Historic and Future Economic Booms Offsetting Depressions and Disasters

Science Fiction, scenarios and visions of the future often emphasize fears and risks of collapse or depressions. Science fiction usually focuses on civilizations with major problems so that stories have tension and drama. A civilization with scarce resources is also a simple world to understand. Scenarios planners want to look at three to eight scenarios that are radically different. The implication is that the likelihood of each scenario has roughly equal probability. Scenarios with grave problems are emphasized to motivate consulting fees or massive spending to avoid the doomsday scenario. People who research an issue may also truly believe that a doomsday scenario that they study in detail has a higher probability or greater impact. This is the case with issues like Peak Oil, Global Warming or Climate Change.

There are several major offsetting positive trends and growing capabilities.

People think about the Great Depression but do not consider the post-War economic boom, PC boom, internet boom, the green revolution and the industrial revolutions. The post WW2 economic boom tripled global GDP from 1945 to 1970 (after adjusting for inflation). There has been a rough doubling (adjusted for inflation) of global GDP PPP every 25 years (1970-2020).

Economic depressions can drop GDP 25% over two to three years but they are more than offset by the economic trend to double the economy every 25 years. Technology and other improvements (shipping containers) can also provide surges in productivity.

The economic rise of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China are normalizing the economic miracle of converting poor countries into rich countries. India and ASEAN are rising now as well. Some countries in Latin America and Africa are performing better and could get onto the “economic miracle” track.

Air pollution (dust and particulates) was very bad in US, UK and western countries. The visible air pollutants have been greatly reduced since the 1970s. It can take several decades but once attention is focused to correct pollution problems, those problems are fixed. Clean energy and clean transportation solutions are clearly on track to scale across the entire world economy. Cars, trucks and buses will be completely electric around 2050. Fossil fuel energy usage will get reduced. Peak fossil fuel usage will likely arrive by 2030 and then the clean energy transition will mostly happen by 2070-2100. This reduction in absolute usage will need to counteract the doubling global GDP.

In 2020, the world produces 15 times more oil and steel production than in 1940. We make more steel and oil in a month than was used by the Allies and Axis during a year in World War 2. There was even more growth from 1870 to 1940. Will production be scaled by 15 times by 2100? That would match the move from 1940 to 2020.

What do those trends mean?

It means in 2050, five billion people in Asia will be at current East European to Western European levels of per capita income. Extreme sub-$1 per day poverty should also be mostly eliminated in Africa. Africa is struggling towards following Asia’s economic miracles.

A relatively wealthy world has the economic and technological power to more easily overcome major issues. Mass production of greenhouses is affordable to ensure a stable and abundant food supply that is resistant to external climate variability. Greater wealth means nations can afford medical systems, virus monitoring and active and rapid vaccination development. A rich population can pay for mitigation technology.

Rich and productive countries can build a lot of new things or rebuild or replace all old things. Things like the global fleet of 2 billion cars and trucks. Things like 4 billion buildings. Things like the power grid.

What are the economic and technological booms that seem certain eventual transformations?

Electrification of all vehicles.
Automation and Gigafactory productivity increase in most factories.
Space access revolution.
Space satellite revolution (mass production of sub-$1 million satellites)
Hyper-accurate GPS everywhere enabling robot productivity beyond the warehouse and factory.
Biotech revolutions. True disease cures.
Agricultural-biotech revolution. Cell-based food production will be ten times lower cost and a hundred times more productive.
Point to point travel with reusable rockets. Displacement of subsonic planes. 30 times the speed for anywhere in one hour.
Self-driving cars and trucks, small ground robots and drones for overall transportation, last mile and last foot logistics.
Greater than human intelligence AI (Expensive and narrow like self-driving but other applications). Reading and talking AIs.

Accelerated Doublings

The World GDP in PPP terms projected with 25-year doublings.
$220 trillion (2011 dollars) in 2045.
$440 trillion (2011 dollars) in 2070
$880 trillion (2011 dollars) in 2095.
This is a rough baseline of a world without technological acceleration. It if roughly comparable to the rate of progress of the last 50 years.

Nextbigfuture believes there is the booms listed above will kick in over the 2020s and have significant global economic impact from 2030-2045. This will be 50%-100% boost.

