Read the Future

Last week I dropped my crystal ball and was disconnected from the Cloud, to say nothing of the future. Never mind; it didn’t work very well anyway. But I have found four powerful instances that tell us a lot about what the future could and should be. These come from actual books, that mature technology that will never be obsolete, in contrast to what you are reading on right now.

Especially together, these four books do more to tell us about the possible future than anything else I’ve seen in the past five years or so. These aren’t hypotheses; their findings equip us with valid information about how things actually work, much of which contradicts common beliefs. We should pay attention, because this better reality tells us where we are going wrong, and what we should be doing instead. Here’s a quick synopsis, with more to follow later.

These four books tell us more
about the future than anything else
I’ve seen in the past five years.

Let’s start with The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker. The surprising finding reported in this book is that something resembling actual civilization seems to be settling over humanity. Violence of all kinds is on a long downward trend, although you’d never know it from the news. We spend less time warring; crime is down; we no longer think it’s great amusement to torture animals to death; we have no tolerance for domestic abuse, and much more. Some experts say Pinker overstated the case, but it appears the trend is real even so.

Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, is a new book that reviews civilization in economic terms from the dawn of agriculture. The significant overall finding is that political-economic structures they call “extractive” create excessive poverty, and frequently bring about the downfall of the society itself. Extractive societies are characterized by a small controlling class that gains its great wealth at the expense of everyone else.

It doesn’t take a genius to see
that our current economy is
an anti-democratic recipe for disaster.

The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, is a review of many of the world’s nations with an eye to their level of equality, with particular attention given to places where the level of equality changed for one reason or another. Their central finding was that greater equality has a positive effect on virtually every social condition that might be imagined.

And last but not least, The New Economics, by David Boyle and Andrew Simms, presents evidence for the necessity to develop new economic structures for a changing world, shows some that have already proven to be successful, and suggests some future directions.

It doesn’t take a genius to see what this might mean. Nor does it take a genius to see that our current economy, in which great wealth is growing exponentially while poverty and inequality is worsening, is an anti-democratic recipe for disaster.

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