In 1776 Adam Smith published his “Wealth of Nations” which has guided economists and political thinkers ever since. It marks the start of the Industrial Revolution that began in Britain and then spread throughout most of the world. That was 245 years ago.
It’s not that long ago- only four lifespans or so, the time of your great, great, great, grandparents. Stand them side by side and that’s less than four metres across. Where will we be 245 years hence? Presumably just as today we listen to Mozart, born 257 years ago, and watch or read Shakespeare, born 439 years ago- they have survived all changing tastes and spread well outside their original orbit of European culture to countries as varied as Japan, China, Argentina, Tanzania and South Korea- we can be pretty sure that generations to come will have much the same cultural interests. There is no reason why people will go into reverse or shoot off at a tangent. In all likelihood in 2250 we will probably still enjoy tastes picked up from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries- perhaps the Beatles, Picasso, some of the outstanding Third World novelists writing today like the Nigerian Ben Okri and the Indian, Vikram Seth or the pristine recordings of the magnificent Chinese classical violinists and pianists now emerging. We won’t have better artists. Who can ever rival the Russian ballet star, Ulyana Lopatkina, the opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa, the composer Tchaikovsky, the painter Leonardo da Vinci, film-maker Ingmar Bergman, the novelists Tolstoy and Jane Austen, the pop musicians, Paul McCartney and John Lennon, and playwright William Shakespeare plus another dozen or two who are as good?
Our religions will persist- for Christians mainly among the less well educated. Islam will finally go through its own Enlightenment. Astronomy will probe to the very edge of our universe and to universes beyond (if they exist, as is suspected) but still does not find God to settle the debate on belief for all time.
By 2250, the great world wars of the twentieth century, the Holocaust, the rise and fall of Communism, the first black president of the US, the dominance of America, the futile, “never-ending wars” of the United States and NATO, mankind’s exploration of the solar system, the Arab Spring, the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, the early body part replacements, the great recessions of today and the century before, terrible diseases and viruses, and the poverty and underdevelopment of Africa and South Asia will have become faded memories.
For most, all possible economic, medical and material needs will be satisfied. People will be satiated by progress on this front. Some people will be living until they are 200 years old, totally bored by prolonged retirement and wishing they had died 100 years before, even though face-lifts will be cheap and perfect. (Norman Mailer said he never wanted to retire because he didn’t play golf!) But there will also be a flowering of the arts. Space travel will have made mining on the moon an everyday practice and spaceships (unmanned), taking 150 years to travel so far, will have explored the distant reaches of our galaxy, beaming back intimate pictures of far space with tantalisingly close glimpses of black holes.
For those who want to remain active and live long it will be accepted that we change professions every 60 years and have easy access to further education, the arts and sports. People will change partners as a matter of course- very few of us can live with one person for over 100 years without regarding the attachment as extremely monotonous and tedious. Medical science will keep us sexually active for as long as we want to be. Couples will have children until they are well over 100. People will expect to have two batches of these.
As it is today, the means and future of economic progress will be a topic of intense conversation, because we can always do better. The “limits of growth” will be accepted and also the need to conserve the planet. Making do with less, the world will have abundant energy, food and minerals and these will be available everywhere. Less also, because science will have brought us fusion power feeding on sea water, crops that produce unimaginable yields and ways of transportation that require only small amounts of energy. With much popular support governments will have passed legislation to prohibit the dangerous possibilities and outcomes of genetic engineering and Artificial Intelligence.
John Maynard Keynes’ thoughts (he wrote in the 1930s and 40s) will still dominate the thinking of future economists, as they do today. His ideas on demand management will be in vogue and the ideas of conservative economists on austerity meant to balance the books will have been long declared as null and void. Economic progress, he wrote, will enable us to be free “to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue- that avarice is vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful.”
The likes of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mobutu, Pinochet, Assad, Trump, Johnson and Putin will have been thrown into the dustbin of history. People will be too well educated and prosperous to allow tyrants, autocrats and deceivers to emerge as leaders. The world will be so cosmopolitan and inter-cultural marriages so common that nationalism and racism will have withered on the vine. Women, the world over will, have been emancipated. The trafficking of women and children, and pornography will be distant memories. The United Nations will have become a vigorous and effective peacemaker and “do-gooder”. Vetoes in the Security Council will be a thing of the past.
Democracy and the observance of human rights will have prevailed. The Catholic Church, Judaism and Islam will no longer be theocracies. Atheistic, non-violent, Buddhism will be ever more popular as the source of a universal moral code and Buddha’s denunciation of war will make military conflict, the possession of nuclear weapons and the abuse of human rights to be regarded as the practice of inferior human beings. The Palestinians will have their own country and its land will be bountiful. Britain will long ago have re-entered the European Union and the EU will continue to set an example of how to strengthen peace in the world. China and America will have found a way to live in Confucian-style harmony. Russia will be democratic, and it will have entered the EU. NATO will end its confrontation policies. A much-reduced military will be mainly used for emergency help for floods, earthquakes and the like.
The words of the American political thinker, Michael Mandelbaum, who wrote in the early twenty first century, will have been shown to be spot on: “The great chess game of international politics is finished. A pawn is now just a pawn, not a sentry standing guard against an attack on the king.”
Is this my idealism or is it true? You tell me! As the poet Robert Browning wrote, “Man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?”