What is your most surprising prediction?

by on March 2, 2012 at 6:54 am in Food and Drink, Philosophy | Permalink

That is the new lunch time question for visitors.  This week we asked Michael Mandel and Megan McArdle.

The old question was “What is your most absurd belief?” (Initiation here, and some answers here).

When should you ask about inputs and when should you ask about outputs?  Someone might believe that planet earth is built upon “turtles all the way down,” and still expect 2.2 percent yearly growth in gdp and a lot of pennants for the New York Yankees.

It can be hard to judge how surprising various predictions are.  Nonetheless I expect median real wages to continue to decline, over the next ten years, in the non-resource-rich wealthy countries of the world, no Norway please.  TGS means that we cannot so readily outrace factor price equalization by keeping one step ahead, the exciting innovations are mostly labor-saving, educational stagnation will just be kicking in, and otherwise American workers really aren’t that much better than the competition.

Do I also expect another outbreak of conflict in the Falklands?  The prediction of fascism in Hungary is no longer a surprise.

Readers, what is your most surprising prediction?

Addendum: Angus comments.

Nik S March 2, 2012 at 7:27 am

Facebook Credits, or some pseudo-currency like them, will become widely accepted for offline transactions throughout the world within ten years. Changing money when you go abroad won’t be an issue.

NAME REDACTED March 2, 2012 at 9:41 am

You can already exchange bitcoins offline, but they aren’t exactly widely accepted.

Rahul March 2, 2012 at 10:35 am

Problem with bitcoins is they are (yet) more a mode of speculation than a medium of exchange.

Brett March 2, 2012 at 2:47 pm

If we could inter-change our Credits for use on a ton of other websites (such as Amazon) without anti-trust or legal issues, then this is definitely going to happen.

Jeff L March 2, 2012 at 4:43 pm

That’s surprising only because of the “within ten years” part of your prediction.

I think that if it’s true, it will coincide with the other trend – the internet will be far less open and far more regulated in most parts of the world than it is today.

thegiantupstairs March 2, 2012 at 7:27 am

Lee’s Market will not exist in 2 years.

Jon Martin March 2, 2012 at 7:58 am

I predict the US will have more rather than less wealth transfer from market outcomes in 10-20 years. Maybe it will redistribute 35% not 25% of GDP. That’s a result of the stagnation of median real wages and the increasing concentration of wealth at the top. The only reason the inequalities that have existed for so long have been tolerated is because people believed it was in their interests.

Of course there could just be lots of violence instead.

Of course cheap, abundant energy (like LENR if it’s not a hoax) would change everything.

TallDave March 2, 2012 at 8:17 am

It’s actually already topped 40%.

Also, the concentration of wealth has not changed much, this is a pervasive myth.

Jon Martin March 2, 2012 at 9:04 am

Of course we can all find statistics we prefer but I’m using the more credible ones.

TmC March 2, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Prove it.

TallDave March 2, 2012 at 3:02 pm

You didn’t actually use any statistics, whereas the CATO numbers are quite credible, as are the other.

TallDave March 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm

(On the gov’t numbers, I suspect you have confused “federal” spending with “gov’t” spending, a common error.)

Gunnar Tveiten March 2, 2012 at 8:17 am

Mass production of huge volumes of identical items in bulk will cease to be the common mode for manufacturing sometime in the next 20 years.

Andrew' March 2, 2012 at 8:18 am

I’ll counter your prediction. The outsourcing will peak and possibly reverse. True, our workers aren’t as better as our wages, but I think everyone underestimates how dependent these off-shored plants are upon our management. Once our management outsourcing capability is spent, so will the labor capacity be.

dead serious March 2, 2012 at 8:40 am


TallDave March 2, 2012 at 8:56 am

Not to mention our social capital.

Rahul March 2, 2012 at 9:09 am

What do you mean when you say “our management outsourcing capability is spent”; and I’m not being sarcastic.

Andrew' March 2, 2012 at 9:19 am

I had worked for a company with offshoring plants. The way it worked in a lot of places was you could hire gobs of labor directed by phone, visits and American expats. You do the math and it’s cheaper than running a plant here, but only to the extent that you have the Americans directing the labor. I think the outsourcing trend is less of a force of nature that outsiders perceive, it is more of a herculean task managed by American engineers that are scared witless about the quality results.

Rahul March 2, 2012 at 9:23 am

I agree with your basic premise; but are we running out of management to direct the outsourcing? It isn’t a force of nature, but till you have labor-intensive jobs and till the offshore labor is substantially cheaper why is the incentive to outsource going to die?

Phill March 2, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Fast, Cheap, Good: Pick two.

dead serious March 2, 2012 at 9:25 am

I have experienced the same phenomenon in the IT field for the past 8 years.

At first glance the numbers are compelling, but those numbers never take into account: reduced quality, high turnover which impacts ramp-up time and deliverables, brain drain due to that turnover rate, and the management problem Andrew’ mentions.

Rahul March 2, 2012 at 9:33 am

I think it depends on sector. But especially for manufacturing, assembly line and other “low tech” activities the incentives will persist until third world wages approach American.

Russell March 2, 2012 at 9:45 am

Then shouldn’t minimum wage laws be rescinded?

Andrew' March 2, 2012 at 9:59 am

Basically, the domestic optimistic view is “how pathetic do you have to be, you even need expats to do your catch-up growth for you.”

