Third in this unplanned set of descriptions of different worlds that generally do better than OTL is a description of the baseline world from Herman Kahn's less-well known "Coming Boom" from the early 1980s. It's a quite interesting read, since in sone subjects it's right on the mark but in others it's surprisingly off. This book predicted a period of good economic times throughout the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s which ended up being on the mark. It also predicted Japan's having nukes by the year 2000 and a "finlandized western europe" which was a bit off.
Astute readers may notice similarities with other of my worlds with surviving USSRs, and it's not just laziness motivating this.
Despite the fact that this book was written in 1983, the historical developments in this world indicate a POD sometime in the late 1970s to early 1980s -- one of the core assumptions of it is a more rational economic policy than what actually happened in our world. In this world, Reagan merely cuts taxes, government regulations but in our world Reagan cut a few regulations, entirely cut off plans to follow up on promising 1970s-era steps to attain energy self-sufficiency and helped pave the way to make the economy be based on finance, real estate and insurance. The differences start to build up in the early 80s, and by 1988 the world situation has clearly diverged from OTL.
The biggest theme of the years 1990 to 2000 was the declining importance of old cold war east/west issues -- the Soviet Union choked on eastern europe and cut deals to keep them finlandized while America as part of the deal with the USSR to neutralize eastern europe ended it's embargoes on Cuba, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Greneda. Japan took advantage of this time to cut trade deals with it's neighbors to lay the foundations for an emerging asia-pacific trade area.
Another important theme of these years is the rise of global trade -- telemarketers in bangalore, factories in the soviet union and of course lots of tropical fruit in the stores of the first world. Even the communist world finds itself participating in this since The Revolution does need to eat after all.
The future is unclear, but there is a common vision of a mostly stable world where the main problems are of affluence and great power issues don't escalate to truly problematic levels. After all, the United States and Soviet Union are merely in tepid detente these days without the need for a third world war to decide who would rule the world. The successful descaling of the cold war in the 1990s has been touted by many as a new and truly positive sign.
International politics in 2013 can mostly be throught of as the complex web of interaction of the great powers with one another. There is the first tier -- the "big three" of the United States, The Soviet Union and the Franco-German led European Community. There is then a second tier, the "lesser five" of great powers who are either simply of lesser rank compared to the big three or are partners with the big three. These are China and India in their own right. Japan as the leader of it's alliance. Brazil, as America's regional partner along with Japan's own partner of South Korea.
The cold war has slowly died off, but certain patterns remain. The United States and USSR remain in opposition to one another. China remains in opposition to the Soviet Union, and remains more likely to be sympathetic or aligned with the global south in international politics. Japan remains mostly pro-United States albeit as a partner rather than an american vassal.
There are of course new patterns in place -- the collapse of NATO and a Europe that decided being neutral was better than either being dead or red after soviet invasion caused a breach between the United States and Western Europe that hasn't healed yet. Japan's new assertiveness and working with other east(mostly southeast) asians on their own along with ignoring certain United States demands re: domestic policy(Japan doesn't care about American pissiness re: PMs praying at Yasakuni shrine and this Japan retains both it's age of consent at 12 along with not giving in to *any* western demands regarding censorship of manga) is also a point of annoyance.
Nuclear arsenals are down to early 1970s levels -- they're world-wrecking, yes but not enough to literally wipe out the entire human race several times over. This is hailed as a great achievement of diplomacy.
THE BIG THREE
In geopolitical terms, the big story of the last generation and a half or so has been the eclipse of the big two powers, in favor of a more multipolar world system. That said, the impact of this shift has been partially muted by the United States coopting and working with Japan while the soviet Union gave itself a generation of breathing room by essentially blackmailing and bribing western Europe to "neutralize" itself and making up with China. Even with those mitigating factors, the old bipolar world died in the late 1990s -- by 2000 the cold war was declared over. Not in a victory of either side, but a recognition that the term itself had become obsolete..
