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Three Big Things: Important forces shaping the world (collaborativefund.com)
124 points by Tangokat 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments

About 'information access', I think the new barrier to socioeconomic mobility is going to be misinformation and regulation.

Those who have power will do anything to keep that power; with abundant and free information, fake news and misinformation will be used to control the masses.

Probably the world will be in such a state that:

1. Most of the rules in society will not make sense but you will accept them anyway simply because everyone else accepts them and there will be a lot of myths and misinformation to justify the rules.

2. Not believing the myths and not following the rules will get you imprisoned or killed (as has typically been the case throughout human history).

I think 'government regulation' is increasingly taking the place of religious doctrine when it comes to protecting the interests of the rich and powerful. There are a lot of arbitrary laws which were introduced under some vague pretext whose real purpose is to create a moat to protect corporate interests.

Demography is rightly placed first. Youth is short and life is long, therefore the political and economic implications of an ageing population are huge. In Australia for example, the biggest ticket item for government spending is ‘assistance to the aged’, $70 billion out of a total budget of $500 billion. This is distinct from the money spent on health, which is also heavily skewed towards the elderly. I am not making a value judgement on government spending, but the numbers suggest we will be locked in a cycle where spending on the elderly will continue to be a dominant factor in government spending for the next 30 years.

What will be interesting to see is how the governments keep finding the money.

Wealth, assets and money always are transferring hands. 30 years from now all wealth of bill gates could have been distributed to trusts, funds and next generations. i.e. We are continuously adding assets to what we already have, at global scale. ( And debt to the environment. ) I wonder what would be tipping or balance point.

If the trends here[1] continue, the impact grows quite rapidly.


If it's time to shoot from the hip (or rather extrapolate), let's rebut a little bit.

i) Human working population is shrinking, but robots are rising. Remember this person doesn't exist https://www.thispersondoesnotexist.com/ (but they look much like the real thing). See Boston Dynamics's Atlas, Spot etc. So, yeah, don't worry about demographics. Robots & robot assistants will multiply like rabbits (or rather like Windows 10 SW). This will overcompensate for the drop in working population.

2) Inequality is real. It's extremely dangerous and getting worse (tax cuts anyone?). But that doesn't mean it will reverse itself anytime soon. Most of humanity lived in bare subsistence levels vs the rich during majority of human history. If anything, equality is an aberration from the norm.

3) Access to information is awesome. This means governments & powers that be are hard at work stopping it :) Censure, regulation, control will be the norm going forward. Wild-west attitude towards information dissemination will reverse course.

(i) it's a very interesting point that you put forth. Yes, robots will compensate for the _working population_ ; However, I think the OP wants to direct the attention towards the economic impact of a changing demographic. Robots won't earn and [ borrow and ] spend. Consumption, Consumerism and the access to Capital is the reason world GDP has multiplied manifold in the last century and why it continues to grow. A shift in demographic has a massive impact on that.

> Consumption, Consumerism and the access to Capital is the reason world GDP has multiplied

I'm sure improvements in technology and production played some part...

I don't know about #2 or #3? Now that we've seen how good we can have it, Americans won't tolerate a Second Gilded Age for very long. Same goes for the massive, life-changing benefits of having easy access to any information.

I suspect 20% drop in China's working age population might not actually hurt as much as the author tries to imply. The sheer size of the population and the amount of population within cities and outside cities should play a role here. A 20% drop could actually have the opposite pressure, create some efficiency and dramatically push up the quality of life and create a better functioning economy, and overall economy could actually go up and/or become much more stable.

"They eventually have enough, and coalesce as a group to become powerful enough to force change, typically with taxes, minimum wages, and labor unions."

Typically? You wish!

Look at what happened in many states of Latin America. They have huge inequality problem. And they are not closer to solving it than they were half a century ago.

What IMHO usually happens is the rise of authoritarian populism. Until the inequality is addressed, it might then oscillate between fascism (like Pinochet) and populist-socialism (like Chavez).

P.S. I like the blog post overall, except it completely ignores the ecological crisis and global warming.

Demographics are a huge deal, and combines in very concerning ways with:

1) Humanities general inability to foresee the future.

2) The surprising resistance of political bodies to trying new things when the current method 'seems to be working'.

I've come around to the idea that China's 1 Child Policy was a a very responsible idea. It was probably executed with the characteristic horrors of an authoritarian government - but the idea that population is just going to sort itself out is imprudent.

There are 3 futures. One where population naturally levels off and finds a sustainable level, one where growth turns out to be truly exponential in defiance of physical limits and one where a lot of people discover they can't be supported by what is on offer and die of starvation or violence.

The good news is that is 2 happy endings to 1 bad one. But humanity has a very long history of need-resource-access-driven violence and evolutionary factors will push us back there if it isn't politically resisted at a grand scale.

The sad thing about the 1 child policy is research shows you don't need to do it in an authoritarian manner to get similar results. Like in Iran, they subsidized birth control and went on an education & promotion spree and it worked too well. Iran also had a government promoted baby boom similar to what china went through also.

I was under the impression the birth rate in China was already falling quickly when the 1 child policy was introduced. That’s not to say there wasn’t abuse going on but that the over population problem was already solving itself.

Your second scenario is what is often promoted despite being hard to believe at this stage. Your third scenario is very likely IMO. Your first scenario sounds like the world runs on magic beans and somehow things will just work themselves out without any intervention or disaster (your third scenario) ...

