Important: I am a computer scientist, not an economist or sociologist. So please take everything written here with a grain of salt - as always. Some of the information is based on educated guesses, other statements are wild assumptions. Furthermore, I am sharing my thoughts about society and economy for mainly two reasons:
- I need to write out my current world view. It might be interesting to myself in the future to look back on my way of thinking back when I was 30 years old. So consider this to be part of my political & economical diary.
- Some of my readers or the people I worked with might actually be interested to know how I look at the world. But that's probably the first wild assumption being made here ;)
While I am writing this blog post, I look out of an airplane window. Right after the plane took off, I overlooked a forest close to the airport of Cologne/Bonn with many spots of rotten and dead trees. A couple of minutes later, while the plane is cruising at around 10.000 metres above the ground, it's impossible for me to see a place where humans have not left their mark, where nature has not been touched.
What I observe: Rivers are straightened, forests are cut down, huge cities are everywhere and there is not a single spot without human intervention. Granted, I am flying above Western Europe and the sight might be completely different compared to the vast wilderness of Siberia (Namely, I'd see endless forest fires).
The point I try to make is that human progress and the advance of civilization on our planet imposes a huge amount of stress on the natural environment.
Resources such as living space, food, water and energy are scarce, meanwhile the human population is growing. Of course, the growth rate has decreased and projections assume the human population to be ceiling at the end of the 21st century at around 10.9 billion people.
Nevertheless, the human greed to own more and more material goods is not going to stop anytime soon. On the contrary, every damn person on this planet wants a car, a house and three vacations by airplane every year. There are roughly 1 billion people from the rich first world that are used to this lifestyle. But at the same time, the first world is deeply afraid of what happens when the other 7 billion catch up (Ignoring the fact, that this race is already in full progress).
In this blog post, I try to sketch what problems the earth has to overcome in the next 30, 50 and 100 years. While I am fully aware that it is notoriously difficult to make long term projections, I try to give it a naive go here.
In order to have some structure, I divide my essay into the following four sections:
- Climate Crisis
- Globalisation & Economy
- Geopolitics & War
- Advance of Medicine & Technology
It's relatively easy to proof that there is more CO2 in the atmosphere due to human influence . CO2 atoms that originate from fossil fuels (and thus the ground) are depleted in natural radioactive Carbon-14, because the half-life is with roughly 5730 years relatively low. Put differently, if we measure the amount of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere without a radioactive Carbon-14 atom, we can observe the effect of human produced fossil fuel emissions.
The question whether this increase in carbon-dioxide and methane emissions also causes the climate crisis, is harder to answer. But even if the climate change theory is just a theory and we give the deniers the benefit of doubt (after all, it's hard to prove that the climate crisis is fully man-made), it's an undeniable fact that the earth is heating up at an alarming pace.
This increase in temperature causes a myriad of primary problems:
- Heat waves and the suffering of humans under heat domes and subsequent wild fires
- The melting of glaciers and the ice on the north pole and Antarctic
- Huge wildfires such as the ones from 2021 in Russia/Siberia which in turn increase the emission of CO2
- Other extreme weather events such as floods, hurricanes, storms, ...
- The increase of the sea level and the endangerment of countries whose territories are close to the sea level
The past has shown that many countries on the planet have very little means to protect their population from climate disasters. Most recently, tropical storms and earthquakes (Earthquakes are no consequence of climate-change of course) in Haiti caused many thousand climate refugees that are headed to the US border, even though the US under the Biden administration is reluctant to allow any refugee to enter the country.
Projections show that we have to expect millions of climate refugees from the southern hemisphere pushing into northern countries. On Sept. 13, 2021, the updated Groundswell report from the Worldbank predicts that up to 216 million people across six world regions are forced to move due to climate change within their countries. The report states that by 2050, Sub-Saharan Africa could see as many as 86 million internal climate migrants; East Asia and the Pacific, 49 million; South Asia, 40 million; North Africa, 19 million; Latin America, 17 million; and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 5 million.