The United States of America is confident and has less of a sense of malaise than our world's America despite being one of eight great powers -- in an environment with real competition the catastrophic decline of national solidarity seen in OTL post-late 1980s never happened. It's still a corrupt oligarchy, but unlike ours the elites are a bit more willing to tone down their competition and actually govern. Income inequality is significantly less than in our world, due to a mix of smarter economic policy combined with a more successful attack on various barriers to entry by a smarter Reagan who noted the tendency of "professional" associations to lean left along with actually enforcing immigration law. One side effect of the attack on illegal immigration, is an America that's rather less hispanic in population and as of 2013 only has 270 million people instead of around 320 million people. Yet another side effect of this lack of tolerance for illegal immigration is that both working-class whites and blacks to alot better than in our world. The "lower-middle class" of OTL that saw it's members either becoming precarious members of the middle class or sinking down into the working or underclasses managed to survive. It's a more populist and nationalist nation both in rhetoric and culture. At least it's not OTL 2000s-style red state or Tea Party aesthetics.
In terms of party politics, you have a GOP coalition that dominated from 1980 until 2012, with there being the occasional one-term democrat. The GOP is a mix of the 1970s GOP, combined with the reaganites with more emphasis on the free market elements than OTL. The democrats, to catch up have moved even further to the right than OTL with the clinton years. The biggest reason for the weaker position of the democrats are 1) a more pragmatic GOP that's somewhat less willing to speak in a dixie accent 2) a whiter US population due to less immigration 3) more visible economic success 4) a less dixie-accented GOP being at least somewhat less offensive to nonwhite or non-southern people than OTL's republicans. These factors are all relative, since the democrats are managing to gain ground once again due to their more moderate stances combined with a population bored of GOP rule.
America's electoral map would be quite familiar to a viewer from OTL, but there are surprises. On the GOP side of the ledger, you have New Mexico, Nevada, Iowa, Colorado, Oregon, missouri, Florida, West Virginia, New Hampshire as being all solidly GOP-voting instead of being democratic or swing -- The South went GOP as OTL and fewer states became democratic-leaning or swing again than in our world. The swing states include such places as California(increasingly leaning to democrats now...), Vermont(bit more of a libertarian streak in TTL), Maine(see vermont's reasoning).
Backlash politics on various "social issues" was more successful thanks to Reaganite pragmatism. Abortion is up to the states again, Lawrence .v texas never happened, affirmative action was ended, the state has no say in who people hire or fire to or sell to anymore, prison populations are doublec that of OTL and sexuality on TV is a bit more censored than OTL. However, perhaps as eiher a side-effect of feeling tolerant after experience more success or due to the less negative-sum environment there is less reflexive hostility about these issues and what so far few changes away from this have occured are recieving less shrieking and howling from the right -- the fact that liberals are a bit more pragmatic and more tactful probably helps too. The tide is turning, if slower than in OTL -- Massachusetts has gay marriage, a couple of states ended sodomy laws that didn't OTL pre-lawrence v. texas and a few states have made marijuana just be a $500 fine. Oddly, due to focus on other measures the national drinking age was never raised.
One side effect of the crackdown on crime's success has been the rise of a "Urban renaissance" movement of people and companies moving back into cities and essentially cancelling a good portion of the post-1980 suburb/exurb push of our world.
Civil liberties are better since in an America with shall we say far more pro-gun stances over the entire political spectrum, the liberal protestors are more likely to shoot back. Oddly, there is significantly less crime due to this.
Economic policy is much the same as OTL, albeit a bit better-thought out and less stupid. One of the things fueling the boom was the combination of a more rational tax policy, along with the rise of credentialism being at least temporarily reversed. Depending on the state only 10-15% of people in the country work in a licensed or certified profession instead of over a third. Certain mistakes relating to letting the financial, insurance or real estate sectors run wild have not happened yet, perhaps due to pure luck on the part of America's government combined with somewhat higher national solidarity meaning that various corrupt special interests aren't permitted to run wild.
Compared to Europe we are repressive, less open about sex and drugs and somewhat behind the curve in the more 'hip' arts and fashion along with being behind on "green" technologie. We are also ahead in consumer goods, standard of living, high and low tech, electronics, computers, media and pop culture. Think an exagerated form of the 50's Euro/US differences in OTL.
