January 28, 2003

PESSIMISM ABOUT THE FUTURE: I have to say, this posting by Michael Rogers seems to hit the nail on the head. Most people I know are pessimistic about the future of their professions, too, almost across the board. I wonder if it's caused by the phenomenon Brad DeLong identifies: better communications technology is creating more competition for people in a wide variety of fields.

DeLong's prediction for 2023 reminds me of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, in which we're told that globalization had smeared things out into a worldwide layer of "what a Pakistani bricklayer would consider prosperity."

Is that really our future? I'm inclined to doubt it. But I could be wrong.

UPDATE: John Nye emails:

I think the trends you speak of would be at work even if there were no globalization. And Stephenson had it wrong. The greatest wage pressure will be on status and goods. Prosperity should easily increase material welfare (no. of cars, clothes, dinners, etc. you can buy) but will adversely affect prestige goods (like the probability of being accepted to the top ten universities or the chance of buying that prime lot in Menlo Park or even getting tickets to Broadway). So the issue is not that standard of living will be at the Pakistani middle class level.

Rather it will feel like that for some because they will be objectively richer but some of the things they cherish which provide status will be unobtainable. This has already been happening in the US. See my article on Irreducible Inequality.

I think this may be right. Reader George Zachar emails:

BY DEFINITION most professions will vanish/evolve into something unrecognizable as time, technology and expertise advance.

Focus on individual capabilities/skill sets/flexibility, and things look brighter/more realistic.

I've lost count of the personal career metamorphisms I've gone through.

I think this is right, too.