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Wealth & Economics > The future: utopian or dystopian?

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message 1: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 4115 comments After being challenged to start this sort of topic, I have to confess I don't know. My guess is, it will be fine if we get things right, but prospects seem doubtful, or is it just me being pessimistic? I started writing a series of novels in a "future history" a number of years ago. These were not predictions, but rather indications of actions to avoid. The problems as I see them are these:
(1) Resource and energy shortages. The argument is, the supply of easily mined ores will eventually run out. Yes, there is plenty of lower grade sources, but the lower the grade, the more energy required to get the desired elements out, and then more consequent pollution. We don't like nuclear, and we have to stop burning fossil fuels, so where to go?
(2) Government debt. This is great if it is invested in productive assets or infrastructure, because in an expanding economy, the debt is easily paid off. But who says the economy has to keep expanding? Once it starts falling, and resource/energy shortages could cause this, income drops and things get grim. See current Greece.
(3) Decaying infrastructure. We use a cement such that after about 100 years, it starts to age and crumble. That means we have to rebuild a lot of what we have, That needs extra money.
(4) Inequality. As the economy starts to shrink, the few who own the most thrive; the many who own little get angry, and stability could go out the window.
(5) Global warming. Sea level rises could lose an awful lot of prime agricultural land, so we have a food crisis with a rising population and a huge number of refugees. About a third of Bangladesh could easily be user water, as could be Beijing. Further, storms and pests would exacerbate the food problem.
(6) Generala pollution, and rubbish. The sea is apparently floats a plastics garbage dump.

So, what should happen to make our great great grandchildren happy?


message 2: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) | 1407 comments I would say that the future, like the past, will be ambiguous. Of course, that depends entirely on us not royally screwing up this century vis a vis climate change and the fallout it will engender. But I remain hopeful and think that by 2100, things will actually be getting better on that front.


message 3: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 4115 comments Matthew wrote: "I would say that the future, like the past, will be ambiguous. Of course, that depends entirely on us not royally screwing up this century vis a vis climate change and the fallout it will engender...."

Good news - optimism. But I agree it depends on what we do. The problem IO see is that we have to act with thoughts for the future, and I am to convinced our politicians can see past the next election, or many businesses past the next reporting date.


message 4: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 7796 comments Ian wrote: "After being challenged to start this sort of topic, I have to confess I don't know. My guess is, it will be fine if we get things right, but prospects seem doubtful, or is it just me being pessimis..."

The challenge is well broached!
All these are probably solvable, but as you say the approach needs to change to strategic and multi-focused instead of each company, politician, influencer being preoccupied with their narrow, individual interest and benefit. Selfless leaders are a rare breed and might become even rarer with more and more materially oriented societies. It might change - hopefully, through natural evolution, but equally possibly - through very turbulent events -:(


message 5: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) | 1407 comments Ian wrote: "Matthew wrote: "I would say that the future, like the past, will be ambiguous. Of course, that depends entirely on us not royally screwing up this century vis a vis climate change and the fallout i..."

Yep. And that's where the "visionaries" come in. Lucky for us, we've reached a point in our history where motivated people and resources are able to come together and effect change. How much, and whether or not it will be enough, depends. But I do hope it will be enough to get us over that hump!


message 6: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 4115 comments Th question is, do we expect vision from the tweeter-in-chief?


message 7: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) | 1407 comments Ian wrote: "Th question is, do we expect vision from the tweeter-in-chief?"

Hell no, which is why no one is looking to him for any guidance or leadership. In fact, it seems to me that the entire "free world" and anyone in a position to effect change is just waiting for him to go away since he can't possibly survive.


message 8: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 1709 comments My issue with Trump is his disregard for the planet. My issue with scientists is that they make dire predictions and then go quiet. Why is it so difficult to start an environmental revolution?


message 9: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) | 1407 comments Scout wrote: "My issue with Trump is his disregard for the planet. My issue with scientists is that they make dire predictions and then go quiet. Why is it so difficult to start an environmental revolution?"

Probably because we need cohesive action on climate change. We need the developed and developing nations of the world to come together to adopt measures to curb emissions and finance the transition to sustainable and renewable energy. And that's what we're doing with the Paris Climate Agreement, the successor to the Kyoto Conference. And the scientists aren't going mute, they are the ones conducting the research and outreach to the public and pushing for their respective governments to get on the wagon.