The European Community is an emerging power, that in the 2000s fully shook off it's "neutralization", remilitarized and is now a Europe That Can Say No. There are those who would like Europe to realign with the United States, but more moderate voices argue that the EC has enough on it's plate with it's efforts to chip away at the "neutralization" of Eastern Europe without taking on the tasks that America's defense requirements would force them to. This strategy has had successes like German reunification, associate status for Yugoslavia, Sweden and Austria and the removal of soviet troops from eastern europe. This is not a neofascist, or even a populist-right europe. Granted, the guerilla wars that broke out in the early to mid 1990s all over their european occupation zones, combined with succession troubles probably played more of a role in Soviet decisions to withdraw than sit-ins outside of Soviet embassies or sniffy comments by European diplomats. On an economic level, the EU has seen Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Eastern Germany all have converged more with Northern Europe than in OTL thanks to aid that in OTL went to uplifting eastern Europe being sent to current member states.
Europe went far to the left in the 1980s and first half of the 1990s, but is now creeping to the right once again. The overall ideological leaning is part old left, part scandanavian-style social democracy and part left-wing nationalism. The common vision is a Europe that stands against the fascism in red pajamas of the soviets as well as the vulgar capitalist americans. The European left of this world is rather more into high culture and less into antifa punk aesthetics. The right in this europe is less populist and more elitist than in our world.
Europe ended up being the most environmentally friendly of the big powers. The program to move to 100% solar, geothermal, wind and local nuclear power has slowed down and become a jobs program for engineers and bureaucrats, though. However, it has gotten to 65-80% depending on the nation in question, though so it's actually helped.
The Union of socialist Soviet Republics is cynical, authoritarian but manages to keep the ship of state afloat by informers in every block, vat-grown yeasts to solve the food problems, tanks in every cities and gradual agricultural or economic reform. Yes, the transition towards capitalism has been messy and the pollution issue has yet to be solved but at least the economy never actually shrank even during the bad years of 1993-6 unlike OTL 80s USSR. The cities of the USSR have enough air pollution to make cyberpunk-style facemasks a requirement for residents in the bigger cities like Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev to name a few. Birthrates declined much like OTL in the 1970s and 1980s if not the massive collapse we saw post-dissolution, so the Soviet Union's response has been to open up third world immigration. There are 25 million third world-soviets in the USSR, many from China, India and the pro-soviet parts of Africa who have been brought in to work. This has provoked nativist... reactions but the army has been able to keep trouble down. Trouble with immigration has been reduced by Soviet policy changing to involve deportation of guest workers who don't learn russian fast enough.
In an attempt to keep national cohesion together, Soviet Leaders tout a "Eurasian" ideology emphasizing the commonalities between slavs and the various turkic peoples. Russian Orthodox Christianity, Sunni Islam are given de facto preference and atheism has been shall we say de-emphazied.
Moscow has worse air pollution than OTL Beijing -- according to western studies, the city's air for residents is like smoking multiple packs a year in terms of lung damage. Soviet leaders deny this, but oddly hold their conferences via video-phone from their dachas outside of the "black cloud of moscow" and meet foreign diplomats in Stalingrad or Sevastapol.
Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and the Baltic Republics of the USSR have seen have an economic renaissance due to investment from first Western Europe, then in more recent years Eastern Europe and setting up of factories for export. The products made in the western USSR don't usually make it to soviet citizens, but some are for sale in the special party-only shops -- this is a soviet union whose leaders have read their Friedrich List.
The 'stans remain troublesome thorns in the side for Moscow due to the usual ethnic reasons, combined with the regime's move towards russian nationalism. Following the revolt in eastern europe that spread to the USSR itself, the 'Stans became a somalia-style mess that's only been cleared up by much massacre and bloodshed in the past 5 years or so.
Soviet architecture has gone for neon and using modern materials science to enable the creation of formerly impracticly large brutalist buildings -- Albert Speer's grandiose plans for postwar berlin have nothing on Putin's grand redesign of Moscow. They have decided to embrace the glow of neon to light the outsides of these buildings in the smoggy cities. The palace of the soviets was finished in 2010 and a gigantic dome is being built to cover the city of Moscow to improve air quality there via filtering out pollution.
