Thursday, January 7, 2016

Long term trends

What will human life be like fifty years from now?

Here are some of my ideas (in no particular order):
  • Increasing percentages of populations over age 65 will change, in a positive direction, societal attitudes toward the elderly. Societies will place more value on the wisdom, potential economic contribution, and political influence of its older members. Concomitantly, societies will begin to shift away from preoccupation with youthfulness.
  • Intermarriage will continue to erode racial prejudice. Externalities – race, gender, ethnicity, visible indicators of religious identity – provide a convenient means of group affiliation and therefore will remain a source of unjust discrimination.
  • English will strengthen its linguistic dominance. Meanwhile, pockets of English dialects will multiply.
  • Compared to today, the average home size in the developed world will have fewer square feet in fifty years. Family size may have diminished slightly. More significantly, people will widely rely upon a single, wireless electronic device to connect with others as well as to access massive amounts of entertainment and educational materials on the internet. Cameras, watches, CDs, and DVDs are already rapidly becoming obsolete. Typing will have become anachronistic, superseded by voice commands and data entry. 3-D printing will further reduce a need and desire to own lots of stuff. Meanwhile, Homes and electronic devices will consume less energy and require fewer natural resources to produce, thereby reducing environmental harms.
  • US political power will become further centralized in the executive branch. Reasons for this shift will include:
    1. States and municipalities increasing their financial reliance on federal largesse
    2. Presidents from both parties will use executive orders to fill the power void created by Congressional stalemate
    3. Special interests prefer to enact national change rather than fight the 50 plus battles locally driven change requires
    4. Winning political campaigns will require ever-vaster sums of money.
  • Within fifty years, the US will experience a constitutional crisis. Among the possible outcomes are a military dictatorship, a civilian dictatorship (perhaps preserving the appearance but not the substance of popular democracy, with power residing in a small, self-selected elite), or – most unlikely – a renewal of genuine democracy. This latter option seems most unlikely because:
    1. Citizens feel increasingly alienated from the government, no longer believing that government belongs to each citizen (more broadly, the greater the population size, the more difficult it is for citizens to feel ownership of and responsibility for their government)
    2. Diminishing numbers of citizens feel a responsibility to contribute to the nation by paying taxes, serving in the military, personally participating in the political process, etc.
    3. Power, once concentrated a small elite, is difficult to pry loose.
  • The US will adopt a national healthcare system to replace the current hodgepodge approach that will become financially unsustainable. Meanwhile, life expectancy will continue to lengthen and overall individual health will improve through more effective treatment and better prevention.
  • Recreational use of illegal drugs will be decriminalized. Forces contributing to this change will include political leaders currying favor with the populace by seeking to satisfy consumer demands, the recognition that the war on drugs has failed abysmally, and both financial and political pressure to reduce the size and cost of the incarcerated population.
  • Employment will shrink, concurrently expanding time for self-development, leisure, and other pursuits. Technological changes will enable fewer workers to produce more goods. Automation will further reduce the need for service workers. Efforts to share employment equitably will achieve some reductions in working hours but will not be able to avoid the emergence of a de facto underclass whose members never find employment. Increased demand for leisure, education, and services will only partially offset the decreased employment due to advances in technology and automation.
  • Achieving the goals of space travel and extra-terrestrial colonization will remain elusive. High costs, the uncertainty of tangible returns on investment, and competing priorities will combine to defer realizing aspirations in outer space.
  • The world will not:
    1. Be engulfed in a third world war or experience a nuclear Armageddon
    2. Suffer a worldwide financial collapse comparable to the national financial collapse the US experienced in its Great Depression
    3. Be visited by aliens, much less find itself locked in a life or death struggle with alien invaders.
  • The earth and its peoples will:
    1. Suffer from increased weather extremes as a result of human caused climate change
    2. Experience sporadic pandemics, although none will cause death on the magnitude of the Black Death or the worst Spanish flu pandemic
    3. Find that terrorism and insurrections are continuing threats, especially as new states emerge and existing borders shift to better align with ethnic, racial, religious, and national identities
    4. See new alliances and federations emerge as states recognize the economic, political, and security advantages of cooperation over myopic focusing on self-interest
    5. Have harnessed a source of energy that is largely climate neutral, creating tremendous financial investment opportunities while shifting economic power away from oil producers and oil exporting states
    6. Have stabilized its human population but nevertheless shift toward a diet less reliant on animal protein, having by then largely overfished the oceans and become more sympathetic to the concerns of both animal rights advocates and environmentalists

Unfortunately, I very much doubt that I will be alive in fifty years to assess the accuracy of my predictions. Nevertheless, the exercise was an enjoyable catalyst for musings about directions and developments in global and local trends over the next half century.

What do you predict will happen in the next fifty years?

Collectively, we can improve my prognostications. I am also willing to bet that if Ethical Musings' readers developed a set of mutually agreed predictions for what life would look like in fifty years, surprises would still occur but we would nevertheless have identified many of the most significant changes.

In what way(s) can these predictions enable people move toward greater happiness and flourishing? Where are the opportunities for profit and the dangers to avoid? How can an individual use these predictions to help the world to become a healthier, safer, more prosperous, and more peaceful place?

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