A Prosperous New World?
Things are getting much better – honest | The Times (£)
The world economy growing by more than 5 per cent this year (nearly ten times as fast as it shrank in 2009) means more customers for our exports and more investment elsewhere in things that can improve our lives too — such as cancer cures or self-clearing runways.
Despite the great recession, the per capita GDP of the average human being — that is to say, the value of goods and services consumed in a year — is now just over $11,000, up from about $8,500 (in today’s dollars) at the start of the century. If it continues to increase at this rate of just under 3 per cent a year, as it has more than done for 60 years, then by the year 2050 the average citizen of Earth will be earning and spending more than $30,000 a year in today’s money, roughly the same as the average American spends now. By 2100 it will be nearly $150,000 a year, five times what an American now consumes.
This is almost unimaginable — Africans and Afghans having the disposable income of today’s Americans within the lifetime of our children.
What is growth? It means fulfilling more needs and more wants with a smaller amount of work. In 1900, a kilowatt-hour of electricity cost an hour of work for somebody on the average wage; it costs five minutes today.
The root cause of growth is the mixing of ideas;...
Growth has a strange and telling feature. While in individual countries it jumps up and down, in the world as a whole it shows an inexorable steadiness. Suppress it in one place and it surges elsewhere. Just as the mandarins who served the Ming emperors once sent prosperity into European exile by erecting barriers to enterprise, so the eurocrats who serve Emperor Herman Van Rompuy are now returning the favour.
Millions of people you will never meet contributed to making for you each of the objects you use in your everyday life. Far from being a selfish creed, growth spreads collaboration.
Moreover, with growth come other benefits. As people get richer so they demand that more money and attention be paid to what were once luxuries: clean water, clean air, clean energy and biodiversity. So it is not just child mortality and family size that fall rapidly with wealth; pollution and habitat destruction come tumbling down once incomes pass a level of about $8,000 a head. More and more countries are passing that threshold right now. Watch as India and China get interested in saving tigers and pandas — hopefully just in time. Watch as genetic engineers revive the dodo and the thylacine: that is the kind of luxury that great wealth can buy.
Not everything will go right. Because we are human, there will be wars, recessions and disasters, but just as the recent crisis failed to derail world growth, so it is unlikely that the great existential threats that each generation so warmly clutches to its pessimistic bosom will blow away this inexorable boom. Doom after doom, from eugenic deterioration of the race to the collapse of computers at the millennium, has turned out to be a mirage.
Climate change looks set to continue to happen too slowly to reach a dangerous pace. Fossil fuels, far from running out, will prove sufficiently abundant to fuel even the super-prosperity of this century, before giving way to cheaper forms of energy as scarcity eventually drives up their price. Great plagues, asteroids and vengeful superintelligent computers are all possible, but improbable.
At this dark, cold, austere moment, take a little cheer from the question: what could go right?