Level 1 Acceleration (one extra global doubling 2020-2045) : $440 trillion PPP GDP by 2045

Molecular Nanotechnology and hyper-advanced genetic control and next level space and antiaging should become scalable and mature for 2045-2100.

Level 2 acceleration (a second extra doubling in 2045-2070) $1760 trillion by 2070

Extra financial and technological capability means $100-500 trillion problems become inconvenient but highly manageable. It was always good to be pro-active and efficient but a stronger, resilient and richer civilization is better able to handle long term problems.

And a third extra doubling and possibly a fourth in the late 21st century

Level 3 acceleration (third extra doublings) $7040 trillion by 2095
Level 4 acceleration (fourth extra doublings) $14080 trillion by 2095.

SOURCES – Wikipedia
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

28 thoughts on “Historic and Future Economic Booms Offsetting Depressions and Disasters”

  1. Vertical indoor farming can revolutionize feeding poor people. There are lots of startups in the bay area working on robo & vertically-grown organics as a high-value / low production cost feedstock for groceries. I think the real potential is plopping a grow shipping container in the middle of the Sahara and suddenly changing the poverty/nutrition equation and giving people the space to put effort into education and skills acquisition (or at least fighting over something other than resources)

  2. Wind and solar DO NOT work everywhere. Ask Germany, they spent so much on "green" power that they are back to burning coal. Turns out that solar doesn't work where the sun doesn't shine. China has the same issue. More coal there to, evidently freezing to death isn't popular.

  3. "They ALL fell apart over a few decades."
    Interesting. I have at least *heard* of the Three Kingdoms period, but hadn't noticed that it was the same time. Can you point to some references on the problems those other regions had at the same time?

  4. I actually think the crisis of the third century is one of the most interesting events that never really get talked out in popular culture.

    According to some things I've read, the crisis extended from sub saharan Africa, through the Roman Empire, through the Persian empire, through India and the central Asian trading empires, to China, Korea, Japan, and down to various South East Asian cultures. They ALL fell apart over a few decades.
    Rome, China and Persia were unusual in that they put themselves back together after a few decades of chaos (the Three Kingdoms period in China). Most of the other places either collapsed completely, or retreated into isolation.

    And yes, Rome was arguably crippled from that point on.

  5. ' anyone who has ever stepped more than 10 miles away from the airport or westernized hotel in a 3rd world country '- that sounds like me ! I don't blame third world countries for burning coal, instead of trying to run on unreliable wind and solar. I blame first world countries for not developing cheaper nukes, so they wouldn't have to.

  6. not convinced that any technology/ knowledge pre-1600 is so brilliant and necessary to a civilization's early growth that it could not be resurrected in less than a generation's notice by a minimal number of people in a wild area of minimal resources. We did neat things with weapons, boats, and art, but otherwise, nothing fundamental if we didn't have to defend or conquer large-scale? Agriculture is easy and metal was still to come. Is a succesful civilization its population size? Would argue that it is community resilience and growth possiblity.

  7. too simplistic and tree-hugger-ish.
    Many societies level-up based on feeding their legitimate need for energy, balanced with the availability of resources and expertise to access those resources. We are making incremental steps but:
    better a rich, dirty world -than- a poor, clean one.
    Cost effectiveness must be a core driver – wind and solar before widespread industrialization in societies, such as remote african and asian communities, is economically unsustainble/ unmanagemeable — and we have 50 years of failed interventions – small and large scale – urban and rural – prove it. Absurd Polyanna-ishness or naive enviro-heroism does nothing as anyone who has ever stepped more than 10 miles away from the airport or westernized hotel in a 3rd world country will tell you.

  8. I am more worried about three things that would slow us down than the ones I see above.
    1) Low birth rates. We are not in danger of overpopulating the earth, in fact the opposite. As Japan and Europe can attest, it is hard to grow your economy with a shrinking population and more elderly than workers. We only make up for it through immigration.
    2) Political stupidity. Wars in the age of nuclear weapons, robotics, CRISPR and AI. This one is most likely except for low birth rates.
    3) Black swan events. Yellowstone is not the only super volcano. An event not much larger than a basalt flood like Eldgjá that severely reduces farming productivity for a decade. A large asteroid that comes out of the sun and hits the earth before we even know it is there. AI and automation creating a social imbalance that eliminates the ability for workers to earn a living leading to revolution. COVID-19 with a 50% mortality rate and a two week incubation time. Who knows, which is why it is called a black swan event.

