Are we living in a Golden Age? And how would we know?
From my (Jim Blair's) 1995 review of 2020 Vision:
2020 Vision: at the Midway; a book review
Avon Books #380-18390-095. 192 pages.
In 1970, science fiction writer, editor and professional
future-forecaster Jerry Pournelle commissioned 8 science fiction
writers to each produce a short story set 50 years into the
future, in the year 2020. Those stories plus an introduction by
Pournelle were published as 2020 Vision, in 1974. Since we are now
about half way there, this is a good time to check on how the
predictions are doing.
INTRODUCTION: Do We Live in a Golden Age?
Since many of the stories project a dismal future, the question
arose: was the world of 1970 a "Golden Age" that future
generations would look back on with envy? There have been such in
the past; how do people know at the time that the present will be
a peak? There were already many predictions that "quality of life"
had peaked, and that the future would be down hill.
Pournelle does make some specific predictions about the future.
He predicts that the population of the US will rise only until
about the year 2000 and will than drop, so that by 2020 it will be
about the same as in 1970. Clearly, he missed the implication of
the Immigration Reform bill passed 5 years earlier, in 1965.
Before that change, his projection might have been realistic.
He also claims that there is not "a ghost of a chance" that the
capital investment can be found to raise the living
standards of the developing nations: they will remain poor
in 2020. But he is thinking only in terms of government foreign
aid, or the prospect of the poor countries using military force to
gain wealth. He never considered the possibility of NAFTA or GATT,
expanded trade and a "global economy". And he could not be
expected to have predicted that Congress would pass the "fast
track" provision for trade treaties in 1974; this may have played
a key role in creating the "global economy".
The jury is still out on whether or not 3rd World living
standards WILL have risen much by 2020, but looking at the various
Asian Tigers, and developments in Brazil, India, Indonesia and
China, it is a least possible. In his essay "The East is (in the)
Red", Paul Krugman points out that in 1975, workers in South Korea
and Tiawan received only 6% of the wages of their US counterparts.
But by 1995 this had grown to 43% and 34%. (The essay is on
Krugman's web page, linked to mine).
Pournelle concludes that 2020 may look a lot like 1970, except
more so. A rich Western Europe, Japan, US and USSR, with famine in
the rest of the world.
The Great Escape by Angus Deaton:
The world is a better place than it used to be. People are
healthier, wealthier, and live longer. Yet the escapes from
destitution by so many has left gaping inequalities between people
In The Great Escape, Angus Deaton--one of the foremost experts
on economic development and on poverty--tells the remarkable story
of how, beginning 250 years ago, some parts of the world
experienced sustained progress, opening up gaps and setting the
stage for today's disproportionately unequal world. Deaton takes
an in-depth look at the historical and ongoing patterns behind the
health and wealth of nations, and how the world has become a lot
more equal since Globalization.
Links to reviews of 4 books on the subject of dealing
with progress and its problems:
Dealing with Automation:
Dealing with Genetics:
Looking back on how far we have come: