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Look Back | Look Forward

10 Predictions for Next Century

MIT Economist Daron Acemoğlu in a paper dated April 2012 lays out a number of predictions for the world that his grandchildren (and mine) will inherit. Unfortunately the original text is behind a paywall, but Business Insider kindly lays out the gist of the scholarly work in terms that this poor lay mind can understand, with some pretty cool images.

A condensed list, with some of my own thoughts (in blue), follows:


1) Global pollution will get much worse.

Industrialization in China means that CO2 emissions and climate change could get much worse. The only way to slow this down would be a mass transfer to clean energy...a tall order that would be nearly impossible without a global agreement. Clean energy doesn't have enough market share to thrive now, and more pollution could lead to destruction.

This is a given, unless radical steps are taken. People are still too busy looking towards technology for a solution, hoping Jesus comes down and cleans things up, or not giving a rat's south-40 because they're making money hand over fist to give any serious consideration to exercising anything like self-restraint. Like Acemoğlu, I don't hold out much hope for improvement as long as responsible stewardship of our planet cuts into the bottom line. I love Stan Lynde's take on the matter.

2) Islamic regimes will fall.

Young people in countries including Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia are increasingly aware of the control the government has over their lives. People's sense of political change will lead to more widespread excitement and retaliation. As change takes over the region and women and minorities fight for their rights, using religion for social control will stop.

This is a good thing. I have no quarrel with Islam; but oppressive Islamic regimes that foment hatred and advocate the fall of the Western world have no place in a civilized world. In fact, I'd love to see the end of all religious-based radicalism, in favor of a world where people can exercise the best qualities of their own beliefs in order to build a world that works for everyone, with no one left out.


The Golden Rule in 13 Major Faiths


A beautiful video by the Humanity Healing Network

3) War could go away.

International and civil wars have declined in the past 60 years, and that trend will continue into the next century. As enlightenment continues and international organizations protect against war, these conflicts will greatly slow down. Groups like the U.N. facilitate discussion between nations and could prevent a repeat of the Cold War. According to Acemoglu, we very well could have a peaceful century.

There is very little to add to this one. War sucks.



4) The rebirth of US manufacturing.

Workers in China and the Philippines are starting to demand higher wages, which gives companies less incentive to outsource labor. This means that globalization will slow down and companies will be more likely to seek domestic workers. They are also going to be less likely to forge bonds with new countries because trade policies are too stringent.

Anything that brings manufacturing jobs back to the USA is in the positive column as far as I'm concerned... but the issue of trade unions will need to be addressed. As for me, I have mixed feelings, because both sides of the debate make some valid points.

5 Reasons Unions are Bad for America

Why Unions are Important

Detroit's Beautiful, Horrible Decline

5) People will have longer and healthier lives.

New technology, drugs and vaccines will mean that the children of the future will live longer than their parents did. Disease will decline, and the global economy could boom. Advanced nations will step up and offer services to struggling countries in Asia and Africa.


Technology is good, but humanity needs to take a good hard look at the quality of life offered by heroic measures, and the societal costs involved. The question comes into much sharper focus when it's the long-term care of a critically ill or failing loved one which is in question. Is it worth spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep Uncle Joe alive for 5 months, when he doesn't even know who is talking to him? There are no simple answers.


6) Robots will replace manufacturers and farmers.

As technology advances. manufacturing, farming and manual jobs will be phased out. These workers will be replaced by computers and robots. This could either send billions of laborers into poverty or lift them into better jobs and a new income class.

One thing this will do, if it ever comes to pass, is radically reduce the need for immigrant labor in this country. The vast majority of illegals who cross our border do so to feed America's appetite for cheap produce. Dry up the demand, and the supply will automatically dwindle. As it turns out, it seems that the trend may be reversing itself anyway.

The End of Family Farms--The New Politics of Food

Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero—and Perhaps Less (Pew Hispanic Center Report, 04-23-2012)

7) The middle class will keep diminishing

Better technologies will help the rich make better profits. Meanwhile, as Chinese workers require higher wages, demand for cheap labor will increase. This means that economic growth will become increasingly uneven and the gap between the haves and have-nots will be greater than ever.

A friend of mine who lives in Manhattan (NYC) has told me that the middle class has been virtually priced out of the city, and from what I can see, he's right. The recent attention paid to the Occupy movement at least underscores the fact that the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are falling farther behind. To see this trend accelerate does not bode well for the economics of the world my grandchildren will inherit.

8) The global economy will prosper.

China will continue to grow and new regions in Asia and Africa will start to develop. This could leave to a better quality of life. But we can't count on developing nations to spearhead all growth: the top-consuming regions like the U.S. and Europe will have to iron out their economic problems for growth to be sustained.

Sort of goes along with No. 4 above. "Made in America" needs to regain its place in the world of manufactured goods if our nation is to return to strength and prosperity. As consumers, we can do our part by seeking out and patronizing companies who provide goods and services that we need, rather than automatically going for the cheapest imported option we can find. Yes, it may cost a bit more up front, but the benefits will be worth the sacrifice if we were willing to do it.

Find "Made in America" companies

9) We'll have automated cars.

Much like this century, the next 100 years will have see a host of technological inventions ranging from automated cars to better medications. There is little evidence we are running out of innovations and the landscape will continue to change as drastically as it has so far.


I'm still waiting...

10) Democracy will recede.

Democracy is under attack in the U.S. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening and money is necessary to exert political power. Meanwhile, citizens all over the world have praised China's authoritarian model. This means that the individual rights revolution could reverse or stop.

Our constitution hangs by a thread at the moment. Plutocracy, vetocracy, kakistocracy... call it what you will, our country is far from what the founding fathers envisioned, if I read our fundamental documents aright. Rather than being the republic which they gave us, and which we were not able to keep, we have devolved into a society of the poor, run by the rich and for the rich. A nation divided against itself cannot long endure. I am encouraged by the voices being raised around the nation, calling for an end to economic imbalance, and hope my posterity will play an active rôle in restoring our country to a place of honor.


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