In the movie Star Trek: First Contact, the Enterprise if flung back in time to the year 2063 and has to return home. They quickly realize that this is a very important time because it is the moment that the Earth made first contact with Vulcan, setting up the entire universe as they would all come to know it. The great abundance, the wonder, the adventure all hinged on this one moment.
There was one problem, however. Earth, at that time, still used this thing called “money.” The great abundance had not yet kicked in and the crew of the Enterprise had a lot to learn about how to get things done if they wanted to get home.
It’s a great movie for many reasons, generally starting with Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard. But this vision of the future, made at that moment, is particularly compelling. Abundance so great that money isn’t necessary? It’s one vision of the future, certainly. But is such a thing possible?
Another bizzy summer day demands a repeat. This one from 2014 is always timely, and hits on a theme discussed at greater length in Part 2 of People’s Economics – Work in the Next Economy
Kurt Vonnegut’s 1952 novel “Player Piano” was more than his first. It was arguably the first “dystopian utopia” novel of a world carefully described and proscribed for everyone involved. Those with technical degrees were the masters of the carefully planned world, and the rest either joined the army or worked for the “Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps” building infrastructure. Government took care of everyone, but not all were happy. Rebellion steeped under the calm surface in both the working class and the unchallenged rulers.
It’s hard to not think of such a world when reading “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs” from the Pew Research Center and Elon University. A survey of 1,896 experts in technical areas were asked what they thought the future world of employment might look like – how much automation might displace workers and how many jobs it might create. The results read something like Vonnegut imagined – enough so that a little anxiety about the next economy is justified.
My laptop died. I’m sorry, but I have to resort to a repeat for today while I sort things out.
What does the future hold? The job is often left to Futurists, which is nice work if you can get it. Then again, we still don’t really have flying cars, do we? It’s always hard to predict just what will happen as technologies advance, and by that I mean a lot more than just information technology. There’s still a lot to be done with advanced materials, machining, finance, and other more mundane things.
We have determined in Barataria that as the world’s population grows richer, more uniformly, working age populations are going to stabilize and even decline in the next two decades. That means that future growth will come not from more workers but from new technologies. That puts pressure on the Futurists, for sure, but it puts even more pressure on the delicate art of managing innovation – the process of rendering a bit of magic into practical use. It’s a topic worth exploring.
Income inequality is one of the biggest barriers to sustained growth today. You can’t have a consumer economy without income reasonably well distributed, and such an economy is going to have more sustained, reliable growth. But as we’ve shown before, income inequality has grown since 1968, threatening long term growth.
Here is another way to look at that rising inequality as part of a long-term trend that defined 1968-2000 – the expansion of the workforce and subsequent collapse of that expansion that will solidify when the Baby Boom hits retirement. Economic changes are often demographic at heart, and we are due for some major upheaval that we need to be ready for.