Hardly anyone in 1860 could have pictured a future in which the United States was a healthy, prosperous global power. America was a post-colonial basket case on the verge of self-immolation. Despite the gloomy outlook, the fire unleashed on the US over the following decades refined a nation rather than destroying it. America may have been a mess, but it was a mess at the cusp of greatness.
Today, a long period of relative peace and unity for the US has come to an end. The 3rd Republic has collapsed, marking the end of the first great Pax Americana. We face a near-future defined by the lawless abuses of an entrenched, global aristocracy, xenophobic paranoia neutralizing much of the electorate, and political parties trained squarely on the challenges of the past. Sounds pretty bad, but we’ve been here before.
Clouds darkening our horizon are easy to spot, but it takes imagination to see the flowering they might bring. Look closely at our dilemma, and you see not decline, but leadership. We are being buffeted by the first waves of a storm spreading around the world. We’re not worst, but merely first. As dysfunctional and decrepit as we appear right now, there may be no nation better positioned to adapt to the demands of this new order. Will we be the first casualty of this great global pivot, or its leading light?
Our world is experiencing a transformation. Like an ocean current, powerful, but not apparent to the eye, a post-industrial order is taking shape, doling out support to those who ride it and frustrating those who resist. This nascent order rewards transient lifestyles, advanced education in almost any form, disruptive innovation, global trade, and cultural fluidity. It punishes, sometimes ruthlessly, deep attachments to place, religion, traditional gender roles and family structures, slow, methodical political processes, and almost anything that threatens to slow the exchange of money and ideas.
Thanks to our sudden and surprising Cold War victory, the past thirty years have brought a global surge of both wealth and freedom. Extreme poverty, once nearly ubiquitous, has been relegated to isolated, unstable corners of the planet. Democracy has spread like a weed, expanding beyond any extent previously experienced, spreading its vulnerabilities and weaknesses along with its benefits.
As women begin to enjoy freedoms unknown since at least the rise of agriculture, fertility rates are plummeting. By 2025, two-thirds of humans will live in countries with fertility rates below replacement, launching an unprecedented global population decline. Combined with the demands of a knowledge economy, this decline will grant a powerful advantage to the countries most successful in attracting immigrants and incorporating them into society.
Coinciding with our population decline is a well-timed acceleration in technology, especially in automation and artificial intelligence. Diversity of thought and perspective are fuel for this technological engine, yet another incentive for cultivating multiculturalism and immigration. Deploying these new tools to replace human labor requires expensive and risky capital investments. These costs have limited the impact of automation and AI on job markets so far, but that resistance won’t hold.
A population peak coupled with a surge in technology are destroying the value of most agricultural land. We’re almost a decade beyond “Peak Farmland.” Since 2000, we’ve increased total agricultural output globally by 4% while using less land. That same ingenuity, applied to energy, is about to devastate the oil and gas industries. Put these forces together, and today’s holders of “old money” face a frightening threat.
Old money came from land, minerals and factories. New money is coming from technology and data. Today’s holders of inherited wealth can only protect their fortunes, without resorting to more risky and productive investments, by leveraging their influence over government to block competition. Or, of course, by simply cheating. The Koch brothers and Donald Trump are the twin paragons of American inherited capital and its war on the future. Tycoons of extractive industry and unapologetic crime, they are symbols of what must die for the future to be born. They are determined not to go down alone.
Dying capital has allies among the masses. 19th and 20th century industries relied on enormous pools of human labor. 21st century industries don’t. After battling each other for a century, organized labor and old capital find themselves awkwardly aligned against the emerging threat of a global knowledge economy with its destruction of land-based capital and elimination of mass employment.
With their existing livelihoods at stake and no one presenting them a template for the future, working people from the majority classes find themselves increasingly vulnerable to manipulation by yesterdays’ economic winners, fighting to retain their wealth. An alliance between a kleptocrat like Donald Trump and masses of industrial workers in the Midwest only makes sense in this context. Absent some vision of the future, they are happy to embrace a violent white nationalist effort to preserve the past. Those truly threatened by the globalization of Britain, for example, aren’t the narrow-minded villagers whinging about immigrants and fighting for Brexit, but the still-wealthy landowners threatened by a global knowledge economy. Rentiers wringing the last value from their grandparents’ capital are the future’s most dangerous losers.
In theory, the new money surging into our world should act as a counter on the political power of the rentier class, but the influence of new money has lagged. Tech billionaires Michael Dell and Mark Cuban are among the richest people in Texas, yet their political impact is insignificant. Those with far less wealth, but a deeper heritage in oldline industries still dominate politics all over the country.
