On the Difficulty of Predicting the Future

Predicting the Future

An astute reader may notice that although “by 1950, Britain no longer was the world’s greatest power,” almost seventy years later, America is still number one.

After a huge boom in the 70′s and 80′s, by 1990 Japan’s economy entered a prolonged recession and fell behind China and Germany, where it has remained 30 years later.

Every 10 years, many things change, but also many things tend to remain constant and will remain so for the foreseeable future. As the link shows, it’s easy to find examples of change, but one can easily overlook all of the things that have not changed.

A case can be made for a new, permanent status quo and “world order“: America on top followed by China. Continued world peace. Continued dominance of US dollar. Continued low inflation in the US, continued tech innovation, continued dominance of Facebook, Amazon, and Google, etc.

30 years later, Microsoft is as dominant as ever. Linux and iOS are still only tiny players.

GM, Toyota, and Ford are still dominant players in the automobile industry. The only viable new entrant in over half a century is Tesla.

The aerospace industry is still dominated by Boeing and Airbus.

Google, 20 years later, is still by far the biggest and most important search engine.

And many more…

The question on people’s mind is, how much longer will the US hegemony last? My answer is, a lot longer than many expect. It’s almost pointless to ask such a question, because no one has any way of knowing, and most guesses, in retrospect, are way-off. Every instance of empire or civilization collapse is unique and cannot be generalized in the same way a physical law can.

Some try to justify more abstract definitions of collapse. Demographic change does not imply collapse, as some mistakenly assume. I see that as moving the goalposts. It’s like saying that because Apple derives most of its bushiness from iPhones instead of personal computers, it has collapsed; no, rather the business model has changed, but Apple as a company is bigger and more powerful than ever.

Collapse, in a the traditional historical sense, means the sacking of the capital and the installation of a new form of government. Or, second, in a more modern context, the decline of US global influence and economic power relative to foreign governments, but there is zero evidence, in spite of demographic change, of that happening. Contrary to what Alex Jones says, who I don’t think can be taken seriously on anything, China would rather trade than engage in war, both literal or economic.

By the second definition, America was closer collapse in the first decade of the 2000′s than today if one compares the growth and size of the major economies of Europe to the US, but starting in 2011 the trajectories reversed course dramatically, with the US coming out way ahead. Even in the 80′s and 90′s, despite the strong economy, America was not as exceptional and powerful relative to the rest of the world as it is today.