Ed March 2, 2012 at 10:02 am

Aren’t there two other problems with offshoring? The first is the cost to ship whatever is being produced in the low wage country back to the U.S. Its been relatively cheap up until now, but this will change if the price of oil continues to increase.

The other problem is that that the whole idea is that the relatively wealthier American consumers will buy the product produced with the cheap developing country labor. Drive American wages down to the developing country level and that is no longer the case. This particular arbitrage opportunity closes.

Rahul March 2, 2012 at 10:24 am

Rising shipping costs might make a dent but only in very low value goods.

Also to close the arbitrage you’d have to drive down not just western wages but also legal damages and environmental laws. For a chopped of limb in an industrial accident you get $10,000 if you are lucky.

Brett March 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm

That depends on how big the costs of living are. China has low wages compared to the US, but a lot of stuff is cheaper over there as well than in the US. Bad news if health care continues to get more expensive, but maybe we’ll get needed housing reforms as well.

JonF March 2, 2012 at 5:49 pm

There’s also the likelihood that the current lengthy period of peace and political stability (outside the Middle East) may prove to be the exception not the rule, and History may return from her sabbatical at any time, whereupon jobs will have to be onshored pretty quickly–and firms that haven’t not made contingency plans to do so will be in big trouble.

Mike March 2, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I agree too. I’m overseas now. Managerial talent has a loooooooong way to go to catch up.

Andrew Edwards March 2, 2012 at 8:19 am

From 2020-2040 genetics and biology will transform our bodies and health to the same degree as tech and telecom transformed our communications from 1995-2015. This is as computing power and testing lead times start to catch up to the sequencing of the human genome done in the 90s.

Most diseases will be cured, most of our biology will be custom. Extreme extensions in longevity are possible. Health care costs diminish in the long run as diseases including obesity are engineered out of the next generation’s DNA. Our generation gets very expensive re-engineering (new hearts, new eyes, etc.)

Andrew' March 2, 2012 at 8:26 am

You are a little early but I don’t want to be in the room when all the people who roll their eyes when I say “ending aging” realize they are the last generation who has to die.

Andrew Edwards March 2, 2012 at 8:53 am

That is a bit stronger than I would say it, but yeah. Last generation to be fat, get cancer, go blind, etc.

Rahul March 2, 2012 at 9:20 am

I’ll take a contrarian position on that one; especially if your horizon is 30 years. Doubt we are curing obesity and cancer so soon.

Neal March 2, 2012 at 9:55 am

Cancer, no.

Replacement organs, yes.

Nate March 2, 2012 at 9:56 am

I’ll take half of that. We’ll all be fat but cancer-free.

Andrew' March 2, 2012 at 10:02 am

Aging will be easier to cure than cancer.

Steko March 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Nanomachines will laugh at cancer and obesity. Beating telomeres and Alzheimers may require uploads. Don’t get too excited about living forever though,consciousness is an illusion*.

* My entry. Not that uncommon probably but ‘plenty of educated people think otherwise’.

Mark Thorson March 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm

If you cure cancer, smoking will make a comeback, big time.

mako2 March 2, 2012 at 1:53 pm

…which will in turn further lower obesity, liquidity trap for body fat anyone?

Brett March 2, 2012 at 3:01 pm

We might be too busy getting high off of cheap designer drugs to take up smoking in mass numbers.

Rahul March 2, 2012 at 3:02 pm

…. lipidity trap?

Rich March 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Rahul, I love your comments!

Andrew Edwards March 2, 2012 at 8:54 am

Oh, and, on a less important issue:

One day our current shoe designs will look as incomprehensibly unhealthy and uncomfortable as whalebone corsets look to us today.

DPG March 2, 2012 at 9:44 am

Interesting. What type of footwear do you foresee?

Andrew Edwards March 2, 2012 at 10:14 am

Something like this, which is not stiff, doesn’t chafe the foot causing pain (especially for women) and doesn’t constrain the natural movement of the foot.


Those who wear them claim they are far superior, the main obstacle is social (fashion).

doctorpat March 4, 2012 at 4:50 am

Given that the shoes you link to look like ordinary shoes, how does fashion affect them?

Urso March 2, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Less important but more likely.

sort_of_knowledgable March 2, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I wouldn’t start the 30 year countdown until single gene disorders such as sickle cell disease are cured. Trying to optimize the genome is likely to be exponentially harder.

Tangurena March 5, 2012 at 1:43 pm

I think that we’ll discover that a huge number of existing diseases are caused by viral, bacterial and parasitical infections.

It took a long time to link HPV (about 15 of the 120 varieties cause cancers) to cervical and penile cancers. Now we’ve got a vaccine for a few of those varieties.

It took a long time to link helicobacter infections with ulcers, and I suspect that a number of other chronic diseases will be found to be a result of having (or not having) particular bacterial strains in your body. In the case of “not having”, I suspect we’ll discover that antibacterial products will result in several chronic illnesses.

My craziest prediction is that we’ll discover a number of mental diseases caused by toxoplasmosis infections, of which one will probably be autism. The result of this will be the extinction of house cats caused by the backlash of this.

TallDave March 2, 2012 at 8:24 am

China’s economic collapse may be accompanied by much more violence than conventional wisdom believes possible.

The Arab Spring countries will undergo a period of Islamicist rule, followed by either democratic reversal and liberalization where democratic mechanisms have been preserved or revolution/repression where they have not. None of this will change living standards much because social capital will continue to stagnate.

Egypt could go to war with Israel.

Ed March 2, 2012 at 10:09 am

My favorite contrarian position is the implosion of the People’s Republic of China.

