NB in 2050

The subject of my column today in the TJ.   I find predictions of the future fascinating because they are almost never right.  I heard a guy over the weekend on a Big Ideas podcast saying that the UN population forecasts starting in the 1960s were always wrong by an order of magnitude.  

We have talked about Faith Popcorn and David Foot and others that made interesting forecasts based on past trending and turned out to be wrong. 

But these forecasts add value to public policy.  Foot predicted a demographic disaster so the government just cranked up the immigration tap and, presto, demographic disaster at least delayed.  Did Foot have a hand in that?  Who knows but certainly his warnings were the subject of great debate in the 1990s.

But back to my prediction.  I think we will be moving off the global economy model by 2050.  People are already starting to realize the huge environmental costs associated with a) ever increasing conspicuous consumption and b) the offshoring of production to the furthest corners of the world just to lower labour costs. 

But history is clear that predicting the future is almost impossible.  This Big Idea’s guy suggests a global pandemic is coming that could kill hundreds of millions of people.  That will upset the apple cart in unanticipated ways as countries literally close themselves off to try and immunize themselves. 

There is always the spectre of war – nuclear war and other now considered unlikely but history says is likely.

We were chatting about this in Halifax yesterday.  The Chinese model of a dicatatorial, planned economy is starting to get serious interest in certain parts of the world such as Africa and certain areas of Latin America.     The messiness of democracy – in some peoples’ minds – is holding back development in emerging economies and stifling transformation in advanced economies.  In China, if they wanted to green the economy – they would just make it so.

So, it is conceivable, we could be looking at the emergence of more totalitarianism in the next 50 years – particularly in places of the world where people make the case that democracy is holding back progress.  It starts with a democractic mandate (like in Nazi Germany) and then morphs into full fledged totalitarianism.

And totalitarianism could lead to wars – particularly over resources – and then we are back into the old cycle once again.

Who knows?   I prefer to operate in the here and now with an eye to the future.

2 thoughts on “NB in 2050

  1. I gotta say, there is defiantly something to be said about the Chinese model.

    Look what happened in the run up to the Olympics. The Chinese undertook a single minded approach to improving the air quality of Beijing and in the process made fundamental changes to their environmental and industrial process almost over night. something unheard of in the western world. I cant help but imagine how they would deal with something like the BP spill.

    Don’t get me wrong China still has major issues, especially when it comes to Human rights, and personal freedom, but you cant argue with their progress even over the last 20 years or less.

    China is one of the only markets that show any real growth, and seriously pose a threat to the western world’s dominance of the economic thrones. They do this with a firm, single minded determination to improve their situation, with out letting individual self interest muck up the greater goal.

    Maybe we in the western world need to take it from the other direction, find the best balance where we maintain the important rights of individuals, but take away some of the barriers to progress.

    Food for Thought.

  2. As China continues to absorb the lessons of the financial crisis and prepares itself for the next era of global economic expansion, it’s tempting to embrace the idea that it has discovered some new economic development formula more effective than free markets and that it is because of the success of the “planned” economy that China has surged ahead.

    The standard account of China’s economic astonishing growth emphasizes the triumph of technocracy, in which the ruling Communist Party was responsible for engineering a transformation of the market by relying on state-controlled corporations.

    Many observers point to China’s striking infrastructure projects and massive factories built using foreign money as evidence of this dominance of public spending. This perspective overstates the contribution of both government and foreign investment to China’s growth. Neither of these forces had assumed massive proportions until the late 1990s, significantly after financial controls had been relaxed and rural entrepreneurship had prompted the initial growth surge, fully ten years earlier.

    The more startling lesson of China’s economic growth explosion is that it is almost wholly conventional, based on the integration of institutions of private ownership, pervasive entrepreneurship and free-market finance and capital flows into the economy. China’s experience provides us with a timely reminder that reforms calculated to support these institutions do indeed contribute to competitiveness.

    I know that there are risks associated with this model, not only to China’s future but to the global economic environment and there’s a growing library of commentary focused on how it can all come crashing down.

    But that Chinese leadership are able sometimes to make decisions unilaterally is not a reasonable explanation for why in the West we cannot generate the necessary political impetus behind our own economic development initiatives. But even if it was — and perhaps *especially* if it was an explanation, it then becomes even more incumbent upon us in the West to find that productive path to growth.

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