News and views from New Zealand
Visions of the future – Dennis Dorney
This world in 2036 through a murky crystal
The earth is about 4.5billion years old and can expect to last several billion years more before it is swallowed whole when the sun grows to become a red giant. Life began after 3.7 billion years, and given how stubborn life is, once it had the initial spark it was destined to endure for a very long time.
Whether man is so lucky is another story. Homo sapiens has been around for a mere 200,000 years and became dominant only after the last ice age, when humanity learned all the neat tricks that led on to civilisation. As for the future, I think civilisation, as we know it, probably has no more than 50 years to run. There are a number of plausible ends, most of which are avoidable and which, if not avoided will destroy mankind only, leaving this beautiful planet to recover from our brief intrusion.
The one ‘end’ that might obliterate every large animal and most growing plants on earth is WW3, in which every single nuclear weapon is detonated, so any attempt to save the planet must start with the assumption that disabling of all nuclear weapons has occurred. It is then possible to think how the world might look in twenty years time. Why 2036? Because if the remedies that I suggest have not happened by then, it will no longer matter.
The population explosion
We have been ignoring laws of Nature that evolved over millennia for our common good. A diverse ecosystem is essential for a healthy planet. Because we are omnivores, who will eat any- thing, it is not immediately obvious what damage our monoculture farming is doing. We can eat everything in the food chain.
My guess is that we need to reduce population by a third to give the rest of the ecosystems a chance. No one talks about this topic – of course. When the “Titanic” was sinking and there were enough lifeboats to save only half the passengers, to their credit they worked out for themselves who should be saved. If we are not so brave, the matter may be taken out of our hands. The Black Death of the 1340’s killed about half of Europe’s population.
The end of the Energy Age
Since I have assumed that WW3 will not happen, I must hope, without conviction, that this also means the end of all the lesser, interminable wars that large powers pursue for purely selfish reasons. Since war must be one of the largest energy consumers (both military transport and armaments) the effect on world fuel consumption will be significant.
By 2036 another major user of fuel, the international tourist, on which NZ pins such faith, will be priced out of exist- ence. It is both morally and financially indefensible to fly in thousands of tourists to NZ simply to take ‘selfies’ outside Dunedin Railway Station.
However the biggest change of all will be the advent of the self-driving electric car. By 2036 the petrol-driven car will be economically obsolete. A new car has a life span of 20 years and will have no value in 2036, so why buy one? You won’t even buy an electric one – they will be available for hire on call to your
door. Because they are not owned by you and are simple to make they will all be virtually identical and made in Australia/NZ in Government owned factories.
Taxing the robots
By 2036 the government will have totally revamped its taxation system. The principle being that undesirable items, such as sugar- or alcohol- laced food and drink will be heavily taxed (and cigarettes will have been totally banned). There will be no tax on personal income (which is effectively a tax on work). However there will be a universal basic income (UBI) and also a maximum wage.
A tax on production, but not food, will be levied; which means that the cost of unemployment caused by automation can be funded to a degree by the robots themselves, but the government will go further.
Buoyed by the success of its electric car industry, the government will opt to take its tax on production in the form of shares in the industrial companies, so that over a period, it will become a partner in industry. Whether the factories employ people or robots will become irrelevant. Unemployment will eventually become zero – those who are happy to live on a basic wage will be able to do so, and those who want to work will have that choice. Employment in involving research activities will become popular, and will be well supported by the government (who will become the owners of all research output).
The end of the rentier class
Ever since the 1970’s the deregulated banks have failed to provide adequate financial support to industry because issuing mortgages to the public is more profitable and less risky. The involvement of government in research and industry had a useful side effect in providing the support that the banks have refused.
It is still possible for people to speculate with their savings but the chances of competing against government investment is slim, so that it is safer to put personal savings into long term investment accounts. And the safest of these will be made available by a national bank, owned and operated by the state.
Following the next global financial crash (possibly in 2018), the private banks will be required, as the price of their survival, to stop advancing loans for unproductive purposes and to accept a far more stringent level of regulation.
Those who decline to do so will be declared insolvent and taken into public ownership. All subsequent bank loans to be advanced on the basis of each bank’s own resources, with bank service fees determined in a manner which does not reduce the standard of living of the majority of citizens at the expense of those at the top of the scale of income and wealth.
….and what about climate change?
There must be a dozen different ways that we can, through our foolishness, destroy civilisation. I have highlighted one, the nuclear winter, which is capable of destroying most life on this earth. Another, overpopulation (with its subset of starvation, water pollution, mass migrations, plague) I mention because I doubt that humanity as a whole has, or will have, the will to fix it.
Most other disasters can be fixed, given time.
I have covered lightly economic prob- ems that exist now (energy usage, automation, unemployment, debt and banking malpractice) but these can be fixed if we are determined and I have suggested how.
I have not mentioned climate change because we can’t fix it in the time available; it will not destroy our planet but it may bring down our civilisation. It is beyond the range of my crystal ball, but by 2036 we will see the future clearly. The suggestions I have made may be useful then. Or maybe not.
Dennis Dorney is a regular contributor living in New Zealand, and is an ERA member.