Where are we headed, Americans?
My favorite genre of science fiction is hard-core near-future fiction. The best masters of the genre known to me are Kim Stanley Robinson and Neal Stephenson. The trick is to look at the kind of things we have now – technology, government, geo-politics – and to extrapolate them into the near future and see what happens.
One example: We already have strong carbon-fiber-reinforced polymers, so we can relatively safely assume that in 50 years we’ll have super-strong carbon-fiber composites. What will we do with them? Maybe build a space elevator. This, in turn, leads to easier access to the mineral potential of asteroids, which then leads to great power competition in space, etc., etc. See? You have a story right there.
Another example: We have pretty cool 3D printers. What if we had much better ones that could synthesize things at the molecular or even the atomic level? It would be something like the replicators in Star Trek. A feed of raw organic material would flow in, and out flow spaghetti carbonara and leather gloves. Add in a cheap energy source, and suddenly you have a true post-scarcity society. What would that do to the world?
The trick is to extend current trends. No magic. No time travel, no faster-than-light spaceships, no aliens, just current trends on steroids.
So let’s try to apply this technique to America. Remember, no magic: No revolutions, secessions, regime changes, or alien landings. Only current trends and their extrapolation.
America’s core demography of European-originated Americans had amounted to 90%-85% of the entire population throughout most of America’s history. However, things began to change in 1965, when the Hart-Celler Act opened America’s gates to mass immigration from the Third World. Based on the latest census data, European-Americans amount now to a mere 59% of the population.
Should this trend continues, as it most likely will, by 2050 European Americans, whites, will be a minority.
Let’s continue to extrapolate on this. What kind of country will this be when whites are no longer the majority? Will America retain any affinity to the West? Will Americans feel any commitment to their founding institutions, all created by Anglo-Protestants? Will the Asian-black-Hispanic majority see itself reflected in the faces of the nation’s monuments? In the biographies of its historical leaders? In its ancient traditions of the common law, of limited government, and of constitutional restraint? In its classical esthetic?
The nation’s debt is at a fantastic $28 trillion. Annual spending is at $7T. It was recently suggested that we pass an “infrastructure” bill of another $7T. These figures are so horrific that in Lovecraftian fashion most minds are unable to correlate them lest the full horror is revealed like the moon-cursed figure of Cthulhu.
America does not make much anymore. While manufacturing’s share of GDP has dropped globally, America’s share of manufacturing is one of the lowest in the world amongst the great economies, at 11% of GDP. In Germany and Japan, by contrast, the share is about 22%.
Instead, American financialization has exploded. The FIRE sector – finance, insurance, and real estate – now consists of 20% of our GDP, by comparison to only 10% in the late 40s.
What does that mean? Quite a bit. It’s enough to note that a) An economy based on making things creates a wide base of middle-class jobs – engineers, middle-managers, quality specialists, manufacturing experts, etc; B) Such an economy also cultivates important know-how – how to make engines, aircraft, spaceships, televisions, computer chips, tractors.
In contrast, a financialized debt-based economy creates extremely well-paying jobs for a small minority of consultants, bankers, attorneys, and accountants. The rest share the scraps of the services sector. In addition, key know-how is lost or non-existent.
Extrapolate into the future. What if manufacturing goes down to 5% and FIRE blows up to 30%? Will we stand a chance in the approaching space age? Will we have the ability to compete with the engineering ingenuity of rival powers? Without a large middle class, are we still a nation of citizen-custodians, or simply an oligarchy where the fortunate coastal few look down on the masses in the hinterlands? With a crushing national date whose due date will finally arrive, will we be able to take on any advanced projects?
Without getting into the complex causes behind the decline in American competence, it’s enough to point out how obvious that decline is.
Our cities used to not have human feces littering their sidewalks, now they do.
Our cities used to not include vast tent encampments, strewn with used needles, now they do.
Our ancestors had completed the Manhattan Project, the Hoover Dam, the Eisenhower Expressways, and the Apollo Project in record time. We could not even leave Afghanistan without gifting that country’s government of terrorists billions of dollars in military equipment.
California, ever-enthusiastic for the idea of grand public projects, has found itself stuck with the skeletal remains of its half-aborted high-speed rail project, that it does not have the competence to complete. California’s port of Los Angeles is a clogged-up manual 18th-century dock by comparison to the hi-tech ports of Rotterdam and Shanghai.
So where are we headed? Fast forward five decades and extend the above trends in your mind. Are we headed towards a Jetsons-like society of a hi-tech middle class, buzzing around in personal jets high up in a cloud city? Probably not. Are we headed towards a Star Trek society of gallant officers fluent in Latin, knowledgeable in history, and well versed in the sciences? Doesn’t look like it. Are we going to be capable of building a base on the moon and controlling Earth’s key orbital Lagrange points? Sorry!
Most likely we are headed towards a third-world reality. If it’s any comfort, not dirt-poor third-world like Burkina Faso, but upper third-world like Brazil or Mexico. For the globalized rich it shouldn’t matter much. Brazil is well-equipped with gated communities, private security, and a network of helipads to allow its great and good to hop above the insufferable dysfunction of the bumper-to-bumper city centers. A rich Brazilian can easily pretend he lives in London or Beverly Hills.
For the average Brazilian, however, the reality is violently different. And for Brazil as a whole, things are not great – a nation doomed to perpetual dysfunction, only modest achievement, an idiotic and vulgar popular culture, and an economy based not on advanced services and products, but on the export of raw materials and food.
As wryly noted by Niels Bohr, predictions are very difficult, especially about the future. So who knows? Perhaps the unexpected will occur. But assuming current trends continue undisturbed, it’s a third-world after all. My advice to you – be rich.
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