THE LESSER FIVE
There are of course, a few other players on the international stage, but they're of lesser importance compared to the European Community, US and Soviet Union. These lesser five either work wih a greater patron or if they're the two asian giants of China and India they work on their own.
Think of these powers as the second tier -- they're not as big as the three superpowers but are important enough to not just be ignored or pushed around willy-nilly. The ones with ties to a greater patron are either honored partners or using it for temporary advance. The independent-minded ones are frequently courted by the bigger ones.
A Brazil that made a smoother transition from first military junta to capitalistic dominant party state to now as of the early 2010s corrupt oligarchy that enjoys double OTL's wealth is America's big partner in the Americas. There are more malls and many less slums in Brazil. While it's only upper-middle income and not yet developed world this represents a vast improvement over OTL. Many factories that ended up in China along with call centers in India instead ended up in Brazil.
China is much like OTL, but in a world where 1) western democracies have grown faster 2) there are a few more large players(brazil, USSR) 3) more rapidly-growing third world states it's less notable and surprising to the rest of the world. Without the example of the soviet union collapsing because of liberalization to scare it's leadership, China's government is a bit less censorious re: non-political stuff than in our world and their popular culture is as a result more lively and of higher quality.
India is much like OTL. Alas, it's no wealthier than OTL since many of the call centers set up in India ended up in Brazil or Mexico instead but a rising tide lifts all boats.
Japan and South Korea cooperate in the form of the Transpacific community, formerly the Transpacific economic area. Unfortunately, the occasional snippy nature of relationships between Tokyo and Seoul, combined with the aging of both nations reduces the potential reach of Transpacific power even when factoring in the ongoing economic boom in the lesser member states of their alliance.
Japan has one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world. A combination of pragmatic trade policy along with some agreements re: tariffs with the US along with a larger market to sell to in the form of the USSR allowed Japan to dodge the bubble of OTL -- instead of real estate Japan decided to keep growth up by putting resources into creating a public-private space program and rearming -- a saner Japanese leadership looked at choices of 1) create a consumer debt bubble 2) create a real estate-finance bubble 3) expend capital and keep employment high in metal-bending industries by creating a space program and army. Yes, growth rates have slowed down but in practice this means they've slowed to western norms instead of experiencing a bust. Much of the extra capital has been put into expanding investments in automation in hopes that Japan can dodge the problems that come with a declining population by automating evetything. This has had mixed results.
Japan has spread it's culture faster and further than in our world -- the anime boom started in the late 80s and early 90s and has kept going instead of really picking up speed in the early to mid 2000s. Anime and western anime-influenced animation is much more visible than in our world. Even Japan's live-action movies and television dramas have gained more exposure than in OTL and not just the super sentai/power rangers or giant monsters.
South Korea is Japan's partner and is well-known for it's economic ruthlessness. The government has liberalized from military rule to now something closer to either Singapore or LDP-Era Japan of OTL 1950-1990 and as a result, elections remain largely meaningless. The people are quiet since the economy is chugging along and South Koreans earn as much as residents of even such great nations as the United States of America. Like, japan it has benefitted from the lack of a bubble economy bursting and has in fact grown faster than OTL. South Korea's per capita GDP is about the same as the United States and still growing rapidly.
J-Pop and K-Pop have strongly influenced both the structure of the market for pop music and the aesthetics of the subculture around it itself. The fact that it's not just R&B with rap beats makes it at least slightly less annoying than OTL's pop music. There is and will not be a Justin Beiber as we know it.
Japanese Zaibatsu(renamed from Keiretsu as part of a nationalist revival) and Korean Chaebol are known for being some of the biggest corporations in the world. There is the occasional scandal in a third world nation where a Japanese or Korean company has hired local security forces to "resolve" labor disputes. A persistant rumor in africa is people falsely claiming that Japanese Zaibatsu are stealing people's organs. Despite being untrue, the fact that Japanese companies are happy to buy from people selling conflict minerals gives it a certain level of credibility.
LESSER ALLIES OF OCTAGON POWERS
These are the partners of either the "Big Three" or "Lesser five" powers. Their status ranges from either vassals to willing trade partners.
American-aligned: These are democracies, right-wing juntas and corrupt oligarchies aligned with the United States. The principle of backing any regime if it's anti-communist is alive and well in this world.
