As oil prices continue to fall, stock markets collapse and the world economic recovery falters, it is worth thinking occasionally about what is in store over the next thirty years rather than the next thirty months.
Some economists suggest that continuous, rapid world economic growth is a thing of the past since we will never again experience the waves of technological change which boosted growth over the last 150 years. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries life changed out of all recognition. The basic tasks of living, for example collecting water and washing clothes took much effort; speed and travel were totally different – journeys considered normal today, such as travelling from London to Birmingham or from London to New York were major expeditions. Communication relied largely on the delivery of mail. It is difficult for us to understand how the gradual spread throughout the population of things today considered commonplace, such as the telephone, railways, washing machines and the motor car transformed everyday living in developed countries.
Recently there has been concern that the world is not going to get the same positive external shocks from technology to boost economic growth that it has previously experienced. Some believe that information technology will provide the stimulus while others suggest that such things as driverless cars will provide less of a stimulus than the original invention of the car itself. To quote Peter Thiel, a major venture capitalist “We wanted flying cars but instead we got 140 characters”.
Possibly we should not be worrying about the long and focus on ensuring that the world does not head into another major recession. As Keynes said “In the long run, we are all dead.”