As a German, I can say that the Syrian Civil war (Surely not caused by climate change) and migration due to other reasons that lead to the arrival of 1.5 million refugees in Germany almost tore the German society apart. As a result, the far right political party AFD emerged and to this day has widespread support in the German society. (12.5% and 10% of all Germans voted for them in 2017 and 2021). It's relatively safe to say that Germany will not overcome another major refugee movement (major = More than 2 million refugees) without civil-war-like violent outbursts.
The same applies to many other rich European countries. Most European societies are very fragile and the relatively high prosperity is standing on thin legs. We can already see a fortification of the European coastlines and refugee streams are already used politically by countries such as Turkey. To be fair, Turkey took with 4 million refugees the majority of Syrian migrants and the political pressure against Europe is somewhat understandable in this context.
The question begs to be answered: If the collapse of a relatively small nation such as Syria causes so much trouble in the refugee-absorbing nations such as Turkey and Germany, what will happen if entire geographical regions become gradually more inhabitable? Of course this will be a slow and continuous process over the next 50 years, but we can already observe it in certain parts of the world:
The recent heat wave in Summer 2021 and in 2020 on the North American West-Coast and the lack of water supply motivated already quite some people to pack up and leave elsewhere (Montana for example). The New York Times wrote about this anticipated refugee waves in the US last year and predicts that 13 million Americans will be forced to move away from submerged coastlines. Add to that the people contending with wildfires and other risks, and the number of Americans who might move — though difficult to predict precisely — could easily be tens of millions larger.
In the Sahel zone, the rainy seasons are growing shorter and the dry seasons are getting longer. In 2010, a draught was particularly arduous. It is estimated to have killed more than 4.8 million head of cattle In Niger, roughly 25% of the herd.
Climate change in the Caribbean poses a major threat to the islands in the Caribbean. The largest environmental changes are the rise in sea level, stronger hurricanes, longer dry seasons and shorter wet seasons. Studies said that climate change may make extreme hurricane rainfall 5 times more likely.
It has to be mentioned that it's scientifically not accurate to state that people flee only because of climate change reasons. It's often a complicated mix of socio-economic factors. Natural disasters might be only the icing of the cake. For example, the natural environment of the Gulf nations would be an impossible living environment for a economically weaker civilisation that depends on agriculture and low-level manufacturing.
But it poses no risk to the extremely rich Gulf nations that only export crude oil and oil products and import everything else, including their work-force. But still, it's utter ecological madness to create cities such as Dubai in such inhospitable regions.
Globalisation & Economy
We are close to the year 2022 and it's safe to say that our world is thoroughly globalized. Maybe the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the acceleration of the Globalisation, but in the big picture, you can barely see the COVID-19 pandemic dent in the upwards trend.
I think it's fair to say that it doesn't really matter where your live on this planet if you earn enough money (maybe enough money constitutes an income > 50.000 EUR). You surely need to exclude both tails of the world's countries - the poorest and richest - because that amount of money will get you nowhere in New York and you most likely don't want to live in Somalia either. But everywhere else, in totally average countries such as Bulgaria, Malaysia, Argentina or Germany, you will be set with that income.
You can have a decent life in a gated community in the Democratic Republic of Congo if you earn 50.000 EUR/year and you can have a shitty life in Germany if you earn 20.000 EUR/year. Of course, Germany might save you from starvation and becoming homeless and the Democratic Republic of Congo won't (I am guessing), but my general point still stands: It mostly doesn't matter where you live on this planet, it only matters how much money you make.
So how does the future economy and work force look like?
I am convinced that inequality will become even greater in the future. If you come from nothing, It's extremely hard to find a good and high-income job that allows you to build basic wealth. And by basic wealth, I mean the ability to own a decent house and a decent car and the ability to support your family. On the other hand, if you are already wealthy, it's easy to maintain your wealth.
Work won't make you rich. Working merely prevents you from immediate death by starvation and exposure to the elements, but not anything else. In many parts of the Western World, a 40 hour minimum wage job doesn't even give you enough money to rent a one bed room apartment. So those jobs are designed to be done by people that don't have to pay rent, or if they have to, they will need to work 3 of those minimum-wage jobs just to have a roof over the head. It's utter madness.