Latin America consists of lots of American puppet regimes. It's a bit wealthier if less democratic than our world. There sure are alot of US marines in the andes looking for cocaine growers and fighting ongoing "Andean drug wars".
Chile made it into the first world and by now has an economy as developed as say Portugal and (rigged) elections. The military has been slowly eased out of power but retains the right of reintervention if necessary.
South Africa is mostly like OTL pre-1994, if a bit more demographically secure since following the recognition of the bantustans it's about 60% black and South Africa's government is trying to get blacks to take bantustan citizenship and leave.
Soviet-aligned: Various flavors of communist.
Somalia is a generic kleptocracy instead of anarchy. Anti-libertarians lack the example of Somalia to point to.
Cuba is much like OTL albeit about a third richer. The lack of economic reforms is counteracted by there being no "special period" in the 1990s along with America now trading with Cuba. Fidel Castro is talking about retiring and passing leadership to Raul one of these years -- Castro is in better health due to the US taking a pretty much hands-off stance towards Cuba instead of actively trying assasination attempts. There is less disillusionment and cynicism compared to OTL since the old system seems to work better thanks to hard currency from abroad and Cuba got the embargo ended.
Without the soviet collapse, Mongolia has done rather better than in OTL. It's environment is less stressed due to the fact that there hasn't been a large number of people forced to go back to pastoralism because of economic circumstances.
Afghanistan is a left-wing dictatorship backed with extensive soviet troop deployments faced with islamic terror and warlordism, much like OTL albeit with more secularism. By now, they're as secular as say 1930s turkey but shockingly ungrateful to the Soviet union for the "liberation".
North Korea remains more standard-line communist and Kim Jong nam is quietly de-emphasizing the weirder parts of Juche.
European-Aligned: a mix.
Austria is still not allowed into the European Community. Every time someone proposes going beyond free trade and customs union, there are angry growlings from Moscow. Many spy movies are set in Vienna even now.
Cape Verde has modernized to OTL Central American levels, and is cited as the success story of Europe's foreign policy agenda.
Morocco remains a (weakly) constitutional monarchy but is wealthier than OTL due to Europe's economic integration with eastern europe coming a decade later and weaker giving it fewer potential places to invest in.
Turkey, which was offered a free trade deal but not tricked into thinking getting into Europe was a possibility is doing reasonably well. As a side effect of not being lied to by brussels, Pro-western points of view remain more acceptable and there hasn't yet been an islamist electoral victory. Rural islamists and Kurds remain problematic, though...
Yugoslavia is barely at first world levels, has a Northern Ireland level terrorism problem and every election sees reports of scandals involving vote-buying or armed guards intimidating people at voting booths. However, compared to our world's former Yugoslavia this is the world of light -- a corrupt government with extensive censorship and both parties being vague 'centrist' beats a shattered state, tens of thousands dead and mass hatred being allowed to persist.
Japanese-aligned: These states are pretty much either juntas or oligarchies of one flavor or another that have benefitted from the lack of anything like OTL's late 90s asian economic crisis. Most of the area is middle or upper-middle income but Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are all first world.
Malaysia is a low-end developed world nation and now a nation of immigration mostly from Indonesia.
Thailand recently crossed over into the "developed' side of human development indices.
Albania collapsed in the mid to late 1990s as the Hoxhahist regime imploded, went through a few years of warlordism and by now is a shaky and corrupt government. At least the economy is doing better since Albania's neighbors include a Yugoslavia that's near first world levels along with a Greece that actually has a working economy.
The Eastern European economic community is a union of sulky neutrals that resents remaining Soviet influences along the region along with Soviet limitations on economic or political engagement with Europe. Czechoslovakia and former member Yugoslavia are by now functional if shockingly right-wing by even American standardss democracies -- both have neofascist or natsoc parties with real influence. Poland and Hungary aren't quite democratic, but at least the ruling right-wing parties steal 50-60% of the vote in elections and only jail too-successful opposition candidates instead of people who vote for them. Romania and Bulgaria are dictatorships of right and left respectively. OVerall, this region is more cynical and well to the right compared to our Eastern Europe -- they remember Europe's cringing and period of finlandization. This is also a significantly wealthier region, as the USSR included "more favorable trade terms with Eastern Europe" as a requirement it imposed on Western Europe during the years of finlanization.