First, we don’t really know what is going on there, because information is so tightly managed, but there are reports of increasing unrest.

Second, contrary to what seems to be Western belief, the standard pattern in Chinese history consists of dynasties starting out strong and uniting the country, declining, and then breaking up. I don’t see any indication why this dynasty would be immune. One thing they did differently was replace the Emperor and his court with a collective leadership, which I think makes the regime stronger than normal Chinese dynasties. But this also meant doing away with the ideology that helped hold together the earlier dynasties, instead they imported an ideology from Central Europe that is already discredited in the rest of the world. If they stop delivering higher living standards each generation, there is no justification for the regime.

Brett March 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Agreed on the history, although I’m not sure if the country will actually break-up. Nationalism is a pretty potent force in China, and the country (mostly) held together through all the civil wars in the late 19th/early 20th century.

anonymous March 2, 2012 at 5:43 pm

The historical pattern suggest that the current dynasty will last quite a bit longer. Most falls into two types. Type one is that a strong and capable leader unites the nation, but everyone after him is not particularly good. It falls apart about 80 years later. Type two is that there are another strong and capable leader takes over after the initial leader. Those last about 200-300 years.

Al March 5, 2012 at 7:54 am

This position is not that contrarian. Its the same position as Jim Chanos, Gordon Chang, Roubini, and any number of China bears out there. Browse economic outlooks published on China by the IMF, World Bank, investment banks etc and they inevitably have special sections wargaming the effects of a Chinese house price bubble bursting, the aging population, social unrest, local government debt, another global financial crisis, etc.

Regarding social unrest leading to an implosion, the key difference this time around is that unrest is directed at local authorities, local property developers, etc. Respect for the central government is higher. So unrest could paradoxically lead to more centralisation of political power in China.

A more contrarian position is China continuing to grow per capita GDP at quite high rates and eventually overtaking the U.S. on a per capita basis. Hong Kong’s GDP per capita is already higher than the U.S. one.

One scenario where this occurs is that China overtakes the U.S. on an absolute basis. Its higher population gives its companies scale and greater market cap than equivalent U.S. firms. Hence they can pay higher wages to top executives. Managerial talent from the U.S. and elsewhere emigrate to China, boosting its productivity and innovative ability. Meanwhile the U.S. has to raise taxes to pay rising healthcare costs, the national debt, etc.

Andrew Edwards March 2, 2012 at 11:00 am

Agree with this China comment though I don’t think of it as surprising.

Jason March 2, 2012 at 3:45 pm

It’s not surprising at all, and in fact many who follow China closely have raised the possibility of mass violent uprising there in the nearish term.

Mark Thorson March 2, 2012 at 10:12 pm

There’s been a lot of saber-rattling recently in People’s Daily directed at Tibet. If there’s a violent uprising, I expect a Syria-style even-more-violent crackdown. I don’t see anything that would restrain the central government from using enough force to get the job done.

Becky Hargrove March 2, 2012 at 8:29 am

That it could be a full generation before the rift between the sexes starts to heal.

JW March 2, 2012 at 8:37 am

One day we will look back and think it both unsanitary and wasteful to clean ourselves using water.

Andrew Edwards March 2, 2012 at 8:52 am

Toilets are also due for an overhaul

Andrew' March 2, 2012 at 10:03 am

Does this comment go with Becky’s above?

dead serious March 2, 2012 at 8:46 am

Isn’t the US a resource-rich (natgas) wealthy country?

We just don’t share the rewards like the Norwegians do.

feathers March 2, 2012 at 9:17 pm

The relevant question is not how extensive our resources are, but what are our resources per capita. America has 70x as many people as Norway. And of course, US nat. gas. is increasingly the kind that is a lot more expensive to extract and thus far less profitable.

BTW, the US produces about twice as much oil as Norway, and six times as much gas. But we have 70x as many people, so even if we took 100% of nat. gas. and oil profits we wouldn’t be able pay each American very much. America really isn’t resource rich in the way that matters.

dead serious March 3, 2012 at 9:31 am

We have lots of Mexicans available for export.

Doc Merlin March 2, 2012 at 8:48 am

The US is a resource rich country. We just have a government that prevents resource extraction by force of arms.

dead serious March 2, 2012 at 9:27 am

As does Norway and many other governments.

Doc Merlin March 2, 2012 at 9:31 am

Yes, we just do it far more than others.

maguro March 2, 2012 at 8:52 am

Cubs to win the World Series in 2014.

Yancey Ward March 2, 2012 at 11:53 am

There are actually some things that are truly impossible.

msgkings March 2, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Zing! +1908

Ankur March 2, 2012 at 8:52 am

As there are more old people in the world with increasing lifespans (even in China and other parts of the developing world), there will be a backlash from the young over the medical and pension bills of the elderly. Some ways this will be manifested – poorer social security and medicaid, increase in retirement ages, (socially) less respect for the elderly. In a dystopic scenario, it could completely upend society the way we know it. I am surprised more people don’t worry about this.

Ed March 2, 2012 at 10:11 am

I worry about the opposite, that we get one generation that lives past the deaths of the next generation, because the older generation has grabbed all the healthcare!

Hueyp March 2, 2012 at 11:03 am

Albert Brooks addresses much of this in his novel “2030.”

dirk March 2, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Do you recommend that book? Is it good? Is it funny?

