of the U.S. position.”

What is at stake?
“China and, to a lesser extent, India want to potentially retain differential standards for developing countries on reporting on their greenhouse gas emissions and what they are doing about it. This would be a step backward since China's current emissions are now about twice the size of the U.S. The Europeans generally would like to ensure higher standards for transparency, but there are some divisions within Europe, notably in Eastern Europe—which is relevant because the fall climate negotiations are being hosted by Poland. The hosts often play an important role in pushing the deliberations forward. Whether Emmanuel Macron in France and, to a lesser extent, Angela Merkel—who is politically weakened—can convince the Poles to play a constructive role remains to be seen.”

What can we expect to see over the next year?
“Domestically, the U.S. loss of leadership matters the most because the Trump administration is attempting to systematically remove most of the climate initiatives that the Obama administration enacted, including the Clean Power Plan, efficiency standards on vehicles, rules on methane leakage and other policies. While the U.S. economy is now less dependent on coal because of the rise of natural gas and the take-off in the renewables sector, the downward trajectory of U.S. emissions may stall if Trump is successful implementing his agenda, much of which is being contested in the courts.”

The Environmental Protection Agency

LBJ professor Karl Brooks explores environmental policy in 2018, specifically the fundamental issue of just how much, if at all, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should continue to make and enforce environmental protection laws.

The Issue
“Whether EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and the president for whom he works, will intensify their efforts to pull the agency back from doing its traditional rulemaking, enforcement and research jobs. Directions they’ve taken in 2017 are radical departures from the agency’s historic mission. As long as the GOP dominates Congress, I predict Pruitt will drive ahead. And the public blowback will likely threaten many GOP congressional seats in suburban/metro areas in November 2018, especially if an environmental/public health crisis erupts, as they are likely to do.”

"The EPA's historic reputation as a tough, fair, independent force for protecting Americans from pollution is at stake." —Karl Brooks

What is at stake?
"The EPA's historic reputation as a tough, fair, independent force for protecting Americans from pollution is at stake, as Pruitt intends to shrink the agency, devolve many of its key functions to states, allow regulated industries far more influence over agency policy and science and promote the POTUS’ drive for “energy dominance” by withdrawing the EPA from nearly any environmental protection work that might draw criticism from fossil fuel lobbies. Americans everywhere will suffer, as will the EPA’s five decade-old reputation.”

Who are the key players? What are the paths to resolution?
“Administrator Pruitt and his top political staff at the EPA: Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson, Air Director Bill Wehrum and the industry lobbyists working directly in the administrator’s office: Nancy Beck, Michael Dourson, Samantha Dravis. Their power comes from the POTUS’ decision to empower Pruitt to turn the EPA into a shell of its traditional reputation, and from the GOP majority in Congress’ deep hostility to most federal environmental protection actions. If not the EPA, then state and local governments will be left to try to pick up the pieces: some will do alright, others (mostly in smaller states with powerful industry influence over legislature and governor’s offices) will not."

What can we expect to see over the next year?
“Intensification of Administrator Pruitt’s high-profile steps to shrink the EPA’s role: he is widely understood to have political sights set on Oklahoma senate or governor, and his travels and statements in late 2017 appear designed to open the path to those goals. Congressional demos and state-level demos will look for opportunities to highlight costs and risks of EPA inaction. Partisan divide over environmental policy will deepen, despite nervous GOP members trying to steer some “middle course.”  Their efforts won’t budge the majority’s determination to end EPA as we know it: this is, as they see it, a historic moment of political opportunity, on a par with the tax shift bill passed in late 2017.”