Finland remains finlandized, like OTL pre-1989. Despite less integration with Western Europe's economy, this country is as prosperous as OTL due to trade with a recovering USSR and eastern europe. There is quite a bit of corporate or combine espionage done in Helsinki, which has been noticed in culture. The most recent James Bond movie was mostly set in Finland.
Palestine sulks and still does not like Israel. It wishes it'd be allowed to have a military. It's government has a terrorism problem from those Palestinians who oppose the demilitarized government's 'collaborationist' stance.
Sweden has a long and profitable tradition of abusing it's neutral status to get favorable trade deals from the EC, Soviet Union and the Eastern Europeans. Swedish policy remains left and the Social Democrats have been in charge for 20 years straight. Every so often someone in the Social democrats suggests rewriting the constitution to make them the national party of government and to not bother with elections so the government can get on with business, but the idea has been shot down 5 times, since without (weak) opposition parties to blame the Social Democrats would have even worse PR.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is much like OTL if with a bit better relationship with the United States due to the common threat of a Soviet-aligned Iraq and Afghanistan. It's still a hardline Islamci government than OTL but reformers are allowed to have at least a little bit of a say, and the current President doesn't say provocative things about either nukes or Israel.
Zimbabwe hasn't had OTL's early 2000s land redistribution or the massive hyperinflation so it's merely average by African standards isntead of being one of the worst off countries even in the region. The white people have been chased out, but at least we're talking forced purchases with palty compensation.
Faster and somewhat better-distributed economic growth(read: much less going to the finance, insurance, real estate sectors or 'professional associations and more going to the middle and bottom) than in OTL has led to claims by many in developed nations that poverty is now something that's only a problem of patholoogy.
Science fiction is far more optimistic and forwards-looking than OTL's SF genre. A more pro-technology environment butterflied out most of OTL's great science fiction movies, and even some novels of 1979-2000ish. Cyberpunk and it's successors are rather less visible -- Neuromancer ended up in the editor's trashbin. What exposure to cyberpunk there has been in westenr nations mostly comes from imports of Japanese anime or manga.
Architecture in developed naitons is more exuberant and futuristic than in OTL. There is also a massive amount of neon being used in buildings compared to our world.
Oddly, despite the more visible improvements in technology compared to our world the "singularity" meme of OTL hasn't taken off. Vernor Vinge became notable for making recurring cyclic history one of SF's default assumptions. This has it's upsides -- you can get the original 12 volume Toynbee as .epub now, but there are downsides like lame mad max clones and more shows like Thundarr the barbarian taking place in the New Stone Age/New middle ages.
Fantasy is rather less popular than OTL and remains more tied to the tolkien model. The anti-technology people who in OTL turned to stories like Stirling's Emberverse novels ended up creating a market for stories of decline and rebirth in the ruins. This, when combined with bad 80s animation tropes has led to embarassing things like the 1990s adaptation of several "Gor" novels.
Despite the high hopes of people in the 80s and 1990s there has been no great human settlement of space. The permanent population off-earth remains under 10,000. There are lots of orbital installations, including both hotels plus housing for people working in orbital factories or powersat installation, though.
With unpleasant real competition to worry about doing their own monitoring, attempts to control the internet in the democratic nations look far worse than in OTL to the public in the west. File-sharing or decrypting DRM is treated the way people in OTL treat people recording shows on VCR/DVD or making copies of them. Copyright terms didn't get as absurdly extended as OTL, too.
Wther or not it's due to cynical political advantage(lots of potential jobs in the sunbelt making solar panels) or just sheer dumb luck on his part, this world's Reagan administration and other follow-on administrations didn't entirely ignore energy issues so investment in nuclear, solar, wind and the like along with synfuel programs all got expanded. The net effect of this has been that gas prices are as of 2013 significantly lower than OTL's early 2010s levels.
Despite the wealthier planet, earth's population is at 8.6 billion instead of 7.1 billion. At least it's predicted to top out at 14-16 billion and a wealthier world is a bit less worried about the issue than ours.