In truth, a revolution would likely accomplish nothing and even set us back as far as the necessary changes go. Since this concerns all citizens, governments and our collective habits, simply overthrowing the existing system won't change a thing.


message 10: by Graeme (last edited Jul 07, 2017 11:17PM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 3288 comments (1) Resource and energy shortages:
4th Gen (and 4th Gen+) nuclear power will be a key part of the 21st energy solution, + Coal, Natural Gas, and to a declining way Oil. Renewables will struggle to get out of boutique status due to the intermittent nature of the supply of sunlight, wind, tidal, etc.

*** unless there is a paradigm breakthrough in materials science and electrical storage ***

(2) Government debt.
Is largely a function of our (i) debt-fiat monetary system, (ii) aeging populations with declining real productivity and (iii) entrenched entitlements - the risk is that the monetry system itself will crack up at some point - potentially producing social chaos to point of breakdown.

i.e. The debt (...visible part of the iceberg...) isn't half the problem the monetary system used to instantiate is. The population and entitlements are entrenched and essentially unsolvable by political processes. I.e. They (ii & iii) will persist until they crack up.

(3) Decaying infrastructure.
A western society problem. The East is either making the necessary investment or are preparing to.

(4) Inequality.
Will definently get worse - see furthermore at bottom.

(5) Global warming.
All attempts at mitgation will fail.

(6) General pollution, and rubbish.
Will generally improve in those societies with the wealth to address it.

You left out.

(7) Advent of strong AI
(8) Advent of widespread use of robotics and 3D printing in manufacturing (already well underway)
(9) Population decline in developed countries colliding with a monetary system that requires perpetual growth.

Furthermore - all our current problems and proposed solutions never challenge the essential heirarchical nature of human society and how that over-arching social architecture both defines the problems that are deemed important as well as shaping the feasible solutions and those solutions that are actually implemented.


message 11: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 1709 comments Revolution was too strong a word, then. Do we just sit back and hope world leaders do the right thing, or can't concerned citizens do something to influence policy? If so, what could we do? A plan of action.


message 12: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) | 1407 comments Scout wrote: "Revolution was too strong a word, then. Do we just sit back and hope world leaders do the right thing, or can't concerned citizens do something to influence policy? If so, what could we do? A plan ..."

Of course we don't sit back. We can and should make damn sure that we vote for governments that don't reject established science and will abide by climate treaties. We can also start making changes ourselves to our daily lives so we're not consuming and wasting needlessly. It's also a good idea to support advocacy groups that are committed to fighting for change so governments are pressured to keep their promises. There's no shortage of things we can do. The idea that we are helpless is garbage.


message 13: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 4115 comments In my opinion, the individual cannot change anything other than his own future on his own. One of the interesting things that most people do not realise is that politicians are not leaders - they are followers. With the one exception that they can see things like the debt train heading for them, basically they do what they think all the people want them to do. The problem here is that in practice they listen to a few very noisy people, or the lobbyists that actually get to see them.

I know I am going to be unpopular here, but I suspect the debt problem will be the greatest difficulty. In my near futuristic novels, the problem is the economies go backwards as resources become greater and inequality becomes greater. The great depression of the 1930s was basically a problem arising from inequality - too much of the money was tied down so people did not have the money to buy things, so unemployment went crazy, and this fed on itself cyclically. There was no shortage of money - it was just tied up and not moving. In our future, if the economy goes backwards, governments with huge debts suddenly find their taxation goes down, which means the fraction required for interest repayments goes sky high. If they decide to cancel some of their debts, it is the middle and small guys that get hurt; if they don't, they can't function properly.


message 14: by Matthew (last edited Jul 08, 2017 12:14AM) (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) | 1407 comments Graeme wrote: "(1) Resource and energy shortages:
4th Gen (and 4th Gen+) nuclear power will be a key part of the 21st energy solution, + Coal, Natural Gas, and to a declining way Oil. Renewables will struggle to..."


I think you're generally correct in these observations. Still, couple things worth discussing, I think - and with Ian too :):

1) Renewable energy is already well-beyond boutique status. Ongoing drops in prices for the manufacture and installation and growing efficiency have made solar and wind competitive with oil and more economical than coal. In fact, by 2050, wind and solar are expected to make up about 30% of the energy market each. That is based on the current rate of growth, and the projections get higher with each passing year because adoption is accelerating.

Also, fossil fuels are still subsidized to the tune of about $1.9 trillion annually. If we curtail that and put that kind of money towards alternative energy adoption, we'd could be net neutral on carbon by the next decade.

