In response to Karl’s post, commenter Th points us to a 1996 article from Krugman where he pens a 100 year retrospective from the point of view of someone 100 years in the future. There are so many interesting things in there, but I just wanted to point out some of the more interesting predictions.

First, Paul predicted the trend towards suburbanization would reverse, which in fact is starting to happen:

During the second half of the 20th century, the densely populated, high-rise city seemed to be in unstoppable decline. Modern telecommunications eliminated much of the need for physical proximity in routine office work, leading more and more companies to shift back-office operations to suburban office parks. It seemed as if cities would vanish and be replaced with a low-rise sprawl punctuated by an occasional cluster of 10-story office towers.

But this proved transitory. For one thing, high gasoline prices and large fees for environmental licenses made a one-person, one-car commuting pattern impractical. Today, the roads belong mostly to hordes of share-a-ride minivans efficiently routed by computers. Moreover, the jobs that had temporarily flourished in the suburbs — mainly office work — were eliminated in vast numbers beginning in the mid-90’s. Some white-collar jobs migrated to low-wage countries; others were taken over by computers. The jobs that could not be shipped abroad or be handled by machines were those that required a human touch — face-to-face interaction between people working directly with physical materials. In short, they were jobs done best in dense urban areas, places served by what is still the most effective mass-transit system yet devised: the elevator.

Here Paul predicts the rise of many small subcultures, and many small celebrities:

Luckily, the same technology that has made it possible to capitalize directly on knowledge has also created many more opportunities for celebrity. The 500-channel world is a place of many subcultures, each with its own heroes. Still, the celebrity economy has been hard on people — especially for those with a scholarly bent. A century ago, it was actually possible to make a living as a more or less pure scholar. Now if you want to devote yourself to scholarship, there are only three choices. Like Charles Darwin, you can be born rich. Like Alfred Wallace, the less-fortunate co-discoverer of evolution, you can make your living doing something else and pursue research as a hobby. Or, like many 19th-century scientists, you can try to cash in on a scholarly reputation by going on the lecture circuit.

The whole thing is really interesting. I wonder the probabilities Krugman would place on these outcomes, and if he has changed his mind at all. He certainly paints a picture of a world where inequality is not such a big problem. Sure there are still the super rich, who made their fortunes off of land and natural resources. But celebrities are both more common and serve a smaller audience, PhDs make as much money as people with a year or less of vocational training, white collar jobs are the ones most commonly replaced by machines. How long does he expect it will be until inequality starts to reverse due to these trends? Or was it just a bit of fun speculation about a possible future world?

 

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