This lagging impact is partly a consequence of newness, but it also rises from deeper factors. The very ethos of this new economic order hampers activism and weakens democracy itself. No one became a tycoon in an industrial economy without buying the politicians necessary at each step to protect their ventures. A stable of politicians was as crucial to industrial economics as accountants or managers. By contrast, much of this modern wealth is developing either independent of, or openly at odds with a shrinking public sector. Thanks to the globalized, transient nature of these business operations, in which companies have no local, geographic “home,” the impact of this enormous new flow of wealth on politics is too broadly dispersed to be deeply felt anywhere. Between hostility to government and the lack of attachment to place, new money faces serious political headwinds.
If established rentiers are manipulating workers with fears of job losses and populations are on the cusp of decline, why is immigration necessary? Shouldn’t the disappearance of mass employment make population growth a problem? The end of labor as we know it isn’t the end of people. It isn’t even the end of work. What’s about to die is the concept of a job as the primary means of support for the masses. Jobs have been disappearing for decades. Even during this unprecedented economic boom, labor force participation has continued its long structural decline.
Even now, under peak economic conditions, our economy does not produce enough jobs to support American families. It really never did, but it’s capacity to spread wealth through traditional forms of employment will only decline from here.
A successful culture will replace a jobs economy with an economy in which a dividends of the vast technological expansion are redistributed as shares, in the same manner we do with corporate shares today. A society with more people will produce more innovation to fuel this technological advance, while enjoying easier and cheaper access to the simplest amenities of a healthy society, from the corner coffee shop to artistic content.
We are far overdue for a shift in mindset of the simplest kind, yet still almost unfathomable for people born in the age of scarcity. It is good to have people. People are valuable. People are not “mouths to feed.” People are not a burden. People are not a problem. They never were a problem, but a world of scarcity, violence and instability made higher populations much more difficult to organize and sustain. As we mature for the first time into a world of declining population, recognizing the simple privilege of having and attracting people will be a national survival skill.
Technical advances don’t emerge from isolated individuals on distant farms. They are formed in an evolutionary cauldron of exchange, debate, trial, error and investment. Our most productive environments are massive population centers, a dynamic that will only intensify as technology displaces more and more traditional human activities. Those population centers need minds, and not just the minds of a few geniuses. Jobs aren’t disappearing because people are irrelevant, or because there’s no more work to perform. They are disappearing because they are no longer the optimal tool for organizing the economy.
Today, we organize our entire public order around the necessity of formal employment. This will disappear whether we like it or not. Our economy doesn’t need employment, it needs work. So employment, a concept born to meet the needs of the industrial era, will gradually become an anachronism too expensive to maintain. Our challenge is to decouple the infrastructure of our civilization from employment as quickly as possible, making health care and basic well-being available independent of jobs. At the same time, a successful culture must master the challenge of opening itself to contributions from people from all over the world.
Power is flowing to people who can build cultures of cultures. These are not merely cultures of “tolerance,” but new meta-cultures in which people from highly diverse backgrounds, with diverse mythologies, languages, and values can gain the benefits of a shared public life while living relatively transient lives. Instead of learning to “be German” or to “be American,” those meta-identities adapt to the demands of mobile, transient, diverse communities. In short, we are growing beyond the reach and relevance of the nation-state. We will need to develop new definitions and boundaries for public life.
This is a wrenching disruption, intolerable to many. It will be almost impossibly painful for many European countries and the Japanese to shake off a nationalist identity imposed on them by centuries of concerted effort to embrace a more fluid, global self-image. Competing for global talent and refining skills in global trade will be hampered by a monolithic cultural identity. Other countries, less successful to date in building the nationalist identities so critical to for an industrial economy may enjoy some advantages. India, Malaysia and many African countries stand out for their still-nascent efforts to manufacture a unified national identity. That incomplete nationalism may let them skip a step, entering this new era with an advantage.
Americans, by contrast to Europe, have always lived with a relatively fluid public culture. We still have no official religion or mandatory language. We’ve often been derided as cultureless cretins by those elsewhere with deeper attachments to tradition. What made America one of the world’s most successful experiments in multi-culturalism was our system of racism. By creating a nation in which everyone judged as “white” was considered equal, we built the broadest, most liberal form of multicultural the world had yet seen. Our cultural stability was built on white nationalism and the systemic exploitation of those imagined to be “black.” Under that rubric, Irish Catholics, German Lutherans and Serbian Orthodox who would have been murdering each other in Europe could organize under the same political party. For its time, white nationalism was a miracle of multi-culturalism, but that time is ended and its bloody costs are coming due.
Under pressure from post-industrial economics, we now face the challenge of shedding the racism that made the rest of our relative tolerance possible. This will not be easy. We are a nation built on white nationalism. Constructing a post-white political order without a revolution may be more than we can hope for.
Someone will ride this new wave to power. The wealth and influence available to a country or people who embrace a culturally transient, globalized, trade-driven order will make a leader out of whoever best exploits these forces. Despite our current dysfunction, no nation is better positioned than the US to adapt to this order. That doesn’t mean we’ll do it, but it grants us the first chance to fail.
