Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Revisiting the Long Boom


Revisiting the Long Boom

In 1997, Wired magazine published an article called The Long Boom: A History of the Future, 1980–2020 (archived). The subtitle reads: "We're facing 25 years of prosperity, freedom, and a better environment for the whole world. You got a problem with that?" As you might expect, the piece makes interesting reading here in the actual future, particularly the sidebar of "10 Scenario Spoilers":

The long boom is a scenario, one possible future. It's built upon the convergence of many big forces and even more little pieces falling into place — all of them with a positive twist. The future of course, could turn out to be very different — particularly if a few of those big pieces go haywire. Here are 10 things that could cut short the long boom.

1. Tensions between China and the US escalate into a new Cold War — bordering on a hot one.

2. New technologies turn out to be a bust. They simply don't bring the expected productivity increases or the big economic boosts.

3. Russia devolves into a kleptocracy run by a mafia or retreats into quasicommunist nationalism that threatens Europe.

4. Europe's integration process grinds to a halt. Eastern and western Europe can't finesse a reunification, and even the European Union process breaks down.

5. Major ecological crisis causes a global climate change that, among other things, disrupts the food supply — causing big price increases everywhere and sporadic famines.

6. Major rise in crime and terrorism forces the world to pull back in fear. People who constantly feel they could be blown up or ripped off are not in the mood to reach out and open up.

7. The cumulative escalation in pollution causes a dramatic increase in cancer, which overwhelms the ill-prepared health system.

8. Energy prices go through the roof. Convulsions in the Middle East disrupt the oil supply, and the alternative energy sources fail to materialize.

9. An uncontrollable plague — a modern-day influenza epidemic or its equivalent — takes off like wildfire, killing upward of 200 million people.

10. A social and cultural backlash stops progress dead in its tracks. Human beings need to choose to move forward. They just may not ...

Numbers 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10: check, check, check, check, check, check, check. And a couple of the others rhyme. Take #2: technology did increase production and the economy, but in the United States, this mostly just increased the wealth of a few and did not "trickle down" to the rest.