If you want to become wealthy in the 21st century, you have to do one of the following:
- Be already wealthy
- Inherit wealth
- Be extremely smart/talented AND lucky and become rich by yourself with start-up ideas, art, music, sports, fashion, ...
For example, If you own real estate and stocks, your assets have more than doubled in the past couple of years. For Millenials such as me, even though I have a relatively good job, it's utterly impossible to buy a normal house. A normal house costs 700.000 EUR where I live (Cologne / Germany). Those exact houses did cost 200.000 EUR ten years ago. How are you supposed to compete with those rising prices? All you can do as a person in that situation is to hope for an economic crash like the one from 2009.
35 year old Los Angeles resident here, I just barely squeaked in on a $790k house in 2019 and I was only able to get it because I was the first one there and put in an offer quickly (the seller’s agent and seller had a falling out so no other buyers were considered).
I’m still renovating it, house is and was a complete disaster. I’ve had to redo the entire house from the roof all the way down to the plumbing and everything in between. $100k+ deep now and still going. My mortgage payment is $3,600/month all in but I have a tenant that gives me $1,500 rent so that helps. Even in these two years, I can sell this house for $1.3m easy. It’s fucking madness out there.
For example, I am currently 30 years old and if I want to buy a normal house for 700.000 EUR, I will need to work for 60 years as of now. I will have cleared my debt at the ripe age of 90 years old. And that's not going to happen.
Sure, some people did risk it and bought those houses with a little down-payment and a huge mortgage and ended up with a houses that doubled in price in the past 3-5 years, but for me, it does not make sense to get massively into debt for a house that increased massively in price. Of course, the interest rates are extremely low right now and the inflation relatively high, so future debt is worth much less. But I am still hesitant.
I mean just have a look on the house price index in Germany:
Does this look normal to you? The prices are increasing more and more.
As of now, my only strategy that I came up with is to move away from Germany and move to a place with cheaper rent and lower taxes such as Eastern Europe / Turkey / South America / South East Asia. I can always come back to Germany (or other parts of the Western World) when the baby-boomers start to die off (which will start to accelerate in the late 2020s and early 2030s).
Of course I could also relocate to a more affordable region in the German East or countryside in order to save rent costs. But honestly, the German countryside does feel more alien to me than a city such as Bangkok or Buenos Aires.
Of course, when I move to more affordable regions in the world and I keep working remotely for companies in the rich West & North, I will be responsible for prices going up for locals. So instead of me getting fucked over in Germany, I will be the one that fucks over the local people. But in this capitalistic hell hole of an planet, that's all you can do anyhow.
There seems to be a general trend in the world:
Everything that has tangible value, such as real estate and stocks, will increase in price. There is a massive fight for resources. Nobody wants to save money, because inflation burns money at an alarming pace.
Another major shift that we are going to see in the next 50 years is the massive aging of our planet. For example, Europe is already an extremely old continent age-wise. The median age in Western Europe is 44 years in 2020, the median age in Africa is 19.7 years! Germany is the second oldest country in the world with a median age of 47.1 years right behind Japan with 47.3 years.
This unstoppable aging of Europe will require massive immigration from young people from other parts of the world to uphold the economic growth and prosperity. And this will likely lead to conflicts within the respective societies.
For example in Germany, there was
- 6 labourers per retiree in the year 1962
- 2.7 labourers per retiree in the year 1992
- 2.1 labourers per retiree in the year 2019
And this will become much less in the years to come, because the baby boomer generation will completely retire until 2030.
On the other hand, in a most recent prognosis by the German federal institute of housing & room planning, Germany will not lose any population until 2040 and will remain stagnant at around 82 million people until 2040. This is only possible with massive immigration. In Germany, between the years 2018 and 2040, Germany is predicted to have 17.4 million births and 23.5 millionen deaths on the other side. So there will come at least 6 million people to Germany in the next 20 years. And those migrants won't come from Europe, because every West European country has the same structural aging issues as Germany, so the migrants will most likely come from Africa, the Middle East and to a lesser extent from the Far East.