As for intermittency and storage, these are no longer barriers to adoption. For one, solar, wind and tidal offer opportunities for decentralized power supply which break with the antiquated grid-based system. Two, a combination of these methods ensures that they are able to pick up the slack of the others in the event of bad weather, lower yields. Three, improvements in battery technology - lithium ion, graphene, etc - will address storage issues.

2.) Much of the problem of government dept, at least as far as developed nations like the US are concerned, have been due to government revenue not keeping pace with GDP. And this is because a succession of governments for decades has systematically lowered corporate and individual income taxes on the wealthiest citizens. Granted, you can't fix that overnight, but ensuring the wealthy and companies actually pay their fair share of taxes will address much of our collective debt problem.

4) Inequality is actually a largely US-centric problem. Globally, extreme poverty has been cut in half since the 1990s and the fastest growing economies worldwide are all located within Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Their will be considerable growth in these blocs in the coming century, it will simply mean the polarized economic system where the US is at the top will be replaced by one which is more distributed.

5) Attempts at mitigation could fail or succeed, depending. But as NASA has already estimated, if we can keep our emissions under 600 ppm (the only realistic cut off at this point) the level of change this century will be sustainable. If we do nothing, and reach 800 ppm, things will get pretty dire. You're right that things will be getting worse and there's not much we can do about that now, but there's still the chance to ensure that things get better after they get worse.

To Ian's list, I would also like to add the following items:

-The emergence of distributed systems that disrupt the old system of centralized banking, currency, and consumption and replace it with collaborative consumption, the "sharing economy" and cryptocurrencies
-Growth of internet use worldwide (5 billion by the 2020s, compared to 1.7 billion in 2010) enabling the creation of the "internet of things" and much more rapid information sharing
-Concurrent develops in computing, robotics, medicine, and nanotechnology that will vastly accelerate the rate at which technological change happens (i.e. the technological singularity)

That's all I got right now, and its a bit jumbled. Late, tired, but had to get on this while the getting was good :)


message 15: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 1709 comments Matthew wrote: "Scout wrote: "Revolution was too strong a word, then. Do we just sit back and hope world leaders do the right thing, or can't concerned citizens do something to influence policy? If so, what could ..."

Ok. I can cast my one vote. Done. I can recycle, reduce my usage of electricity and water, drive a hybrid, drive instead of fly. Done. What advocacy groups that have real influence on policy should I join and, since there's no shortage of things I can do, what would you recommend? Still looking for a plan of action.


message 16: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) | 1407 comments Scout wrote: "Matthew wrote: "Scout wrote: "Revolution was too strong a word, then. Do we just sit back and hope world leaders do the right thing, or can't concerned citizens do something to influence policy? If..."

Not sure why you're waiting for someone else to give you one, you can do that on your own. And I already recommended things, and you acknowledged them. But if you want more suggestions, I can recommend a few things.

For example, you could curb your meat consumption, take public transit or bike instead of driving, taking the train or mass transit instead of driving (much better than driving instead of flying), and protesting pipeline construction and LNG mining and refining in your area.

As for organizations, take your pick:

-World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
-Sierra Club Foundation
-Climate Voices
-The Climate Reality Project
-Rivers Without Borders
-Idle No More
-Natural Resources Defense Council
-Greenpeace
-PETA
-350.org
-Union of Concerned Scientists
-the Environmental Defense Fund
-Nature Conservancy

As for the rest, that comes from you keeping your government honest. You can do more than just cast your one vote. You can petition, protest, write your representative, and organize with members of your community, or join advocacy groups so that your opinions aren't being heard just on election day. But you can figure this all out for yourself, you don't need me telling you.


message 17: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 4115 comments There is little doubt that the problems can be overcome; the issue is more, will they? It is not so much the possible, but rather can we get out various acts together.
As for energy, I am a little less sanguine about renewables. There was a publication by a physicist with the Royal Society who looked at what could be done in the UK, and he came up with the conclusion it could be done, but when you put numbers on it it is not exactly pretty. Sharing with Europe, he virtually covered the Sahara with photocells. I don't think that is practical. I am also suspicious of the supply of materials for renewables. Thus wind power needs rare earths for magnets, but already there is a shortage, and only China has them in reasonable concentration. Solar panels need some of a small number of elements that are on the short supply list already. Remember, we have to replace the energy generated by nine billion tonne of carbon a year.