KevinH March 2, 2012 at 9:05 am

That China will go through another revolution (possibly peaceful) in 20-30 years.

buddyglass March 2, 2012 at 9:08 am

Assuming Obama wins reelection and the economy continues to improve I predict the Democrats will win again in 2012 despite a more worthy Republican challenger. (Chris Christie). That Democrat will probably be re-elected in 2016.

I predict the Republican party will wane in power in the coming years, and not just because they’ve failed to capture the Hispanic vote. There are two factions warring with each other that are represented by Romney and Santorum. The Santorum half has little appeal outside the values-voting Republican community If the party hews in that direction then it will shed moderate non-values voters. If the party hews in the opposite direction, the values voters will stay home or flock to some values-centric third-party candidate (see: Constitution Party). Either way, Republican influence wanes.

I predict the Democratic party will undergo a transformation as well. The current situation w.r.t. deficit and projected entitlement spending (i.e. Medicare) is simply unsustainable. In order to stay in power the party will be forced to finally do something about that unsustainability, which will take it out of its traditional position of opposition to all entitlement cuts.

Ed March 2, 2012 at 10:13 am

I assume you mean 2016 and 2020, not 2012 and 2016. I also think you are reading too much into the current Republican primary, and are maybe insufficiently skeptical about what you read about entitlements.

buddyglass March 2, 2012 at 11:06 am

Doh. Yeah, that’s embarrassing. I did indeed mean 2016 and 2020.

Ted Craig March 2, 2012 at 10:55 am

Given history, I would bet against the re-election in 2020. Also, another bold prediction is the Democratic Party will fall into fracture rather than the Republicans over Green v. Blue Collar issues. There may also be a Black-Hispanic split. I’m not saying your scenario is unlikely, just offering an alternative prediction.

derek March 2, 2012 at 11:02 am

I would predict both parties to essentially disappear as currently known and structured. Maybe the same names. Maybe.

First the Republicans. There is a small core of fiscal conservatives but the majority is not. The fight will rent the party. The Democrats will benefit for a short while, but events will force them into a fiscal conservatism as well. It will take a Democrat administration to soften the harsh realities of cutting the deficits; the media will go along. The long difficult road will occupy the political class for a decade at least, during which the Republicans will rebuild around the new fiscal realities. Once the fiscal situation is remedied, the Democrats will then go into decline. Their justification for existence disappears; no longer able to promise goodies in return for power, they will have access to neither. The Democrats will then go through an internal fight between the various factions. Don’t know how that will turn out.

An easy prediction, simply describing what has already happened in Canada. Deficits fund more than government programs, when they are gone the political structures, the whole assumptions of political power change. The populace becomes fiscally conservative across the board, skinflintish even. They know that what comes out of a politician’s mouth will come out of their pockets.

Yancey Ward March 2, 2012 at 11:58 am

I more or less agree with the analysis behind this prediction. Only the Democrats are going to be able to reform the entitlement state to a sustainable pathway. However, I tend to think they won’t do it, and it will be reformed by default.

Urso March 2, 2012 at 4:17 pm

“I would predict both parties to essentially disappear as currently known and structured. Maybe the same names. Maybe.”

To me, this is not only not surprising, it’s self-evident. “Republican” and ”
“Democrat” don’t mean nearly the same things they did in 1948, much less 1870. The words are still the same though.

Chris R March 4, 2012 at 6:56 am

Wow, that sounds like Germany too.

NPW March 2, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Or maybe we will accept that there is only one party that is merely running against itself.

ShardPhoenix March 2, 2012 at 9:08 am

Within my expected lifetime there will be serious military conflict aimed at preventing the creation of general artificial intelligence. I can see reasons why this might not happen but I put more weight on it than even most singularitarians.

Rahul March 2, 2012 at 9:13 am

Emergence of a third American political party, or even a multiparty system. More direct democracy. e.g. referendums etc. perhaps we’ll have apps that let us vote on bills from our phones.

NPW March 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm

How will we adjust for judges who can overturn laws enacted by the people?

Urso March 2, 2012 at 4:18 pm

We’d have to hire a lot more, if the vote-by-app thing ever actual comes to pass.

Anthony March 2, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Perhaps that is the third party, and it’s already here.

buddyglass March 2, 2012 at 9:14 am

Oh yeah- once we exhaust all the cheaply extracted oil and prices start to rise, the global economy will go to hell in a hand basket. The variety of goods imported and exported (or manufactured overseas) will shrink due to increased transportation costs.

Another one: nothing significant will ever be done to curb global carbon emissions. Global emissions will start to subside only when we finish burning up all the coal and cheap oil.

Ed March 2, 2012 at 10:19 am

Peak oil in one sense doesn’t qualify as a “surprising” prediction because it has been matching up well with the EiA reports, and also some of the information being put out by U.S. government agencies. But its gotten no mainstream press coverage.

buddyglass March 2, 2012 at 11:05 am

“But its gotten no mainstream press coverage.”

That and some people tend to discount its existence altogether. They point out that past calls of “peak oil” have been wrong, and that advances in technology decrease the cost of extraction such that supplies that were previously cost prohibitive to extract become viable. That’s true, to an extent, but it can’t last forever.

Brett March 2, 2012 at 3:06 pm

We don’t really need it to last forever. We just need it to have a gentle decline, which allows for adaptation to lower supplies of oil using alternative fuels and power supply.

Marian Kechlibar March 2, 2012 at 9:15 am

Islamic nations, with a few exceptions, will start having serious reproductive problems, a la graying of Europe and Japan. The fertility levels of urban areas of Maghreb may well fall under 1.5 in half a generation.

