09 June 2007

The End of Economics

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.


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that's only going to happen if you end selfishness, too.

The world already has the resources to feed, house, and care for everybody, but the Donald Trumps and Dick Cheneys of the world insist that they get more than everybody else.

As long as we have a privilaged class, we'll have a poverty class.

Anonymous said...

It's not so simple, Thomas. In order for those with this vision to manifest that, they have to be able to contend with the forces you speak of. On a Global scale. Thousands of years of history don't get undone over night. It all has to be carefully rewired.

Ron, the agricultural economy is not necessarily one which eliminates scarcity if fuel crops are the case, though, as the nature of agriculture is highly specialized in these days of mass production and automation.

It would be interesting to see a new kind of surplus management. Waste is the key issue in my mind, which leads to all these other gains you speak of.

Anonymous said...

That should read, "waste management' is the key issue in my mind", because waste only has short-term gains.

It's important to appease those who have contributed in gains, so that they might continue to be an asset.

Paris "It's Not FAIR" Hilton said...

Hey, great point Thomas. Why don't you take the lead by sending your car and 1/2 your income overseas to a developing nation where it would be so much more appreciated.

Being rich and privileged is all a matter of perspective. I'm guessing there are millions of people who would say the same thing about you that you have suggested for Mr. Trump or Vice President Chaney.

Anonymous said...

Well, "Paris," you caught me. I am secretly a billionaire, living a life of opulent luxury. I learned absolutely nothing in Sunday School, and am not willing to alter my life style one iota to help those less fortunate.

I wish all Americans were as clever as you are at smoking out hypocrites.

exskindiver said...

hi ron!!!