Resistance to this current has already emerged. Those would-be losers in the new order would be happy to retain the old, even if it makes us all relatively poorer and weaker. From Afghanistan to Alabama, backwoods preachers are struggling to grab the reins of power and turn back the clock. In places like Riyadh and Dallas, those preachers find wealthy allies who see in those rubes a bulwark to protect their fortunes against disruption. It is accurate, but misleading, to point out that these players will be history’s losers. Their campaign, like the pyrrhic efforts of cultural warriors down through history, will fail. However, their failure doesn’t guarantee that they won’t take many nations, including our own, with them into obscurity.
No one was better positioned than Spain and Portugal to reap the benefits of the printing press, industrialization, and the global manufacturing revolution. Those with the most to lose from progress successfully thwarted change in those countries, dooming them to centuries of decline. It could happen here, but it probably won’t.
America has a history of being moved by new money. The chaos at our core makes life difficult for rentiers. Look closely at the massive piles of money pouring into politics and what emerges is a story of losers. Our kleptocrat class has largely failed to buy our system while the price of a politician skyrockets. If they can’t buy this system, they’ll have to destroy it, but that’s easier said than done.
Our kleptocrats are now determined to dismantle our political system. The enemies that matter aren’t the mumbling racists in the countryside, but the wealthy rentiers who manipulate them. Kleptocrats like the Trumps, the Kushners and the Crafts manipulate your dim-witted cousin by making him fear brown people. They manipulate the rest of us by making us fear your cousin. Emerging from this trial successfully hinges in large part on our ability to recognize and attack our common enemy.
Ask anyone about Germany’s future in 1946 and you’d hear a grim tale. Germany was sick, Europe’s catalyst of war and disorder. It was widely assumed that something in the German soul doomed the country to mayhem. Across a single human lifetime Germany has developed from ashes and occupation into the leader of the free world. Similarly, look at the course of Japan, Vietnam and now even Nigeria. The troubles of a moment are often the passage to greatness.
It seems likely that within a decade or so we’ll either live in a post-racial version of America that functions as a leader in a global knowledge economy, or we’ll lose our global leadership, both political and economic, ruled by a class of inbred kleptocrats and governed by the shady storefront preachers they hire to keep us in line. Either of these futures is possible, but one is more likely than the other.
More likely, the kleptocrats have overplayed their hand. Fury rising from the new economy’s jilted winners will likely spark a short, sharp conflict with the advocates of the dying racial order. After the rentiers are swept aside, the blood will be hosed off the sidewalks, and whatever measures were necessary to secure victory will then be written into law or conveniently forgotten. With determination, vision, and a little luck, the next American Century lies just over the horizon.
Saw your Facebook post today. Nice to see you are acknowledging the reality of the coming water wars. Can you do an post analyzing how these situations are going to play out on a national and global level?
I can help you with that. The deaths of millions of poor people in far away places from heat, drought and flood will mean as much to global politics in the coming decades as they have in the past – Zero.
We’re going to see a lot more of these kinds of scenes, but they are irrelevant as anything other than mood-setting.
This is a request that Congress impeach and remove Trump from office for ignoring a threat to our very way of life.
Every spring tens of millions of undocumented migrants cross our borders. They come here to eat our food, particularly the farmer’s crops which they thieve. They have their anchor babies. While they are here, they pollute our forests, parks and water supplies with their excrement and create a noisy cacophony from before sunrise until midday or later. Additionally, they do not have a settled domicile, but wander from place to place. Though some of them are settled for a brief time while they are having their babies. Otherwise they are totally transient. They clearly contribute little to the U.S. economy, they are freeloaders of the worst sort.
Additionally, they do not obey our laws. Some of them have stolen our Presidents trademark color – gold. They use it to decorate their bodies in gaudy arrangements. Some have their tails colored like they’ve been dipped in gold paint. Others are even worse by liberally applying gold all over their bodies. Some families are renowned for their liberal use of yellow and gold in all kinds of different arrangements.
Then after creating all these problems during the spring and summer, when the food supplies begin to dwindle in the fall they fly away. Some are so presumptuous that they transited the U.S. and go further North to Canada, the boreal forests and to the tundra. Then in the fall, they transit our country to the tropics. During their stay in the North they contribute noting to our economy, rather they just consume and take what they can get.
Clearly, these migrants must be stopped at all costs. It is imperative that rather than just erecting a border wall, mist nets up to a few thousand feet must be strung from 50-60 miles offshore from the Pacific coast, all the way across our land borders with Mexico, along the shore of the Rio Grande to the Gulf Coast and then along the Gulf Coast to 50-60 miles offshore at the Atlantic Coast. We must make Mexico and the Central American states pay for these legitimate protective measures. If they do not pay, then we must impose drastic tariffs on those states.
This is clearly a major threat and Congress and the Presidency must do something. This is a serious threat to the U.S. and the other nations in North America as well as the rest of the globe.
