By Karl Arnold Belser
02 September 2013
I suspect that the world is entering into an era of steady state economy as I stated in my initial post READING LIST FOR AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE. My suspicions were based on my own (but not very scientific) observations.
Robert J Gordon's article Is US Economic Growth Over? gives data supporting the idea that growth in standard of living may be slowing. The article The Blip by benjamin Wallace-Wells gives a good discussion of the pros and cons of the end of economic growth. Both of these articles fail to succinctly state the criteria for growth, and these articles are worth reading before continuing with this post.
Standard of living is often equated with income. Income per se does not cause happiness, and I think happiness might be the appropriate measure for one's quality of life, and of what might be acceptable in a steady state economy. Quality of life might improve even though the standard of living might not. Can the world be in a steady state economy in income terms ans still be growing with the happiness measure? I think that the answer is YES.
What in the world am I talking about? I have essentially the same standard of living as did my parents some 50 years ago. In fact my house, the kitchen, the bathrooms, the bedrooms, the laundry, and the garden are essentially the same. I have a high standard of living because my house and relative income are as large as my parent's were. However, if I compare my standard of living to my grand parents I live in absolute luxury. If I project how my grand children will live, I am probably living in a luxury that they may never see. My own experience is that the peak in average standard of living has occurred some time ago. I believe that this circumstance does not predict a reduction in happiness.
What is different? I am visually impaired. Hence I do not go out much, except for exercise, because I cannot drive and it takes a lot of time to ride the bus. Hence my focus in life is in things that I can do at home. I have a large wood-working shop that I have used a lot in the past. Today I focus on the computer screen that sits before me.
The difference shows up in how I spend my time. I spend a lot of time reading and studying using the Internet. I support several websites and write periodically on the Uncertain Future Blog. I truly like what I am doing and I don't need a large space to do what I do and to be happy. I suspect that this is the future trend, namely small, but comfortable living spaces in which much of the human activity is via the Internet.
I visited Hong Kong in March of this year and I was profoundly moved by the experience and I cannot explain exactly why. I could imagine happily living there even though I would have a very small dwelling and be immersed in a complicated and interconnected society. I suspect that my feelings are a subconscious recognition of what the future might bring.
I note, however, an increase in urban complexity and interdependence on infrastructure would probably make the world living situation more fragile. If the food, water, garbage, energy, Internet or health care systems fail in some way, a catastrophic outcome might occur. Hence I suspect that a steady state future might make living less robust to Black Swan events.
As an inventor I ask the question: Is there a dense, urban organization or structure that would be more robust than the urban sprawl we have in the world today? Could cities become entities that are not particularly dependent on each other or on the nation as a whole? Might this change happen elsewhere in the world, if the United States is incapable of adaptation?
Last updated September 3, 2013
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