Listening for the Sonic Boom

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Posted by: briansittley Comments: 0 0 Post Date: March 15, 2010

In his new book Sonic Boom: Globalization at Mach Speed, author and lecturer Gregg Easterbrook paints his portrait of the coming recovery and why, he says, “it will hurt like hell.”  Google chairman Eric Schmidt calls it “the business book you must read.”  A few of Easterbrook’s points for your consideration:

Climate change will change everything: Dramatic economic change and climate change will occur simultaneously, causing some serious convulsions.  Winners are those in the high-latitude regions as they become more temperate, and minerals and oil beneath the permafrost become easier to mine.  Think Russia.

Manufacturing will be obsolete: This one got my attention.  Production times are decreasing with increased automation and smaller factory staffs.  Such changes imply fewer manufacturing jobs even as production rises.  Soon, contends Easterbrook, there won’t be any nation with a factory-based economy.  By extension, higher productivity “generates the social wealth that creates more jobs for teachers and health care providers.”  Perhaps another example of the manufacturing age morphing into the fabled information age.

College is our secret weapon: America has the biggest lead in higher education in the world.  Yet states are cutting back their public university systems.  That’s a big mistake, the author notes, since those with college educations are better able to fend for themselves in a turbulent economy, rather than relying on the public dole.

Women will double the world’s supply of ideas: Women’s education levels are finally catching up to, or even (in the western world) surpassing men’s.  In the developing world, this will take a generation or two, but it’s coming.  There will be twice as many people to apply their brainpower to solving the world’s ills.  And not a moment to soon.  See also this earlier blog post

Militarism will decline: Setting aside Iraq, Afghanistan and Darfur as “awful exceptions” Easterbrook describes a decades-long trend toward fewer wars.  The chance of dying in combat is the lowest in history.  Global arms spending has declined per capita by 40% in the past 25 years.  Nations are more interested in acquiring market share than territory.  And the evolving superpower relationship between the U.S. and China is unique in history, as they cooperate, if sometimes in fits and starts, on economic production. 

Still, for all this, the times will be unsettling and uncertain, and of that you can be certain.  As Easterbrook puts it: “A chaotic, raucous, unpredictable, stress-inducing, free, prosperous, well-informed future is coming.”  It will be a sonic boom. 

Predictions these days seem a dime a dozen, but these make sense.  The boom may not be quite as novel as the ones some of us remember from our youth.  But the changes they portend are certainly bound to get our attention, whether we choose to cover our ears or not.

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