Badger March 2, 2012 at 9:23 am

The international monetary regime will learn to operate with multiple currencies. The trigger event will be the next Treasuries crisis, with prices falling haphazardly.

8 March 2, 2012 at 9:27 am

Both the EU and United States will experience a breakdown in central government control with the potential for violence. The U.S. will see large geographic areas “defect” from cultural norms. Already, parts of California resemble Mexico more than the U.S., but there will be many areas where citizens ignore federal mandates and dare the feds to use force (possibly whole states such as Idaho, Alaska). Unable to maintain control, the U.S. currency will collapse by 2025-2035.

In Europe, the EU will fall apart completely and old hatred and rivalries will revive.

NAME REDACTED March 2, 2012 at 9:39 am

What do you mean by surprising? Do you mean prediction that would be met with the most unbelief?

Steven Kopits March 2, 2012 at 9:41 am

We’ll see peak oil–all liquids–in 2012 or 2013. although US shale oil will have blowout years in 2012 and 2013 (+400 kpbd each year).

VangelV March 2, 2012 at 9:50 am

“We’ll see peak oil–all liquids–in 2012 or 2013.”

While you are right I don’t think that this is very surprising. I also don’t think that the EIA and IEA will admit it until later.

“although US shale oil will have blowout years in 2012 and 2013 (+400 kpbd each year).”

The blowout year will not translate into blowout profits any more than the increased shale gas production did. I predict that in the next two years most people will see the shale bubble for what it is; a scam that provides a negative return on the energy invested and destroys capital thanks to favourable accounting standards. I also predict that the industry will face greater regulatory scrutiny in the form of a NI 43-101 equivalent.

Steven Kopits March 2, 2012 at 11:58 am

For shale gas, I think we are already seeing a lack of compelling economics. A recent analysis published in O&G Journal puts the full cycle cost of natural gas in Haynesville–considered the throttle of the industry–at $8 / mmbtu. The current spot price is $2.50. So I think we’re headed towards materially higher prices in natural gas.

As for oil, those companies specializing in shales (eg, independents) are reporting good profits–and why not, with WTI at $107? So I think shale oil and gas economics have to be considered independently.

As for profits, I think we will see oil prices rise more slowly than oil costs–a reversal from recent years. Thus, the oil majors may well see falling profits even at very high oil prices. (Exxon and CNPC, for example, are already there.) This will be the driver of peak oil, that is, the willingness of consumers to pay increased prices for oil will not keep pace with the cost of finding and delivering that incremental oil. We see this trend in spades in the US–US oil consumption is plunging: the country is unable to sustain oil consumption above $95 / barrel. (I have an article on the matter slated for publication in Foreign Policy.)

The Other Jim March 2, 2012 at 9:45 am

At least one US state will attempt to secede by 2100.

The first US President who actually tries to cut Federal spending — as opposed to very slightly reducing its rate of runaway growth — will be assassinated.

VangelV March 2, 2012 at 9:46 am

I predict that the US dollar will lose more than 50% of its purchasing power over the next five years as the Federal Reserve keeps ignoring inflation and uses easy money policies to prevent a needed liquidation of malinvestments. Before a new currency is introduced we will see the price of gold go over $5,000 an ounce and silver clear $200.

Tom West March 2, 2012 at 9:51 am

That by 2030, wages for non-skilled and semi-skilled labor in North America will equalize with China / India / etc wages at about $10K/year. It will remain to be seen if this adjustment can occur without large scale violence or political upheaval.

Becky Hargrove March 2, 2012 at 10:37 am

…now if we can just get the supply side of the economy to focus on real wages instead of imaginary ones.

Neal March 2, 2012 at 9:51 am

Surprising based on what?

I predict that we will be able to significantly modify our bodies’ external form and, more importantly, our children’s bodies (and genomes), within thirty years.

I predict that nuclear power will make a renaissance within the next fifty years, despite Fukushima and the spectre of Chernobyl.

Are these surprising?

Neal March 2, 2012 at 9:54 am

I am really unsure what constitutes “surprising.” I am seeing things I take as obvious (wage equalization between US and China/India within twenty years, peak liquid oil production this decade) proffered as surprising.

Would it be surprising for Apple to have less than 20% of the mobile and computer market shares in ten years?

A Berman March 2, 2012 at 10:04 am

The Religious Right is going to win the culture war, big time. In particular, the United States will look a lot more like the 1950′s in the following areas:
A significant increase in traditional religious beliefs, though as opposed to the American 1950′s, this will include religious such as Hinduism.
A significant increase in traditional marriages.
A significant decrease in acceptance of gay marriage.
Roe V Wade will be overturned.

My reasoning is as follows:
The diversification of media and education going on will increasingly provide far more parental control over children’s cultural development than was possible during the 1950′s-2000. And who are the parents?

dead serious March 2, 2012 at 11:55 am

Here’s a news flash: parents aren’t doing much in the way of controlling and there’s no evidence that that tide is turning.

Also, kids are always at least one step ahead of their parents where technology is involved. Much in the way that banks are with regard to regulators.

A Berman March 2, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Excellent, you disagree! That means it’s going to be a surprise to you when it happens.

Or you can look at the situation in Israel, where the Orthodox are gaining more and more power and watch our future unfold now.