By now you must know that I am discussing that invasion each year by those darned neotropical migrating birds. Think of those gaudily colored goldfinches, warblers, and those waxwings that have the gall to color the outer portions of their tails in gold. Don’t’ they know that our President’s signature color is gold? And that dawn chorus, which they insist on performing every morning beginning from before sunrise to mid-afternoon. That can be the loudest annoyance, to those who are trying to sleep. And what about those poor farmers who must spread netting and or use other means of protecting their crops from these thieves. What about those people who have to clean up their excrement? And they have anchor babies, and persist in believing that they are global and hemispheric citizens rather than preferring any particular nation.
But despite all those negatives, I do enjoy watching them and listening to that cacophony in the morning. They bring a lot of joy to my life and to that of others as well. They are a real nice break from the hectic pace, the dreariness and grayness of urban life. However, for some reason I think that those undesirable but colorful neotropical migrant birds, will continue to do their own thing. They have done this for well over ten thousand years, ever since they last ice age ended. I suspect they were doing it during and before the ice ages as well. I do not think that they will change their coloration because Donald Trump loves gold. No, they were colored that way long before Trump’s birth and will continue long after Trump leaves.
I look forward to the days when I can get out and observe these migrants, for they add a lot of cheer to my life and that of many others as well. I think the human species would not like a world without these undocumented, neotropical migrants, despite the inconveniences they cause. Global warming threatens, their way of life and ours. Maybe nature is trying to tell us, that doing something about global warming is worth the costs and that mankind is just a part of the larger picture? (-:
We can look at history and say:
“It was bad in 1860!
1941 was no walk in the park!
Not to mention the Black Plague!
So we can survive this and thrive!”
But, we as a nation are destroying the environment! Trump is reversing virtually every environmental law/rule/regulation he can get his hands on. Why i don’t know!
And he surrounds himself with people who believe only air you can see and smell is good air!
I see some of the regulations Trump is reversing and the action makes no sense. But he does it anyway. And if the predictions about climate change are even partially correct, there will be disaster in the future. Shortages of food and water!
Big business knows it! The military is planning for it! But we as a nation, and it is as a nation because our duly elected officials, elected by devious means possibly but elected none the less, are giggling with joy as Trump dismantles our environmental safeguards.
If minorities can not vote for a while, well, no big deal. If gays can not marry, well, the world will not come to an end. All these social issues that get people all riled up? They matter and they don’t! In the history of the world, does it really matter, some of this stuff, if it is not corrected now!
As compared to polluting the earth, killing off entire species?
You screw up the environment and Florida floods, well, that is permanent! The ice caps melt and will never be replaced!
It seems we are looking at a catastrophe in the making. And we could have 6 more years of this.
Maybe I am over reacting! But it seems to me we have become ungovernable.
Somewhere I read a theory why we do not see aliens from outer space. The theory is that by the time a civilization gets to the point where they have the intelligence to travel between galaxies they are so smart they destroy themselves!
“I see some of the regulations Trump is reversing and the action makes no sense. “
Try looking at it in the context of wanting to destroy Obama’s legacy. I realize that not all those regulations happened on Obama’s watch, but facts and historical accuracy never mattered to that ignorant, vindictive fool.
The only facts that matter to this man are those that make him look good. Hint: history is not going to judge him well.
This is not all on the tyrant. Yes, good leadership would accept reality and start dealing with what is happening. Yes, by the time the tyrant is removed, it will be too late.
But this also falls on the general masses. Humanity in general has a massive cognitive dissonance when it comes to coming catastrophe and immediate reality, especially when it is going to cost, a LOT.
The current socioeconomic model is doomed, because humanity, in general, is a virus. Mr. Smith had it right. There will be no political impetus to do anything significant until it is too late.
One of the biggest issues concerning the rise of mass unemployment is the protestant work ethic. Wether or not you have a job in modern society (especially in the US) is a morality issue. Those who are unemployed are viewed as lazy moochers trying to live off the fruits of other people’s labors. This even extends to what type of job someone has (people in “non-traditional” jobs like uber and artists are viewed with contempt compared to factory-workers, doctors, stockbrokers, farmers etc.
This segues nicely into the “prosperity gospel” fraud.
This is the biggest issue, but it is the very issue that must be addressed for the nation to move ahead. With the advent of automation, AI, and the other technological advances there will not be enough jobs particularly of the old fashioned type to go around. True many more jobs will be created. Many of these will require high degrees of skill and education. But there will also be a huge demand for service jobs. Historically, those jobs are not valued very highly and do not command compensation sufficient to support a reasonable lifestyle. I hinted at that in my earlier post, beginning with “The large proportion of the population ….”.
Basically as I see it, the work ethic needs to be modified some. We also need to improve the compensation for service work, to be commensurate with its value. That is already being done, because many people do need that support, I’m thinking as hairdressers, landscaping, and other services that require some skill. Perhaps changing the political structure to start supporting unions again would help. There are numerous other ideas to accomplish this. As I stated we need to start pursuing these ideas. If they fail then try something else.
