Economics is the study of scarcity. By 2050, in many parts of the world, scarcity may well be transcended. At that point, economics will be history.
In an agricultural economy, there is a very real question of starvation. Subsistence living was reality for the vast majority of the world's population only 1,000 years ago. In Europe, it was not unusual for groups driven mad by starvation in the months leading into harvest to form suicide pacts.
In an industrial economy, food production is less precarious and scarcity typically shifts from food that might feed one to the products that do things like clothe, house, entertain, transport, or inform one. In agricultural economies, the rich are fat and the poor are thin; in developed nations, the poor are fat and the rich are thin. Eating the right amount is a product of will power rather than crop failure.
In an information economy, even a scarcity of goods becomes history as landfills, garages, and closets become increasingly packed and cluttered. What is scarce is the economic freedom that allows one to pursue avenues of engagement, contribution, and meaning that seem pushed to the periphery of life for many focused on making mortgage payments, college loan payments, 401(k) contributions and insurance payments.
Already, G-8 countries are building something new atop the information economy, just as they did with the industrial economy around 1900. An entrepreneurial economy is emerging, an economy in which the roles that are typically ascribed to entrepreneurs are made more popular, more common. The wealth that will be generated in this economy, wealth driven by and driving further advances in resource availability and use (problems of the agricultural economy), manufacturing and distribution (problems of the industrial economy), and problem-solving and design (problems of the information economy), will create abundance inconceivable by most of the current generation.
Humanity will still face problems. The problem of being human, the problems of finding happiness, meaning, engagement, and healthy relationships will all still be with us. But these dramas will be played out free from the fear, or overhang of scarcity. Measures like GDP growth will become as nonessential to the measure of progress as caloric intake has become to the developed nations. We will have moved beyond that.
Before about 1000 - 1300 AD, tradition rather than economics defined society and its changes. Since that time, the West has been transformed by economic forces. By the middle of this century, those of you who are still alive will get to witness the end of economics. Historians will look back to the period before 2050 as a time when humanity was so consumed by fear, scarcity, and competition for goods that our humanity was largely subsumed to Freudian impulses. Once economics has ended, we'll live in a true renaissance, a time when a majority of humanity can properly focus on what it means to be human.
The end of economics. It's just decades away.