Economic trajectories into the future

The Digital Revolution started only about 40 years ago. While much of it is still in the future, some of the challenges and opportunities ahead are already clearly visible. In essence, there are two major forces at work: One is the breakthrough of information as the next dominant economic fuel, the other is the diversity of economic realities around the globe. Today, I’ll take a deeper look at this diversity and how it might evolve in the future.

What drives an economy in the very long run?

Just a few weeks ago, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the decision to award this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics to Paul Romer for integrating technological change into macroeconomic analysis. That’s a good reason for thinking through the long-term history of innovative activity, for investigating how technological change itself changed over time, and what the future might hold for us.

Seeing possibilities

At a global scale, how do you perceive the path of mankind? Getting better? Getting worse? Getting nowhere? Listening to our instincts, we are inclined to hold a gloomy, even bleak view of the current state and our future prospects. But is such pessimism at all justified? Should we rely on our guts? And what do the facts tell us? The big trends that shape the development of populations and define their health and wealth, these drivers of societal progress are the focus of Hans Rosling’s lifelong mission as a public health practitioner, researcher, and teacher.

The efficiency mindset – appealing, but treacherous

Much of the public debate about innovation is centred on the corporate world, where share-holder value still rules supreme, and where innovation is the key avenue to keep the competitive advantage required to excel in the market. In this environment, efficiency is the prime driver. However, his mindset asks us to implement solutions quickly. The result can be too much emphasis on solutions with too little concern for the underlying problems; too much doing with too little thinking. And that has some unintended, hideous side-effects and long-term implications.

The risks of economic narrow-mindedness

It is all too tempting to judge an economy’s health simply by its growth rate. No big wonder then that many economic policies are devised with growth as their only goal. However, this approach grossly simplifies the complexity of an economy’s inner workings. Rather than searching for the one perfect signal of economic success, we should take the opposite angle and try to understand what could go wrong. Today, I’ll offer a more detailed sketch of this concept to illustrate how our own economic narrow-mindedness makes us susceptible to economic failure, i.e., how a singular focus on growth blinds us for many important aspects of economic health.