Still I suspect that in the new technological future with AI and automation, there will never be enough jobs to provide a reasonable standard of living for all. Accordingly, I believe that such programs as a guaranteed basic income, improving retirement systems, divorcing health care from employment and probably adopting a single payer system will be required. This list is not intended to be comprehensive, but we need to start moving in that direction. That is the reason I believe the economic system needs to be modified. I believe we need to move in the direction of Stiglitz’s ‘Progressive Capitalism’. AOC and others are very much aware of this.
But the bottom line is going to be that the old protestant work ethic must be modified. That will require a sea change in American society. But it can be done. The work ethic has already changed over the years and further change can occur.
The Protestant Work Ethic has Americans working much longer with far less time off than our European brethren….whether it is something as simple as a vacation or as significant as time off to experience the joy of a new child, Americans are pushing too hard. This, of course, most closely relates to white collar jobs as working class folks have never had these “perks”. Materialism, excessive cost of education (our own and our childrens) and health care, are pushing people into stressful lives. There is a 34% increase in people working into their 70s and beyond, some by choice, many more by necessity. For all the benefits Chris sees for women, the luxury of being a stay-at-home mother is rare, and their days don’t stop once they arrive home from work, either. Ironically, even those who manage to retire with a decade or two to kick back are so busy one wonders if they are really retired. The big question has not been asked, which is, are people happy with the lives they lead in America? Have they considered other lifestyles? Somehow we have to get down to what’s really important in life which I believe are personal relationships. Old-fashioned as it may be, it works for most people “if” they give it a chance.
Not related to Chris’ post, but hugely important. Remember, Australia just re-elected a hard-right gov’t that is run by a Global Warming denying xenophobe. This is inevitable in the U.S.
I remember Chris posting about country music. Here is an interesting article by The Economist that indicates country music is getting whiter, more male, and more concerned with masculinity:
On a completely unrelated note, I must congratulate all the Texans here. The luminaries leading your state have somehow accidentally repealed the entire state plumbing code, so now everyone can go be plumbers if they need a side gig.
TX Lege focus was on a very narrow “plumbing “ issue – abortion. They just can’t walk and chew gum at the same time (-:
Since we’re talking about “brilliance “ here, enjoy this taut piece of “almost” satire from Doug Muder, whose blog, “The Weekly Sift” is one of my favorites. Great writing, always insightful, and every now and then, darkly humorous. Enjoy!
Really great cartoon. It matches Horsey at his best before he was muzzled and then fired by the LA Times. He seems to be semi-retired now and focuses primarily on local Seattle issues.
People are valuable. People are not “mouths to feed.”
Exactly. In fact, the world economy can probably survive perfectly well even if people were replaced by robots and AI as the main producers. However, there is no way that the world economy would continue to function if people cease to be consumers. Robots aren’t going to pay to see your shitty movie, or go to the theme park based on your shitty movie. Robots and AI aren’t going to buy any of the Koch brothers’ products. Robots and AI may operate the cars of the future, but they are not going to be buying them or using them to get from point A to point B themselves. People are still going to be necessary and somehow we have to figure out how to enable their future participation if paid employment is going to be phased out.
Chris, I’d love to see a post regarding your thoughts of how climate change will impact the political processes in the U.S., along with the technical changes that you have been discussing. I personnally believe that once we start focusing on the climate change issues rather than ignoring them, we can find ways to successfully mitigate the impacts and to adapt our lifestyles effectively. We have done that before and I believe we can do it again.
Here’s a great idea:
The Vox article is absolutely correct. However, in some areas a soft seawall is not practicable. But there may be other solutions.
Seattle, has had to rebuild the seawall protecting the downtown core area near Elliot Bay. Since there are tens of billions of dollars in buildings in the area a soft approach is not possible. See the link below for the solution that is being implemented here.
I totally agree that one size never fits all. That particular article grabbed my attention because my part of TX, and especially LA next door have trashed so much of Mother Nature’s hurricane buffers.
And the fish highway is great! I love reading about those kind of things.
Yet, individually and collectively, we continue to opt in favor of convenience and lower costs which further constrain our personal interactions. This makes the few remaining physical gatherings even more influential. Organized religion benefits (scary thought there), as do our jobs (which are less and less dependent upon collecting in a giant building), and our schools, which are becoming more and more segregated by class than ever. Times are changing. Count me as one who laments changes in social engagement that shrink our contact with other humans, as frustrating as that experience can be while appreciating the advantage of this tech era. The good with the bad, right?
Here’s where some of the “Big Boys” in finance are putting their money….Pretty soon our big box stores will all be virtual and even the simple contact with our fellow man by chance encounter or service will be replaced by a few keystrokes in a machine, in a life fanaticised in the movie “Her”.