Tylerh March 5, 2012 at 1:22 pm

‘Where the orthodox are gaining more power’

The rise of the Orthodox political power is more about a welfare state run than a larger social shift. It is FAR easier find a restaurant open on shabbat than it was 20 years ago. If the government changes to the welfare rules (say, the child benefits go to the mother instead of the father, or no long term unemployment for men who did not serve in the IDF, or the orthodox couldn’t get government money to run their own segregated schools), then several of the far right religious parties collapse. THAT is why those Religious groups are so dang vociferous.

JonF March 2, 2012 at 5:53 pm

I’m not sure where this revival will come from, as working class people are leaving the churches in droves, as religion becomes more and more a devotion of the upper middle and upper class. However if it does, it will most likely incorporate the social changes we have seen– gays and gay marriages will be fitted into the framework of “traditional” Christianity just as religious tolerance, democracy, interracial and interdenominational marriage, divorce and contraception have been accepted by most churches, even the conservative ones. The Roman Catholic Church will be the big exception– in theory but not necessarily in practice.

feathers March 2, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Not a chance. Education isn’t diversifying at all. Rather, public schools are becoming more universally “cultural-marxist”/multicult/homophilic, and there is an increasing effort to remove low-SES ethnic minority kids (soon to be a majority of all school children) from their parents for more and more hours per day. The official reason is that this is necessary to “close the gap” between poor black/hispanic kids and whites/asians. But a side effect is that these kids will get much larger doses of multi-cult/socially liberal propaganda than they would have at home.

Yes, there is a homeschooling movement, but it is increasingly hard for a sole-provider to manage in a time of falling wages. And public school is zero-price. The media are diverse only if you happen to be into looking for “alternative” stuff on the internet, which is a pretty narrow area of interest.

You mentioned Israel’s ultra-orthodox, but that is a special case that doesn’t apply elsewhere. The Israeli government extensively subsidizes ultra-orthodox families as a part of its (highly successful) strategy of winning the “battle of the cradle”.

Rahul March 3, 2012 at 12:05 am

In other words, it’s getting harder to be extremist?

feathers March 3, 2012 at 12:29 am

Actually, that has nothing at all to do with what I said. But I guess it’s easier to post a gainsaying one-liner than it is to actually think.

One set of extremists has won, and they are using their means of social control (compulsory education, “disparate-impact” nonsense, to force their extremist views on everyone else.

dead serious March 3, 2012 at 9:33 am

You automatically lost when the words “liberal propaganda” dropped from your frothing lips.

Rahul March 2, 2012 at 10:05 am

Another 9/11 magnitude or bigger attack. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t happened yet. Most of security is security-theatre and there’s no shortage of cranks nor resentment.

PS. Prediction not advocacy!!

TallDave March 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Hmmm, I noticed you ruled out “advocacy” but not “personal project.” Interesting.

Khoth March 2, 2012 at 3:35 pm

I don’t think your prediction is staggeringly unlikely, but I don’t think it’ll happen. Most security is security-theatre, but most threats are threat-theatre.

Urso March 2, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Good line. I’m stealing it.

Salem March 2, 2012 at 10:16 am

Polygamy will be legal in most Western countries.

Ted Craig March 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

How about ployandry becomes the norm in China?

Steven Wolf March 2, 2012 at 10:21 am

My most outlandish prediction is that within 5 years, there will be a massive wave of innovation in the United States School education system. Competition between schools will dramatically increase. Unions will lose power. Research will be much less important for determining the stature of a school. Professors will be graded by how well they teach. Merit pay will be the norm.

Rahul March 2, 2012 at 10:30 am

I’ll predict an increase in residential schools at the middle / high school segment. If you can’t get good schools to come to you, send the kids to the good schools.

Ed March 2, 2012 at 10:25 am

There has been a trend in warfare away from the “tons of people in uniforms with rifles” style of warfare that was the norm between the French Revolutionary wars and Korea. The emerging way of war seems characterized more by remote controlled explosives (drones for the rich, IEDs for the poor), mercenaries or contractors, lots of cyber or information warfare, and in general requires fewer of what we think of as soldiers and more of what we think of technicians.

If this turns out to be true, it will not be good for democracy, and the trend may be behind the current erosion of democratic institutions. Historically periods of democracy have correlated quite well with countries needing massive armies of ordinary citizens to fight their wars.

albatross March 2, 2012 at 10:41 am

I’d extend what Ed says: Drones are the first step to massively automated militaries and police forces and spy agencies. Those will involve both autonomous and remote-control units, and a lot of stuff in-between (like “go look for people on this hitlist in this area, and if your odds ratio of correct identification goes above 20 and the likely collateral damage is less than 5 people, shoot on your own).

This makes military/police coups enormously more practical. The robots don’t know or care who is giving them orders. At the endpoint, someone at the top has a keypair that authorizes commands. Ownership of that keypair determines who can give commands to the army and police. One day, someone decides he’d rather not abide by the upcoming elections and spend all those long years in prison for the crimes he’s committed, and he outsources control of the army to some hirelings or cronies of his own.

My prediction is that within the next 30-40 years, we will see a number of coups in rich countries carried out using this kind of mechanism. Rich countries have mostly avoided coups because the soldiers and police and bureaucrats and citizens wouldn’t go along with them; when the would-be coup plotters need only convince machines and a few hundred co-conspirators to go along with them, coups will be common. They may even be more common in rich countries (with powerful, heavily automated police and military operations) than in poorer countries (who must rely more on human labor to make up for less automation).

doctorpat March 4, 2012 at 5:08 am

Expect to see it first in rich-but-poor countries. Think middle east. They have the money to introduce the automated army, but the social instability to cause coups to be likely in the first place. The western nations will then take steps to ensure their own systems are safe. These steps may or may not work.