Replacing native people with migrants is a massively flawed logic in my opinion. The question that needs to be asked is: Why does the German population not have kids anymore? But the federal Government just doesn't care and proceeds to blindly import new people into this misery. The economy is supposed to grow, but endless growth is utterly insane. The falling birth rates in the whole world are already a sign of the massive scarcity of resources that we have on this planet. It would be a blessing if Germany would lose those 6 million people until the year 2040, as it was predicted based on birth rates alone.
But no, the Government had to lure in more workers so the blessed economy does not tank. The logic is: Work, work, work, don't have children, import young workers from outside of Europe that are working hard for no pay.
Personal anecdote and maybe slightly one-sided: During my time in Bonn, I met many hard working students from India that were studying at the excellent University of Bonn. Those folks were 23 years old and already starting their PhD in machine learning. But not a single person from that calibre planned to stay in Germany, they exclusively wanted to get the cheap and relatively good German education and then relocate to the UK, Australia or USA to work hard for 3 to 5 years in order to go back to India and found a family and build a home. Smart and hardworking people do not go to Germany. The wages are relatively low, and if you manage to earn 10.000 EUR a month, taxes and health insurance will reduce your net salary to 5000 EUR.
Everyone talks about this, but it has to be said again: We will have immense troubles obtaining skilled and smart workers from overseas. Or let me rephrase that: We will have massive problems obtaining skilled workers that want to work for low pay.
Geopolitics & War
Probably the most remarkable event in the past months was the chaotic retreat of the Western alliance from Afghanistan. NATO forces were 20 years in this extremely poor country and spend billions of Dollars to arm the Afghan army for nothing. The Afghan army succumbed in a matter of days to the Taliban. There was nothing but corruption in the Afghan army.
I am not so interested in the specific case of Afghanistan (Rule: Never invade Afghanistan, ask the Englishmen), I want to discuss what can be concluded in general by this milestone event.
US and NATO interventions are a thing of the past. The US won the cold war and intervened with boots on the ground in many countries during that time (Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, ...), but the war in Afghanistan was probably the last such extensive ground operation. The US will still defend it's allies such as Taiwan, but pro-active wars like that in Afghanistan are very unlikely to happen in the next 10 years and beyond that.
China did not even try to hide that they were talking with the Taliban even before the US retreat. China will gradually take over the majority of economic relations in many countries that were depended on the western world until most recently. For the most part, the western world was not feared because of their military capabilities, but because of the necessity to cooperate economically with Europe & North America. China & Russia constitutes an alternative economical hemisphere to the western world. The promise that China gives to countries such as Iran, Afghanistan or many African countries is the following:
"We do not care about your political issues and how you rule your country. We respect your internal affairs. All we want is to create a win-win situation by trading with you and investing in your country. China want's to interact economically with you, we don't have an interest to export our ideology and try to change your ethno-cultural system."
If this promise turns out to be true, needs to be seen in the future.
My assumption is that the world becomes more multi-polar. Whereas it could seem like the world is divided between Europe/US/Oceania/Japan on the one side and between China/Russia on the other side, that classification is way too simple. On the long run, Europe and the United States will lose influence compared to the rest of the world. But not because of a sudden collapse, simply because other nations are picking up in economic prosperity.
In 2050, the US and Europe will stay play an important role in the globe, but there will be several more or less equal counterparts, such as China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and some parts of Africa.
I don't think that we will see huge geopolitical shifts in the future. China and India simply want to prosper economically, there is no need to risk it all by invading Taiwan for example. The US will be gradually pushed back in the Pacific Ocean (Especially in the East and South China Sea), but this just seems to be the natural corrective.
Europe continues to lose influence and the internal weakness of Europe will continue to manifest itself as it did when the second largest economy of Europe, the United Kingdom, left the alliance. There is a possibility that Poland and Hungary will leave next. Turkey will never enter the European Union in the first place.
