The best prediction of the past 20 years

Scott Sumner asks, well, just what was the best prediction 20 years ago about what the future would hold?

Strangely, it\’s this.

The best prediction that could have been made 20 years ago is that things can only get better. That\’s also the best prediction that can be made now about the future and has been the best prediction that anyone can make about two decades in the future ever since we invented this liberal capitalism shtick back in 1750.

There\’s the occasional stutter along the way, to be sure. 1914-18 was not exactly a great time but life was better in 1925 than it was in 1905. \’39-45 doesn\’t go down in anyone\’s list as a pleasant time but 1955 was better than 1935 (that period encompassed the mass manufacturing of the first properly effective antibiotics, penicillin and streptomycin (allowing TB to be treated) for example).

There are places that opted out of this trend as well: 1917-1991 in Russia was not notably a leap forward in human civilisation.

Nordhaus brackets the growth of real wages over the past century as somewhere between a 20-fold and a 100-fold increase. Alan Greenspan….has suggested adjustments of the statistics that lead to an estimate of a thirty-fold increase of material wealth over the past century. (DeLong 2001)

Sadly, as we know, that song was then used by New Labour as a campaign song and they\’ve then spent 12 years desperately trying to disprove the very notion. But this too shall pass and the best is yet to come.

9 comments on “The best prediction of the past 20 years

  1. There are places that opted out of this trend as well: 1917-1991 in Russia was not notably a leap forward in human civilisation.

    Not a notable leap forward, but an improvement: Czarist Russia was a feudal despotism with regular mass peasant starvation; Stalinist Russia was a totalitarian despotism with deliberate mass peasant starvation; but the post-Stalin USSR was a dysfunctional totalitarian bureaucracy with just adequate levels of food, shelter, healthcare and education, although not very much else.

    (admittedly, the 20-year rule would’ve been wrong for Russia 1917-1937)

  2. I imagine that the glorious future of capitalism were a huge comfort to the Africans carted off as slaves for the benefit of , amongst many others ,the Gladstone family. The history of early global trade is not a pretty one.

    In September 476 AD, the last Roman emperor of the west, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed ushering an age often called “Dark”. This was not because it has generally been seen as an improvement so things do not ‘always get better’ even when a system seems eternal and with better reason than Liberal Capitalism ( why 1750 ?).

    Catastrophic events are rare but right now when the worldis perched on an inverted pyramid of debt , suppose the Middle East really kicks off ? It could always get worse.

    ‘post-Stalin USSR was a dysfunctional totalitarian bureaucracy with just adequate levels of food, shelter, healthcare and education .’

    The question is was it possible for Imperial Russia to have reformed . Dunno but its hard to see how Russia could have devised a worse path even if in the end they are half a turnip ahead of a 19th century peasant. No surprise to see John B apologising for Stalin .

  3. No surprise to see John B apologising for Stalin

    John B said: Stalinist Russia was a totalitarian despotism with deliberate mass peasant starvation

    A ringing endorsement indeed.

  4. john b – “Not a notable leap forward, but an improvement: Czarist Russia was a feudal despotism with regular mass peasant starvation”

    Sorry but when was the last mass peasant starvation in Tsarist Russia? At least Tsarist Russia could feed its own population in normal times – and didn’t have to keep them locked in to prevent them running away.

    “the post-Stalin USSR was a dysfunctional totalitarian bureaucracy with just adequate levels of food, shelter, healthcare and education, although not very much else.”

    And psychiatric prisons for dissidents. Still didn’t let people leave the country freely. Didn’t let them read books by foreigners. Didn’t even dare to let them read books by dead Russians like Dostoyevsky.

    Tsarist Russia was preferable in every way.

  5. The problem is that the parts of our lives open to the market might be improving. We are getting richer and the world is getting better fed. But the parts that are not, like everything to do with the government, is getting worse.

    I defy anyone to suggest that policing or the NHS or teaching has gotten better over the past 20 years. Or that dealing with any branch of the bureaucracy has become better.

  6. “But this too shall pass and the best is yet to come.”

    As long as don’t bugger it up by kowtowing to the Eco-fascists, and as long as we don’t elect too many more Labour governments, and as long as we don’t cripple ourselves with ‘elf n’safety.

  7. john b, noted Stalin fancier, apparently thinks it’s just find that communism killed 10’s of millions of people more than starvation or war — on purpose — because it the bureacracy functioned a bit better. What a product of the government school and mass media lie factories.

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