Some truly powerful stuff there Chris, but with a few points:
1. The U.S. is neither the first, nor the worst, to descend into the ultra-right wing populism morass. Check out how far Poland has gone, or Austria.
2. As others have already stated, I really think you have to look at this through the lens of the effects of Global Warming.
Mother Nature does not care if you are a trumpian or a Communist. It will flatten your home, drown your family, burn off your crops, regardless. When the Global Warming refugees start coming to the rich countries en masse, populism will be even stronger, as the Lifeboat mentality kicks into high gear.
That and the inevitable triage, when nations start seeing places like Venice, Shanghai, Miami, New Orleans, and most of Bangladesh all start being wiped out. Picking who lives, who dies, is going to put enormous pressure on whatever democracies still exist. The cost will be too great to save every city, every person. Tyrants will flourish, as the “people of strong will, doing what is necessary for the greater good” are looked to more and more.
What is more likely to happen when the Indus river system starts drying up?
a. Pakistan and India come together, join hands and start working out a complicated water sharing program above and beyond the one they have now.
b. They go to war over water.
Excellent post, Dins! Many forward thinking individuals and companies are investing in water rights across the nation. As in “potable “ water. This long-term investment play is assuming more immediacy given man’s derelict management of our natural resources and environment. Whether we are swallowed up by rising acidic sea levels, torrential rains or greedy overuse of reservoirs and surface water, our day of reckoning is nigh.
We have plenty water. Just running out of cheap water. I have seen solar power devices in print that capture water out of air. They work even in the driest areas. Thomas Malthus continues to lose against man’s ingenuity .
I loved the essay, but I would like to point out a flaw in your data, or at least a failed reference. Your link to Cool Green Science’s blog does support that we are producing more calories and using less land to do so, but the increase in production since 2000 at least in the linked article is much much more modest than 15x. The article doesn’t go past 2009, but the closest section to covering this statistic is this paragraph:
“From 1998 to 2009 (the latest year global food supply data is available from FAO) we saw a 4.4% increase in global calories produced per capita (from 2,713 kcal/capita/day to 2,831) while total agricultural land area dropped by 0.8% (although this may be too small a change in area for this data to reliably detect; see data disclaimers section below).”
Thanks for catching that. Correction made. I think I grabbed the ’15’ year span he refers to use and took it for the wrong metric.
That was my guess of what happened. Thanks for updating 🙂
Good essay. Echoes what I have been thinking. Many of these ideas I have seen else where from similar bright minds. I agree much of the struggle is from people losing in the changes. Years ago I told the CEO that in change you always have winners and losers. Instead of fight,g change figure out how to come out a winner. I do not know if he followed my advice but the company moved to growing areas and start to get out of declining sectors of business. He was much more nimble that government in General. Although Orlando’s government is moving towards the change too. In the coming world tourism is going to get bigger as people prosper and have more money. When you can afford it most of us happily. buy experiences.
These were exactly my thoughts. A whole lot of people are going to look at this vision and ask what exactly their role will be in this New World Order. Not everyone is going to get an advanced degree, not everyone is going to thrive in this new environment, and we can’t just leave behind those who don’t.
As a general comment, this essay echoes my overall confidence in the long term for the U.S. and for the future. I believe the American system will adapt, but there will be some bloodshed and much difficulty along the way. The old industrial systems need to be swept away and new post-industrial cultural systems will replace the industrial systems. We are already seeing the outlines of those cultural systems in the major cosmopolitan areas. In the U.S., those trends are most advanced on the left coast – basically the narrow strip ranging from the Pacific Ocean to the crest of the Sierra and Cascade/Coastal Ranges and from Vancouver, BC to San Diego. Though there are islands elsewhere in the other major metropolitan areas. Echoes of Ecotopia – you can see my old Hippy leanings coming through here.
The American system has weathered other storms before and I believe it will weather this storm as well. In the introduction, you mention the Civil War storm. Don’t forget the storm of the Great Depression followed by WWII. Change can and does occur in the U.S., but only glacially and with difficulty.
The concept of *fully* decoupling one’s identity from nation, nationality, geography, and what-not fascinates me, but also seems flawed. The concept of people being able to lead robust and healthy public lives in spite of their transience thanks to meta-cultures seems half-baked.
What do these meta-cultures consist of? Are transient individuals, as they travel, supposed to reach out to members of these cultures via social media, meet up and interact with them in person? Are these supposed to serve as a replacement for meeting up with one’s friends at the local pub the mall in one’s hometown, or with one’s family around the dinner table?