But do I see any possibility that our current world in 2021 is headed into a major war, such as a third world war?
No, not really. Not at all actually. The only possibility I see is a major conflict between China and the USA, but China will not risk too much, since their only goal is to increase their wealth and living standard even more.
What about North Korea? I don't think either. North Korea has the bomb since 10 years, nothing has happened so far. In 2019, US President Trump managed to step foot on North-Korean territory and shook hands with Kim Jong-un, the pinnacle of a series of favourable diplomatic events between South Korea, North Korea and the US. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised to see Korea united again until the year 2050.
Advance of Medicine & Technology
I am a computer scientist and thus my viewpoint might be a bit uneducated, buy I don't think that we will see major technological milestones in the next 10-20 years. With major technological leaps, I mean things such as:
- General Artificial Intelligence and Singularity as a result
- Fusion reactors that are economical and don't produce radioactive waste
- Quantum computers that can reduce the time complexity for real world algorithmic problems such as integer factorization used in the asymmetric cryptosystem RSA (Shor's algorithm). Another application is unstructured search where the task is to find a marked item out of a list of
nitems in a database (Grover's algorithm).
Medical discoveries / breakthroughs
- Vastly reducing or entirely stopping the natural aging process
- Curing chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes (of which the prior discovery is a superset)
- Curing and reversing neurological damage after incidents such as strokes, accidents or traumata to the head
- Making effective use of genetic engineering technology such as CRISPR gene editing
Sure, there are some cool things that are happening recently in medicine or will most likely happen in the soon future such as
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are almost completely curable. We developed anti retroviral medication that can eradicate Hepatitis C: The "direct-acting" antiviral medications are given over 12 weeks. These are combination medications and will cure early acute hepatitis C in more than 90 percent of people. They are Harvoni (combination of ledipasvir and sofosbuvir) and Viekira Pak (a mix of ombitasvir, paritaprevir, ritonavir and dasabuvir)
HIV might become curable in the next 10 years. Biontech and Moderna launched several phase 1 trials for mRNA vaccines against HIV. But it has to be said that phase 1 vaccination trials merely means: Phase 1, Randomized, First-in-human, Open-label Study to Evaluate the Safety and Immunogenicity of eOD-GT8 60mer mRNA Vaccine (mRNA-1644) and Core-g28v2 60mer mRNA Vaccine (mRNA-1644v2-Core) in HIV-1 Uninfected Adults in Good General Health. Put differently: They first want to see if the vaccine doesn't harm HIV uninfected individuals and generates the desired immune response, before they look if the vaccine effectively prevents HIV infection in the future.
mRNA vaccines against Cancer. For example, stage 3 and stage 4 Melanoma, a highly lethal skin cancer in very late stages had a survival rate of 6 to 7 months in the year 2000. Nowadays, in the year 2021, with the the help of immunotherapy and targeted therapy such as checkpoint inhibitors, the same late stage malicious cancer has a 5-year survival rate between 22.5% (stage 3) - 63% (stage 4). That is a huge leap in a quick time.
So yes, we will definitely see improvements in treatments for cancer and cardiovascular diseases. However, the very best thing that you can do is to eat healthy, sleep healthy and go to medical checkups once every year.
A human life spans roughly 70 to 80 years and your best years will be between the age of 20 to 60, the future isn't going to change much there.
Regarding consumer technological advancement, I think we reached the peak. In 2007, the iPhone was invented and thus a huge revolution happened that lead to almost every human owning a small personal computer with all of their information in their pocket. What else is there to come?
I reasonably cannot see any further major technological development that would reach that kind of adoption. Sure, smartphones will get smaller and more powerful, but in the year 2050 we will still have smartphones that we carry in our pocket. They will be lighter, foldable and maybe have some kind of technology to display information in a different format than a screen. But we still need to carry some kind of device with us with CPU, RAM and a networking card.
Cars might become entirely electric, maybe even airplanes. Self driving cars might become a reality on certain roads such as standardized highways, where the traffic can be controlled effectively.