Russ Wood March 2, 2012 at 10:45 am

Economic growth on the African continent will exceed that of China during the period 2010-2019.

Anthony March 2, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Relative (% change) or absolute (delta GDP)?

Neal March 3, 2012 at 7:45 am

Probably relative.

Justin March 2, 2012 at 10:46 am

The price of stamps will grow ever higher…

Sbard March 2, 2012 at 5:18 pm

You will find true love on Flag Day.

Ted Craig March 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

Lots of predictable but unexpected events will all go wrong within a few years, e.g. a massive religious war breaks out Southwest Asia rather than the Middle East while a hurricane devastates New York. The end of WWI and WWII both saw natural and man-made disasters at the same time.

derek March 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

This crisis will come to an end when there is no more money to lose.

That was my 2008 prediction and it seems to be tracking pretty well.

efp March 2, 2012 at 11:01 am

I predict we’re in a relatively short-lived era of cheap energy (several hundred to a thousand years on the outside). We’ll never get an adequate replacement for fossil fuels. Life a thousand years from now will look more like the 19th century, with iPads. (This is from a nuclear/plasma physicist.)

bluto March 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Which would make firefly a very interesting look at our future.

NPW March 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm

What about LFTR?

Collin Reid March 2, 2012 at 11:17 am

1) The libertarian movement will grow and lead to a major party realignment (FDR/1932 & Reagan/1980) in 2024 with one of the parties including libertarian values in its platform. Which one is up in the air.

2) Scott Sumner will write the future depression will be demographic/deflation spiral in 3 years when Japan starts really has trouble. The basics are you have a incredibly vibrant and hard working economy, Japan in the 1980′s, leading to a debt crash, Japan in 1990s, which limits the job opportunities for the younger slacker generation. Without great job opportunities the slacker generation put off marrying and starting families that can not cover the Keynesian government debt increase after the debt crash. This will a big issue for the next 20 years until 97% of the nations are in developing or developed status. Then we have a great boom of economic growth with increasing wages because there is not an excess of labor.

3) China 2013 – 21015 has a slowdown analogous to our S&L late 1980′s in which the second tier local cities and smaller banks have a debt balance sheet recession. The Chinese government will react relatively to fix the debt while increasing democrasy on a local level. In the long term the central Chinese government, large corporations and bank continue to consolidate power and lead a large financial crisis in about 30 years.

4) The big Chinese financial will lead to an inevitable battle between the nation-state and the ever growing supra national corporations. Corporations will lose the first round to the nation-state but change tactics and have a second battle in 80 years where the large businesses start governing the world. (I am saying this is not a bad thing.)


mark March 2, 2012 at 11:23 am

Pareto will be proven right: with enough data and supercomputing, it will be shown that in every organization, including the form of organization known as nations, 20% of the people do, in fact, generate 80% of the revenue. This will also be proven at second, third and so on generation iterations

charlie March 2, 2012 at 11:39 am

yes, and what is the marginal cost of 81% of revenue?

Matt March 2, 2012 at 11:47 am

1. Moore’s Law will cease to apply; technology will stagnate shy of the singularity. This will be true in economics (per capita GDP) as well as population. And it won’t be a bad thing.

2. Large government power will fade away; no one will notice (except maybe Tyler, he might even write an e-book about it if he’s still around).

Yancey Ward March 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Within 20 years, we will discover an asteroid or comet likely (90% probability) to strike the Earth in the next 25,000 years large enough to extinguish our civilization.

Andrew' March 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm

All developmentally related psychological problems will be determined to be structural defects or white-matter defects, that is problems within functional units or problems of communication between functional units. Environment will be a significant contributing factor to these. All neurodegenerative diseases will be determined to fall within the broader classification of “aging.”

JSIS March 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Large Scale War. We will see one within next 15years.
Opening of arctic will alter geo-politics. Friends will become foes and foes friends. Rise of drones and bots, will lower political threshold to war.

Mark Thorson March 2, 2012 at 3:12 pm

I completely disagree. I don’t think we’ll have any more big wars. I said that at a party a couple months ago, and someone immediately brought up Israel. I’m skeptical because the amount of territory subject to dispute is so small that I doubt Israel’s neighbors would risk regional war to obtain it for the Palestinians. Likewise, the value of Kashmir seems too small to provoke another major Indo-Pak war. I think the borders of nearly all nations are pretty much fixed in place now. Civil wars and secessionist movements may still occur, but not large wars between multinational alliances.

This isn’t like the situation before WW1, when European governments were much more willing to risk war. Today, the opposite view prevails — governments fear war even if only for the adverse economic consequences of the disruption in trade.

Anthony March 2, 2012 at 6:18 pm

I think Indo-Pak war is actually probable, though it won’t really be over Kashmir. It also won’t be a war of conquest. Most likely scenario is a major terrorist attack in India with obvious ties to Pakistan’s government. India invades, installs a new government that looks a lot like previous government (a bunch of Muslim generals), but that resolves existing outstanding disputes with minor concessions in India’s favor, and which savagely represses Islamist movements with ties to terrorism, including the current ISI.

More likely will be major wars in Africa over resources and territory. The results will significantly redraw the map, and not just by splitting existing countries. Imagine 18th century Europe, replayed in Africa. Existing large countries will disappear.

anonymous March 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm

With advances in food engineering, fast food will eventually become delicious and nutritious. We will probably be able to have additives to consume less as well.