The most common meta-cultures I’ve witnessed are Internet communities that’ve sprung up on the Internet based around one thing or another. They can be a shared culture of inside jokes, vernacular, and behavior that gets built up over years on things like forums, image boards, and chatrooms. As social media has usurped those older forms of online interaction, other meta-cultures have sprung up. Many of them are merely based around shared interest in products and media and have no real shared values beyond that. These Internet communities are better known as fandoms. Tying core pieces of one’s identity to commercial and largely expendable for-profit products and media which can have its aspects rapidly altered at the whims of a global economy isn’t healthy. Look at everyone who went crazy over Game Of Thrones’ ending. Look at the Star Wars fandom. Look at GamerGate. The only meta-culture that I feel has stood the test of time, has the transience concept down-pat (as in meetups and public events are common and you could fine a member of it nearly anywhere), and has been strengthened by the Internet is the Furry community. The identity of members isn’t tied to any single product or message board or website but rather the personas that people adopt in the community and the art that its various members create, commission, and share. But of course, given that community’s nature, it’s not for everyone.
What happens if, in this meta-identity world you’ve envisioned, you can’t find someone nearby with whom you share some similarities in meta-identity? Do you work to try and join a new meta-culture so you can more readily find people to have fun with in public? Do you do that every time you move somewhere in your transient life and maybe drop older meta-cultures that are irrelevant to you? Do you just sit in your apartment after work and participate in the meta-cultures you already have as part of your meta-identity until you move to another urban tech hub that may have people you have shared interests with?
Where you see people forging their own meta-identities meeting up with others of shared interests as they travel the world on their jobs of the future and using it as a healthy replacement for longtime friendship, community, and attachments, I see people scouring the Internet for something that they can latch onto. I see people scrabbling for any sort of shared interest, no matter how cursory or minute or superficial, so that they can find at least one person with which they feel like they belong anywhere in the jet-setting transient and ever-changing lifestyle that a global knowledge economy demands.
Humans aren’t mentally built for that kind of social atomization. They just aren’t. The idea that humans have to adapt to the whims of an economy that’s supposed to be serving us, and that we will be able to *successfully* adapt to that economy without any serious psychological and societal baggage that could very well sink the whole thing, is laughable.
I strongly agree that we need to decouple the infrastructure of our civilization from employment as quickly as possible. A universal basic income and universal healthcare are a must. But simultaneously, we need to engage in projects that create physical and digital infrastructure that allows people to produce significant innovations while staying in one geographical location. We can make the technology, services, and products of the future while simultaneously creating thriving local communities, forging social bonds where people can stay and participate in said communities, and strengthening democracies.
Have you visited an American suburb?
Here’s what I mean by that. This rootless, nationless, transient lifestyle already exists as the norm among many US voters, especially in big cities and their near-suburbs, as well as for most of the professional class globally.
What I mean by meta-cultures is not just an online existence, because the absence of a singular attachment to just one cultural identity. We used to heavily stress that immigrants should “assimilate” and that everyone should arrange their lives and identities against a dominant, white American culture. You might not embrace it, but it was the standard. Whatever part you didn’t embrace measured you out as an oddity. That’s pretty much dead among anyone involved in the mainstream economy anymore, but a lot of people still find it disorienting and upsetting.
The rootless, nationless, transient lifestyle is deeply resented by many people. It also isn’t working well economically for a lot of people. On average, we’re doing very well, but there’s a big modal bulge that has next to zero net worth and an equal reason to believe that this vision of yours will not be to their benefit.
I firmly believe that if half the people have not benefited from democracy to any visible extent, they will vote against democracy and, well, for fascism as an alternative.
The large proportion of the population that is being left behind and effectively being told that they are worthless is a major problem. It is leading to such things as the opiod epidemic and extensive homelessness. Provisions must be made to integrate those people into the society. Those solutions might include a guaranteed basic income for all, reductions in the work week, earlier retirement, guaranteed employment, etc. There are a number of ideas out there and we need to give them a try. Some may not work. If they do not work try something else. That was the approach FDR took during the New Deal. People will adapt given the opportunity. Our present system deprives them of the opportunity.
“Our cultural stability was built on white nationalism and the systemic exploitation of those imagined to be “black.” Under that rubric, Irish Catholics, German Lutherans and Serbian Orthodox who would have been murdering each other in Europe could organize under the same political party. For its time, white nationalism was a miracle of multi-culturalism, but that time is ended and its bloody costs are coming due.”
I’ve probably referenced this before, but it fits this discussion well; I saw somewhere, where I unfortunately can’t remember and my Google skills have so far failed to relocate it, an old editorial cartoon (I believe from the late 40s) that showed Lady Liberty hovering protectively over a large group of children, saying “These are ALL MY children now!”. The children were labeled with the names of all the major European countries. Definitely a sign of progress, but I observed (unsurprisingly) no children bearing the names of any countries from Asia or Africa or Central/South America. It’s time for the 21st century version.
My very existence is a result of the various European groups putting those differences aside (good) although not for the best reasons. One of the major roots in my family tree is from the old Anglo-Saxon stock. It’s rumored to go pretty far back (and it’s something that I should start researching). But most of my heritage is from the mass post-Civil War waves of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. I refer to myself as a Euro-mongrel, and I have no doubt that some of my Anglo-Saxon ancestors would have been appalled at some of their descendants’ choices of mates. But these days people like me aren’t unusual. I’m now witnessing the next phase, as I know plenty of people who are in inter-racial marriages or have adopted children of different races. In my innermost social circles it’s no big deal, but I do know people who don’t approve of this trend, even if they’re not super vocal about it.