I find opinions like these to be somewhat disconcerting. I don't know terribly much about demographics, but people who study demographics and economic development seem to fairly consistently agree that global population /will/ level off. At the core, the reasoning is simple -- as women become better educated and countries develop economically, birth rates drop, with no exceptions that I am aware of. The United Nations projects that the global population will level off at 12 billion around 2100.

When I was a kid, there were about 3.5 billion people on earth. I've watched that double. Growth of 3.5 billion people. You shug off another 4 to 5 billion like it's no big deal. Maybe you're just happy to hear a prediction if leveling off, and the number is meaningless. Let me tell you, 3 to 4 billion is a LOT of people. I remember when it was ALL the people, and what it looks like to have that many more. Dont kids yourself, it's a LOT of people. The notion that the entire world will modernize and have a reduced birthrate is also an assumption. I hope we can handle it.

Yes but the scenarios 2 to 3 mentioned in the comment above are purely speculative. They in fact go contrary to the weight of more recent demographic historical evidence so far and insofar as there's a major scientific consensus of any kind on population growth, it's weighted heavily in favor of the idea that population will stabilize by or before 2100. Even the 12 billion figure is exceptionally high. The majority I've seen indicate 11 billion or less, many 10 billion and the lower professional estimates argue we might see a world population of only 9 billion or so by 2100, if I recall correctly. All this takes aside new energy, crop and general technological prospects for good human development. Currently, more people than ever are indeed living better than ever despite the population having doubled since the mid 1970s or so and the current biggest problems facing populations in need almost entirely consist of politically caused shortages, not literal absolute resource shortages.

One other thing to keep in mind as well: much of our current population explosion isn't even due to massive birth rates. It's the result of much lower infant mortality. If we were to still have the infant mortality rates we had in the beginnings of the 20th century with current global birth rates, i'd even speculate that population would already be declining. Since said birth rates continue to decline, the trend looks good globally.

Very fair point. I definitely agree with you and the article in general -- demographics definitely deserves to be the #1 big important force that will shape the world.

Can we feed 12 billion people for ~100 years without ruining the rest of the biosphere (assuming the population peaks there then shrinks)?

I think it's possible in a technological sense -- my understanding is that we can produce enough food, and little technological development from where we are today is necessary to scale this to 12 billion people. It's distributing the food -- transporting it, dealing with economics/politics that is difficult. For example, western countries could in principle, but won't in practice, just provide food to north korea.

I think it's going to be incredibly challenging to avoid potentially catastrophic harm to the environment due to politics and incentive structures. As far as food goes, beef and pistachios stand out to me as particularly environmentally harmful/wasteful, due to methane from cows and enormous water requirements for nuts, and it's not clear that anyone can change incentive structures to sufficiently change peoples' habits regarding these foods. (though in the grand scheme of things my understanding is beef and pistachios pale in comparison to habits such as flying for climate change.) I usually see people who think about this topic discourage the idea of technological development as a magic bullet, but I'm biased in this direction (it's also fitting for people who read hacker news) -- advances like impossible foods are inspiring to me. They've created "fake meat" aimed at traditional meat-eaters, allowing people like me to keep our luxurious food preferences in a manner that's much more environmentally friendly. They've had an impressive amount of success so far, with deals with chains like Burger King. If they can convert a sizable fraction of meat-eaters, they will have made an enormous impact on climate change.

> despite being hard to believe at this stage.

You're putting it mildly. The second scenario is a delusional fantasy, I don't understand how it can be mentioned seriously.

We may end up closer to the first scenario thanks to the prospects of the third one. I hope we do.

There is a 4th scenario: the population peaks and begins to fall. The article talks about how growth rates are falling all over the world. Many countries already have birthrates below replacement level, and the world as whole will reach that by 2085, according to UN projections. People living longer is a countervailing force, but declining population is still a pretty likely future.

(Can't link to the specific stat, but take a look here for raw data and projections https://population.un.org/wpp/DataQuery/)

the book "limits to growth" from the 70s has a bunch of discussion around potential future trajectories for human population, based on modelling & simulation.

the authors discuss & model different interventions & policies that could be put in place to try to prevent the "overshoot and collapse" type scenario where human population peaks and then crashes.

some academics argue that things are tracking somewhat consistently with projections of the modelling from 50 years ago: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/02/limits...

a lot of the critique of the "limits to growth" modelling is of the form "a crash in global population was predicted by time T, but that didn't happen", but the modelling doesn't really try to make predictions in terms of specific events happening at specific timescales, it's focused on understanding the underlying behaviour based on the structure of the system.

>There are 3 futures. One where population naturally levels off and finds a sustainable level, one where growth turns out to be truly exponential in defiance of physical limits and one where a lot of people discover they can't be supported by what is on offer and die of starvation or violence.

I think theres a 4th future, which is that natural selection and evolution ultimately control population on a global scale and is the single biggest factor influencing the world today.

You are describing the parents 3rd option in a more flowery fashion, how do you think natural selection works except through death and violence? If that isn't happening then some kind of equilibrium like situation 1 has taken root.

Are your first and third scenarios mutually exclusive?

"The three big ones that stick out are demographics, inequality, and access to information."

The biggest, most important force shaping the world today is the invisible hand of evolution.

That... seems like a non-sequitur here. What to elaborate?

I don't see what is there to elaborate. Humanity is evolving, and OP thinks it is an important force shaping the world today.

This is obviously true, but irrelevant at the timescale that the article considers, ie, about a century beginning in 1945. Have we evolved significantly since WW2? Is the internet going to exert selection pressure on humanity? Maybe, but we won't notice in 3 generations.

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