I find it odd that almost all the predictions above are very negative. I am an engineer and I am *improving* my field, not driving it backwards. I predict under the assumption that other people are also improving thier fields.

Claudia March 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm

“I find it odd that almost all the predictions above are very negative.”

anonymous, I noticed that too. My favorite predictions for the future aren’t that surprising…except here since they are optimistic. So I didn’t figure they were worth adding. To answer your question, I think what you noted is a selection effect of MR and its readers. Nothing wrong with being pessimistic (probably right more often than not), but it’s not like all economists are dismal about the future.

Ted Craig March 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Because the history the world has occurred in starts and stops. Also, people tend to expect worse outcomes.

Urso March 2, 2012 at 4:24 pm

I think it’s because things like steady technological progress is considered de riguer. Most people here don’t actually believe in TGS.

There’s also the fact that most major exogenous shocks are negative. A tornado is much more likely to turn a house into a pile of lumber than it is to turn a pile of lumber into a house.

The Other Jim March 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm

>>I am an engineer and I am *improving* my field, not driving it backwards. I predict under the assumption that other people are also improving thier fields.

They are, but peace and prosperity and human rights are not “fields.”

They are things that happen from time to time, in some places and not others, and they come and they go.

Foobarista March 2, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Mine: artificial womb tech will be a massive game changer in numerous ways by mid-century, and will affect the social and relationship world as much as “the Pill” has. It will also affect geopolitics, as many countries with otherwise declining populations will want to boost their populations, and won’t want to do so by cranking up immigration. Why will it happen?

Russia and Japan, in particular, will need it and aren’t interested in large-scale immigration.

Urso March 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm

I agree with the womb thing. There’s already a surprisingly high # (seems high to me at least) of young rich and vain women who react viscerally to the idea of pregnancy and childbirth. It’s icky. One good example is the new pill that limits you to like 3 or 4 periods a year.

Once artificial wombs go mainstream, they’ll look at women who actually carry to term the way we look at people who reject any drugs or medical care during labor.

farmer March 2, 2012 at 1:36 pm

-increases in genetics and bio-tech in general will generate incontrovertable proof that HBD is correct. This will cause massive disruptions globally. I think this is ten years out, tops

-Soccer will become a world game, with hold-outs such as the US and Canada finally going along enthusiasticly (i see the MLS being bigger than NBA) in ~10 years

-Frustratingly, the quality of soccer will go up only slightly, despite many more players

-Belgium will split

-We will find out what happened to the “Mary Celeste”. (this is more a fingers-crossed type prediction)

doctorpat March 4, 2012 at 5:17 am

Proof of HBD causing world wide disruption? Most countries believe in it already. They just disagree as to whom is superior to whom.

Matt March 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Cognitive inequality will bring down egalitarianism and liberalism for good

dirk March 2, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Over the next 12 years, populist social conservatives who don’t care much for the free market (a la Huckabee, Santorum, Pat Buchanan, Bill O’Reilly) will take over the Republican party. In response, Libertarians will align themselves, awkwardly, with the Democrats, who will have lost some of their working-class constituents to the new Republicans. By necessity, Rush Limbaugh will have an epiphany that the free market isn’t always the way to go when American jobs are at stake.

Ted Craig March 2, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Nobody in the Republican party has taken Pat Buchanan seriously for 20 years.

TallDave March 2, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I actually think the opposite is much more likely. Social conservatives and statists are natural allies: they both believe in state coercion.

dirk March 2, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Then we agree on the outcome, if not the narrative. The coalition between free market conservatives and social conservatives is falling apart. The new alliances will be social conservative/statists vs. some diluted version of Libertarianism. The question is which groups defect from which parties. The reason I believe the Republicans are more likely to change first is because we’re already seeing the base’s commitment to free markets erode. For instance, I actually watched Bill O’Reilly a few days ago and he advocated that the government prevent oil companies from exporting gasoline (He implied it was unrefined oil, but whatever.) Match that with say, working class pro-union whites who have traditionally been Democrats but may be easily swayed by a Santorum-esque (with more charisma than Santorum) politician. The Democrats would then have to adjust in response, having lost the statist-minded working class. The only direction they can move (women won’t give up social liberalism) would be to appeal to more to free market-minded social liberals. I’m not suggesting they would become Libertarians by any means, but they could make say, Clintonesque concessions to economic realities.

Or maybe the social conservatives will become Democrats and the social liberals Republicans, but currently the Republican party seems more malleable and capable of surprise.

Ted Craig March 2, 2012 at 4:56 pm

I think you, like many commentors, are vastly overrating the role of libertarians in politics.

dirk March 2, 2012 at 5:58 pm

I’m not suggesting that libertarians would have anything to do with this paradigm shift or that their role in it would matter. I’m using their ideology as a reference point.

TallDave March 3, 2012 at 4:55 pm

But consider what 2011 looks like compared to 1951, and you have to say we are a much more libertarian society: wage and price controls are largely abandoned, sexual freedom (especially homosexuality) is much greater, trade is less restricted, notions of central planning have largely been abandoned, guns are available to almost everyone, rail and airline deregulation, even the freedom of people to ingest whatever they like is starting to increase.

The trend in the first half of the 20th was Progressive and sharply anti-libertarian, e.g. Prohibition, and more central planning and gov’t-enforced sexual mores than the 19th century. The trend since the 1950s has been back towards liberty.

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