  9. Depression are caused by over speculation. Prevent over-speculation with regulation, taxation and direct action and you can stop worrying about it.

  10. Or a really big coronal mass ejection hitting Earth. I believe that's more likely than a really big meteor strike, probably by several orders of magnitude?

    Hard to say if we could recover enough basic elements of the economy fast enough to not go into a death spiral.

    And the world is so crazy interdependent now, if even a few key areas collapsed, maybe the rest of the world that was starting to recover could be dragged back down by lack of resources or products from those areas.

    E.g. I'd worry about what the supply chains for electric power transformers looks like. Maybe those for electronics that control power plants or petroleum refineries or ammonia production plants.

  11. Agree 100%

    Get a copy of Deirdre McCloskey's "Leave Me Alone and I'll Make You Rich".

    She – and her co-auther Art Carden – lay out an extremely forceful and well documented case that this sort of economic "enrichment" has been happening since 1800.

    And that there is no sign that it is going to stop or diminish in the future.

  12. Most science fiction settings often have the world collapsing around them while the people seemed to do nothing. Just look at what’s been done firstly on O zone (think Highlander2) and now on CO2. Most sci-fi from the 1980’s would have London’s and New York under water by now like the people of London and New York would not bother spending money on flood defences just let their cities become the new Atlantis. In all the doom and gloom few realise in the past year or two the IPCC has had to cut its business as usual forecast ( worst case scenario) for 2100 in half because no one in their right mind is going to build hundreds of coal plants costing billions when wind turbines and solar are so cheap. Humans are very good at looking after their self interest and it’s in no one’s interest for the world to come to an end. This simple fact has already allowed us to avoid Nuclear War and save the O zone layer.

  13. Agreed. This situation is not a natural one, and we shouldn't take it for granted. It is born from the very special situation of the modern world.

    It's the result of a virtuous cycle, coming from the advances of philosophy, science, technology and the replication and specialization of such knowledge, shared into the myriads of minds that allow the human society to be resilient.

    This forms a protective or backup layer over civilization, one that other civilizations didn't have. And many perished because of it.

    Anything threatening knowledge and the search for truth (fanaticism, pseudoscience, wishful thinking, post-modernist delusions) and the freedom of people to grow and prosper is an enemy of this process, and ultimately an enemy of mankind.

  14. Never hurts to personalize the rosy future.

    Income(2016 Dollars)
    2021(cbo projections)

    Quintile 2016 2021
    Lowest 20,600 21,900
    Second 45,300 47,900
    Middle 72,500 76,700
    Fourth 109,600 116,100
    Highest 291,200 319,400


  15. No catastrophe has killed enough people to diminish the capability of modern societies to recover and grow.

    The word modern is doing a lot of the heavy lifting there. We are fairly sure that the Roman world was knocked back hard by the 365 AD tsunami and then a series of plagues to the extent that the western Roman empire never recovered.

    We know that this happened to various civilizations in the mediterranean over the couple of millennia before then.

    The Mayans. The Olmecs. The various subsaharan empires… we have lots of examples of local natural disasters that pushed societies too far to come back.

    But yes, we are currently sufficiently widespread with near independent centres of industry that it's difficult to conceive of anything short of a Chicxulub impact taking us down.

  16. The previous 5 transformations: rise of personal computing, rise of internet as a way of transmitting information products, rise of internet as means of commerce, smart phones, mobile computing; were all heavily influenced by Steve Jobs.

    Sometimes someone just gets ahead of the curve and runs as fast as he can to stay there for a while. Plus, the previous success gives the status, resources and credibility to let them jump onto the next bandwagon.

  17. The first 5 transformations are all heavily influenced by Elon Musk. Sort of Henry Ford, Edison, Westinghouse, Bell, Wright as one person.

  18. The miracle of specialization and division of work, joined with having more brains and hands to do the many things required for a virtuous cycle of growth.

    No catastrophe has killed enough people to diminish the capability of modern societies to recover and grow.

    That may change, though, if we continue on considering new lives as too expensive, too cumbersome or too damaging for the environment to continue producing them.


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