Monday, June 30, 2014

How will the world change in coming decades?

Some aspects of technological change may be relatively predictable. Transportation technology is relatively more mature than information and communication technologies, and so transportation systems are likely to improve more slowly than will information and communications systems. Still both will continue there penetration into currently unserved areas of Asia and Africa. 

We can also expect to see markets grow. I would expect to see more goods and services on the market. Of course transportation costs and losses and transaction costs increase with the distance goods travel, so that catchment areas for goods markets would tend to remain somewhat more local than those for services that could be handled by telecommunications.

For large countries with large populations, domestic markets will increase greatly.  I think the European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement and similar multinational market areas will also grow in number and volume of trade. So too, I assume that there will be a general growth in international commerce. That will engender needs for improved international systems related to the governance of international commerce.

Automation will increase.

Changing technology, greater dissemination of technology, expanded infrastructures, and expanding markets will offer expanded economic opportunities. The economic growth which we have seen in Europe and Japan after World War II, in the various tigers, in China, India, Russia, Brazil and other countries more recently is a pattern of diffusion of economic modernization and competitiveness that is likely to continue.

I expect that there will be more schooling, especially in countries where rights to education have not yet been met. Thus work forces and citizenry will become more educated. That in turn will put pressure on societies to improve management and governance. The advances in neuroscience, cognitive science, and computer amplification of intelligence may  make people smarter or at least more effective in the use of knowledge.

Cultures will rub up against each other more and more. We will have to see a dialog among religions or we will see more religiously based conflict. We will have to see better ways to accommodate rising powers into regional and global systems or we run the risk of serious conflict.

Urbanization will increase, and we will see more large cities and some already large cities will get larger still. Worldwide farmers will have to feed more people on average than they do today. The increase in food and fiber per farmer will be bigger where it is now low than in more developed countries where each farmer is already feeding many people. Growing the food supply to meet the needs of the growing population will be a challenge. It may be that rather than trying to get everyone to eat the way people do now in rich countries (meat intensive diet) we will have to see development of cultural norms for healthier diets based more on plant foods.

The footprint of modern civilization is huge and continues growing. Environmental damage of major proportions will be inescapable if means are not found to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases and to reduce rates of loss of biodiversity, deforestation, desertification, depletion of fisheries, pollution of coastal zones, and loss of top soil. Of course, exhaustion of natural resources may accomplish some of these objectives for us, but at great cost.

It seems likely that population growth rates will continue to decline and that the production of goods and services worldwide will continue to increase more rapidly than the population.  I would expect extreme poverty to be reduced, but poverty to remain a problem. Populations will age, and life expectancy in poor countries should increase but I don't expect to see increases comparable to those in the 20th century. 

Will there be class war? It seems clear that the rich are acquiring more wealth faster than any other group, With that wealth comes power, and the power is used to protect and acquire wealth. Still, there are trends which would increase the power of the rest of us, and a recognition that there are dangers in the inequality of wealth, income and opportunity in the world.

In his book, The Age of Culture, Paul Schafer calls for a fundamental change in world culture, one in which people adopt a more artistic, creative and even spiritual approach to life, one less marked by greed for things and less destructive to the environment. I see this as related to Federico Mayor's emphasis on a culture of peace (not surprising since the former Director General of UNESCO wrote the introduction to Schafer's book).  I think the world needs such a transformation, but I am not sure that it will be achieved as soon as needed.

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