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Black Swan World

BERLIN – In today’s global financial crisis, the image of a black swan has become a symbol for the seemingly impossible that somehow occurs, turning the world upside down. This year will afford us ample opportunity to examine the black swans that are already among us, and to prepare for the arrival of even more.

November, for example, marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The night of November 9, 1989, marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union and its empire, and thus also of the bipolar world that had, for five decades, divided Germany and Europe. A year before, few people considered this world-shaking event even a remote possibility. Yet it happened, and the world changed almost overnight.

After the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the bipolar world order, victorious Western capitalism, under the leadership of the only world power, the United States, reigned supreme in global politics, and even more so in the global economy. Nothing and no one, it seemed, could stem the global triumph of the market, with its transcendence of all previous limits on wealth – that is, until September 15, 2008, the fateful date when Lehman Brothers went bust and the meltdown of the global financial system began.

While a distraught world is still trying to fathom the consequences of this global crash and to mitigate its impact, the call of the next black swan can already be heard: the global climate disaster.