Similarly, while I think the "sharing economy" is a great idea, I am less than convinced it is plausible. And I am still suspicious of cryptocurrencies - I know that the price of Bitcoin has gone crazy, and the question is, why? How is the local baker going to manage something that changes "value" so quickly? And could go bust the instant everyone decides it is worthless?

The problem is not so much can it be done, but are we prepared to make the very considerable effort to do it.


message 18: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 3288 comments The Chinese CB have already come out against bitcoin precisely because it's so volatile. The more interesting technology is blockchain and the ability to create trusted ledgers online.


message 19: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 7796 comments I have a feeling that once the bitcoin becomes extremely overheated it may be let down with consequences reverberating through the galaxy. After the dust dies down something similar may come out from the trad banks ..... I've no insider's knowledge and it's just my skeptical nature speaking -:)


message 20: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 7796 comments Matthew wrote: "Inequality is actually a largely US-centric problem..."

Not, so sure: http://www.oecd.org/social/inequality... . This is only about a so-called 'developed countries'.
In most places in the world - there is a very small layer of uber-rich, large impoverished population and a thin middle class. When there is no middle class cushioning the tensions between the opposites, it's sometimes oppression and power that do the work. In the West the middle class encompasses most of citizens. Not so elsewhere.

Why to curb meat consumption?


message 22: by Graeme (last edited Jul 08, 2017 05:32AM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 3288 comments Meat is naughty - pity it tastes so good....

Only the poor should give it up so that the unaccountable uber-wealthy can continue to consume as much as they want iaw pareto's principle and the architecture of heirarchy and dominance playing out - that so many well meaning people never address in their well meaning analysis of the world.

Scepticism, cynicism and realism walk hand in hand past the graveyard of well-meaning, well-intentioned souls who failed to understand the basic mindset of legalized criminality that informs the actual operation of social dominance and control.


message 23: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 7796 comments Poetically said about a less glorious side of the existence... Why those readers seek escape, I wonder?


message 24: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 3288 comments Perhaps tonight, I'm generally narked off....


message 25: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) | 1407 comments Nik wrote: "Matthew wrote: "Inequality is actually a largely US-centric problem..."

Not, so sure: http://www.oecd.org/social/inequality... . This is only about a so-called 'developed countries'.
In most plac..."


Indeed. The situation where there has been a dwindling middle class and polarization of wealth is something that effects the developed world right now, though much of it can be attributed to the fact that we began moving away from an industrial economy to a digital one by the 1970s. However, the symptoms of this were also used by neo-cons in the US and the UK predominantly to begin scaling back the "welfare state" and the New Deal, which only exacerbated the problem.

The paradox is that worldwide, standards of living are rising and the gap between the rich and the poor is narrowing. India and China are the prime examples, where they are experiencing the opposite of what the US, UK and many other G20 countries are. Their middle classes are expanding and more and more people are being lifted out of poverty. Meanwhile, countries like Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, Turkey, and a few dozen other African and Latin American countries are also growing fast, thanks to a combination of social programs and growing investment.

It's a funny situation, the world we live in :)


message 26: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) | 1407 comments Nik wrote: "Matthew wrote: "Inequality is actually a largely US-centric problem..."

Not, so sure: http://www.oecd.org/social/inequality... . This is only about a so-called 'developed countries'.
In most plac..."


Oh yeah, you asked about meat. Graeme already covered it pretty well, but the long and short of it is that it takes a lot of resources and creates a serious impact on the land to maintain a meat-heavy diet, particularly where beef is involved.

Forests have to be cut down and cleared to create pasture land, cows fart methane (a super greenhouse gas) and the amount of water and feed it takes to maintain them requires additional agriculture. It all adds up to an unsustainable situation.

There are ways around this, of course. Just cut back and eat locally-raised beef that doesn't involve massive pasture operations. And, if you're like me and too weak to give up meat entirely, you can always shop for more sustainable meats - chicken, turkey, ostrich, emu, bison - and seafood.


message 27: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 4115 comments I am far from convinced that the gap between rich and poor is closing anywhere, and in particular in China. It is true that China is experiencing an increased number of more wealthy citizens, but under Mao there was a form of enforced equality, at the bottom of the wealth scale of course. Now a small number have become extremely rich, like Nik's oligarchs, and there is a layer of "middle class" who can easily lay their hands on a few mill, then there are the bottom peasants, the majority in terms of population, for whom not much has changed on the wealth scale. My daughter in law is Chinese, and her family is in the upper middle class, so I have some knowledge of this.


message 28: by Matthew (last edited Jul 08, 2017 12:42PM) (new)

Matthew Williams (houseofwilliams) | 1407 comments Ian wrote: "I am far from convinced that the gap between rich and poor is closing anywhere, and in particular in China. It is true that China is experiencing an increased number of more wealthy citizens, but u..."

