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 and nations. 

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: