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Future: Economic Peril or Prosperity? Offers Message of “Cautious Optimism”



Fifty years from now innovations in technology and commerce will have brought tremendous progress in the material well-being of people from all income levels, but a world of widespread prosperity is not a sure thing: Although unlikely, taxation, regulation, cronyism, and/or public hostility to wealth creation could greatly undermine or even eviscerate the ability and willingness of entrepreneurs and businesses to deliver life-enhancing advancements to the marketplace.

This message of “cautious optimism” is a major theme of the new book, Future: Economic Peril or Prosperity?, edited by economists Robert M. Whaples, Christopher J. Coyne, and Michael C. Munger.

“The question is whether our economic future will be one of prosperity or one of peril,” says Whaples. “The contributors to this book answer in the affirmative—most likely it will be one of prosperity, but there are many perils lurking. And we all have a say in the matter—individually and in the policies enacted by those we elect.”

Published by the Independent Institute, Future offers insights from eighteen economists and the humorist P. J. O’Rourke, who not only predict the state of the economy in 2066, but also offer guidelines on how to think about the future in a world of uncertainty.

As O’Rourke notes in his chapter, not all predictions are created equal: Nostradamus and Marx are famous for having made predictions, but they were prescient only in the same way that a broken clock is “accurate” twice a day. Fortunately, the contributors to Future stay well within the bounds of established scientific and economic thought.

Here is a taste of the fruits of progress they say we are likely to enjoy in 2066:

  • World poverty will be one-half of today’s level. Economic freedom in the developing world will be a major catalyst for progress.
  • The “sharing economy” will turn almost every product into an asset with income-earning potential; prices will decline; and a profound transformation of the customer-producer relationship will change the very nature and meaning of work.
  • Software will play an even more critical role than today; everyday products will be programmed to automatically respond to human needs; households will be able to sell surplus electricity to the smart grid; and the reduction of energy usage will reduce the human impact on the environment.

Here are a few of the potential obstacles to abundance:

  • Even after Social Security and Medicare are reformed, U.S. government spending may reach as high as 25 percent of GDP, diverting scarce capital away from productive use in the private sector.
  • The regulatory state may extend its reach even deeper into the economy, harming opportunity and prosperity; if the government extracts a growing share of private wealth, the economy will grow more captive to special interests and remain susceptible to the cycle of boom and bust.
  • With the growth in prosperity, civic engagement may plummet. As more people become complacent, fewer will work to secure the economic liberties, personal freedoms, and equal rights that helped create a world of prosperity.

Future: Economic Peril or Prosperity? is the newest addition to the Independent Institute’s award-winning multimedia program. To stay informed about our latest publications and commentary, subscribe to our weekly newsletter, The Lighthouse.

 

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