We Have Reason for Optimism

Most every article about our future is gloomy. There are all these old people, for instance. When the herds of Baby Boomers retire and our nation is awash in codgers, will we be able to make fat free soylent green? And our education levels are abysmal. What if tomorrow’s youth are too bad at math to design evil robot overlords? We’ll have to import robot overlords from China, and that’ll put a bunch of factory workers our of jobs. So our economy will tank.

When pundits wallow in depressing forecasts they often fall prey to a major fallacy. Namely, to project problems we have today onto the future without the ability to foresee their solutions.

Imagine how horrified a bureaucrat from 1880 would be if we traveled back in time and told him present-day America has over 300 million people. For starters, how could the Pony Express possibly keep up with that much junk mail? We’d have to cordon off Kansas as one giant grazing lot. By 19th century standards there wouldn’t be enough arable farmland in the entire country to support 300 million people. Everyone would be chronically malnourished!

So his vision of the future would be a horrible dystopia, with mass starvation and hordes of Pony Express riders spitting chewing tobacco all over the place. Instead of our current horrible dystopia of mass obesity and not one but three Kardashians.

Our hypothetical number cruncher is capable of projecting then-present shortfalls and the technology of that era, but he is not capable of factoring in future inventions and solutions. He cannot foresee tractors radically improving agricultural efficiency, automobiles replacing horses, Segways replacing automobiles, hover tractors replacing Segways, the Internet replacing brothels, or MTV2 replacing MTV.

Between now and 2050 there will be game changers. That makes forecasting an exercise in futility. So keep your spirits up: we may well perfect delicious, fat free soylent green before Social Security taps out.

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