Is this the cartoon?
Well done! How did you find it?
Google search. I have extensive experience doing research, and you offered enough information for me to track it down.
That is a keeper!
Yes, this is special, even though it focuses solely on our Euro-immigrant roots…Don’t see Mexico or any other south American country in the crowd …. It is published out of Boston, so there is that puritan connection…
Great essay! I would like to have seen some mention of climate change as a factor in shaping the future. Surely it has at least as great an impact as technology advancement on our future, given the threat it poses to actual human existence.
1) The thing is already a rambling wreck, too long for most people to read. Just couldn’t expand it any further.
2) I suspect governments will only begin to tackle climate change in a serious way after technological advances make it easier. Another two or three years of work on solar and the coal industry might collapse. Natural gas won’t linger far behind. And Tesla is on track to ruin the auto industry.
I don’t think Tesla is going to ruin the traditional auto industry. I think it’s just a part of the cog that will do it.
I see the Electric/Hybrid Car, with Self-Driving AI, and the Uber/Lyft model of ride-sharing as killing most people’s entire purpose for owning a car, except as a hobby or investment vehicle (pun intended).
I don’t think private car ownership will ever just end altogether, but I think it will be priced out of being relevant for a lot/most people.
Imagine most car owners using their own car every now and again, while letting their car roam around giving people rides for small fees. If/when most people own self-driving cars, and are using them to earn cash on the side, there will be lots of private cars driving around by AI, earning a few dollars all day/night long, both decreasing the price for someone calling a car owned by someone else, and the desire to even bother owning a car unless it’s to earn extra money, or you like driving a car.
Personally, if Uber/Lyft was more ubiquitous and hence a little cheaper, owning a car would be more of a hassle than anything else…unless I own a self-driving AI car that I can rent for fees to others.
Hell, it’d probably be easier to own a car and let it just drive around 24/7, and just use the closest, most convenient AI car close to you for a small fee…thereby making car ownership an investment rather than a necessity, to get around by car.
I basically echo Charles, in that climate change needs to be incorporated into discussion regarding the future. Climate Change is going to be a crisis that as I’ve said before is going to “reach up and hit us upside the head with a 2X4.” It is already hitting, but it’s going to hit much harder.
I was discussing this with a friend this morning. I mentioned that I thought it would be an issue in this election, but not a major one. Her comment was that she did not think the U.S. political system would really focus on climate change until the waves start washing over FL.
I think we are already butting up against crisis re global warming. Weather extremes (looked at the Mississippi watershed river levels lately?), wind damage of all sorts, sea level acidity and rising levels, subsidence re-capturing coastal areas (Pentagon – are you really concerned about your bases?), and heat, fire, rain density that is blowing up rainful records everywhere…In America, these problems are no longer aberrant but regular. The breech in the Missouri and Arkansas Rivers are warnings to communities downstream where the MI River has been above 1927 flood levels for 136 days! For only the second time since 1923, the Morganza Spillway will be opened in LA, to relieve pressure on fragile levees bordering the MI River…
This has a direct impact on food production – land too wet to plant; too wet to get crops out; and grain silos innundated and a year’s production lost. To this, add people displaced by flooding, which drains savings, impacts jobs, impacts local, state and federal budgets in a myriad of ways, and disruption of transportation that more cost-effectively utilizes barges over more expensive rail and truck transport. (I read that one tug can push 15 barges that would require 6 locomotive engines and 210 rail cars to replicate.) These barges are not being able to navigate the MI River as the water levels are so high they don’t have clearance under bridges that span the river in many places.
And, this is just America. Disaster funding is finally approved to help, but mostly this benefits larger areas, not smaller towns and family units. Housing is lost along with stores having to shutter, which means income is stretched without replenishment. Yeah, climate change is real and it’s expensive. And, it’s being set back as this administration removes vital regulations that were put in place by the Obama administration.
So, please, let’s have this discussion about climate change and how it “is” and “will” affect our future. But, any discussion has to confront the reality of a political system that is willfully ignoring and destroying the few positive changes that were implemented. And, as stated, this is “just” America. We are a global society and what happens to crops and goods that we import, matters just as much as our own farming and industrial production.
I participate in a fb group focused on renewable and alternative forms of energy. It’s been an amazing, interesting experience. This piece was posted today and it is exactly focused on the message we need to be sharing as we change from the old to the new way of working, doing things, etc. This issue – job loss – is always the first ammunition launched by the industries that are threatened by change. We are watching it ramp up in healthcare with increased interest in Medicare for All and other iterations thereof. This issue, alternative/renewal energy, is vitally important to understand and be ready to refute expected arguments decrying job losses.