Well, 2012 is here. Looking around, my sense is that most people expect it to be a year about like 2011: Depressing, but not disastrous.

We'll muddle through, with some things getting better, and some things getting worse, but, overall, with no really dramatic change.

Well, maybe. But at the risk of being a New Year's downer, that's probably a best-case scenario. Though we might muddle through, there are a lot of potential game-wreckers out there. Let's look at a few.

First, the economic situation. Europe is in a tailspin, and it's not at all clear that the rescue efforts will succeed.

If they fail, and the eurozone breaks up, we're likely to see major disruption -- people are even talking about reinstating currency controls -- and a major down-drag on the American economy, along with the rest of the world.

It's hard to know just how likely this is, because everyone's engaging in happy-talk, and it's become clear that the numbers we're hearing aren't entirely trustworthy.

Except, of course, by comparison with China's numbers, which have never been trustworthy, though they have nonetheless been trusted by many.

China's state-directed economy has been gripped by malinvestment -- huge empty cities, high-speed rail that doesn't work, excessive solar-plant capacity -- and by massive corruption.

Now the bills are coming due. As in Europe, political leaders are trying to engineer a soft landing, but the prospects in China are poorer than in Europe.

China lacks the social and physical capital of Europe, and its demographic problems are even worse. Barring a miracle, like a big oil strike near Guangdong, the only question is how hard they'll hit bottom: Will we have a Chinese equivalent of Jimmy Carter's malaise, or a reprise of the Tai-Ping rebellion?

And, of course, a collapse by either Europe or China makes a collapse in the other much more likely.

Meanwhile, the Arab world is undergoing its own disintegration as Islamists seize power even as the countries they seize run out of the money needed to feed themselves.

Egypt imports half of its calories and is nearly out of the foreign currency needed to pay for them; its biggest foreign-currency earner, tourism, is suffering from the unrest, and the Salafist party wants to obliterate the Pyramids, Egypt's biggest attraction, as "idolatrous."

Conflict among Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel looks increasingly likely. And, on the Arab world's periphery, Turkey appears to be going downhill and people are even raising questions about its continued membership in NATO.

And, of course, a Mideast collapse leading to straitened oil supplies would make Europe's and China's problems worse, while collapses in Europe or China would make things worse in the Mideast by shrinking oil revenues.

Things look marginally better in the United States, but the problems of runaway spending and corrupt, incompetent leadership that bedevil the rest of the world are present here, too.

An unsustainable level of federal spending is financed by borrowing, and there is no sign of the political will, or ability, to bring spending back under control -- even though doing so would require merely a return to the not-so-thrifty levels of the Bill Clinton or George W. Bush presidencies.

Worse yet, our current president, who ran as a post-partisan uniter, has proven the most divisive in recent history, both in terms of actions and rhetoric.

By doing so, he has undermined the social capital that sustains this country just as much as his excessive spending and overregulation has dissipated its financial capital.

But then, Obama has never been much of a capitalist, in any sense.

By themselves, any of these problems is survivable, and if the global political class is able to keep all these simmering pots from boiling over, we may yet avoid a truly calamitous year.

But if one pot boils over, the likelihood is that others will, too. Add to this the unknown, but real, risk of some outside event ranging from a natural disaster to an unforeseen outbreak of war or disease, and the chance that things will get out of hands seems higher.

In engineering terms, the global system lacks "headroom," the ability to deal with stresses without hitting its limits. It will require great management skill, and great luck, to get past this without catastrophe.

But if our leaders had great management skills, we wouldn't be in this situation to begin with.

At least that's how things look to me. On the objective measures, the prospects for 2012 seem pretty bad.

And yet, I'm not as depressed as I should be. At the tail end of 1979, things looked worse. But shortly thereafter America was rebounding, and the rest of the world was doing better, too.

People credit Ronald Reagan for this change, but I think that Reagan was as much a symptom as a cause. People were sick of stagnation and bad government, and they demanded more -- from their governments, and from themselves.

I think we'll see that again in 2012, and that's why, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, I think it will turn out to be a better year than seems likely today.

I hope I'm right.

Examiner Sunday Reflection contributor Glenn Harlan Reynolds is founder and editor of Instapundit.com.