Upon closer inspection, both trends appear to be true. Globally, the divide between rich and poor nations appears to be narrowing. And the number of people living in extreme poverty, which is defined using a number of factors (not just bland consumption) is dropping rapidly. But between classes, the same old gap seems to be asserting itself and even growing. Perhaps the situation will be one of general growth for now, and a focus on redistribution in the future - at least, I hope so!

https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-po...
http://www.globalissues.org/article/2...


message 29: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 1709 comments Thanks for your suggestions, Matthew. Through the years, I've supported WWF, Sierra Club, and The Nature Conservancy. All good organizations, but they don't have the lobbying power of a group like the NRA. When I suggested that we need a revolution, I was thinking along the lines of all these groups coming together under one leadership and using their financial resources to influence Congress. Combining resources and creating a unified voting bloc would seem to be the key, and I don't see that being done. When money and votes talk, politicians will listen.


message 30: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 3288 comments Hi Scout, why don't they band together with the Democrats?


message 31: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 1709 comments I would think a non-political group would have the most impact, but I'm not so knowledgeable in these things. I'm looking at the NRA, and even AARP, as models. All their eggs are in one basket, and it gives them power. Ecological groups, on the other hand, seem to have no central organization. What do you guys think?


message 32: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 4115 comments I think the NRA is effective because they are advocating one cause that summary Americans believe in, and they believe it personally, i.e. they want to own their gun. I suspect ecological groups are too abstract for the general public.


message 33: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 1709 comments I don't know for sure, Ian, but I don't think it's that abstract. I think most people are interested in saving the planet they live on. They just don't know how to go about it. If there were an organized movement backed by all the ecological groups, people would get behind it and effect real change. I know I would.


message 34: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 4115 comments It is true that most people don't know how to go about it - me included. Trying to budge the political system is a terrible problem. But I think there is also a problem getting agreement as to what to do. Save the whales works OK (except in Japan) but stop driving your car not so well.


message 35: by Jeffery (new)

Jeffery J. | 92 comments The NRA has the advantage of resisting change. The Sierra Club et al have the challenge of advocating change. Much more of an uphill battle. There is one change that would make a huge difference -- reform limited liability. Either quit letting government give away corporate charters for free (actually, a small filing fee) or make them charge full market value. The more you put worker, customer, and nature at risk, the more you pay. However effective it is (some "green governments have dabbled in it), it lacks emotional resonance. Advocacy groups are limited by what the public will donate for -- whales and guns.


message 36: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 1709 comments Before I give up here, I'll say that we need a unified group that advocates for clean energy resources and laws that protect the environment. A group with a clear agenda that millions of people can support. There's no such thing right now. The NRA, the AARP, have specific agendas which generate money. We need the same for environmental issues.


message 37: by Jeffery (new)

Jeffery J. | 92 comments Scout, looking at the roster of registered one sees many groups that fit your description above. Why millions don't donate millions, beats me. Maybe too many of such groups.


message 38: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 1709 comments There are many groups, but no one unified group, which is what we need.


message 39: by Jeffery (new)

Jeffery J. | 92 comments Those groups often ally, so one could join their favorite and have somewhat similar group. Still, like you, I'd like to see one group of all groups that individuals could join.


message 40: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 7796 comments The problem with donations sometimes is that a big chunk thereof goes on 'administrative' expenses...


message 41: by Jeffery (new)

Jeffery J. | 92 comments More true of the big name groups like Cancer Society and Goodwill, less true of groups of young idealists. So, from the POV of what happens to donations, a confederacy of "green" groups make make more sense than one big umbrella group.


message 42: by J.N. (new)

J.N. Bedout (jndebedout) | 96 comments "In dis country, you gotta get tha money first. Once you get tha money, you get tha power."
-- Tony Montana, Scarface


message 43: by Jeffery (new)

Jeffery J. | 92 comments J.N. wrote: ""In dis country, you gotta get tha money first. Once you get tha money, you get tha power."
-- Tony Montana, Scarface"


Not jus' dis, but all.


message 44: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 1709 comments I'd go with a confederacy of green groups. Still, a confederacy must be organized to be effective, and that's what's missing.


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