Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Practical Men And The Defunct Economist

Cover image Cover image

One of the more interesting features if the futurist community is that some members have very long memories. In an article that is now famous within the futurist community on the future of futurology in The Economist (see article), the whole art of crystal ball gazing was held up for ridicule and opprobrium. I had to chuckle to myself when I saw the cover of this weeks edition, which speaks directly to the futurist agenda.

The Economist is one of those global magazines that has a different cover for different audiences. The North American edition leads with an article on dealing with America’s fiscal hole, whilst the UK and Europe editions lead with the problem of feeding the world over the first half of this century. The contents behind each cover are identical – apart from a bit more UK content for UK readers – and the leaders link to content within the structure of the magazine.

The story about America’s fiscal hole has a leader (see leader) that outlines the opinion of the magazine, which then ties to a story of greater depth that outlines what has happened, and what may happen in the near future (see story). The same structure is followed for the story about feeding the world. A leader sets out the position of the magazine (see leader) which then ties into a more factual piece about the situation (see story).

I found these articles of interest because they speak directly to a futures agenda that we are presently following. In our view, the global economy is currently transitioning from one equilibrium (the old paradigm) to another - which we are calling the ‘New Normal’ (see previous post) – that has been caused by the financial meltdown of the past couple of years. The dominant feature of the New Normal, a period that is set to dominate between 2007 and 2020, is the high levels of public sector debt throughout the OECD nations. However, this impact of the PSBR on the global economy is likely to be set against a background of growing scarcity, in terms of Food, Energy, and Water, as we head towards ‘Peak Just-About –Everything’. Needless to say, we are calling this the ‘Age Of Scarcity’.

I found it ironic that The Economist, which had derided futurists in 2007, is now falling into a blatantly futurist agenda. It may be the case that we don’t use flying cars, and we don’t have jet packs to transport us about. We do, however, consider issues that will impact all of us in the future, and, as a serious magazine, The Economist has to address that futurist agenda. As we have been warned:

"The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." (John Maynard Keynes)

The issues covered in this post are dealt with at greater length in our forthcoming book “The Age Of Scarcity 2010-50”.

© The European Futures Observatory 2009

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