Gregg Easterbrook on Sonic Boom
Probably the international recession is ending--so what comes next? A Sonic Boom is what comes next. Dramatic global economy growth is likely to resume, especially in the developing world, where growth is needed most. Prosperity should start back upward. Goods and service will continue getting better and cheaper. That’s the boom part. But job anxiety and economic insecurity will accelerate, too. Even as the global economy recovers, we may not feel especially good, because economic change will keep coming faster. That’s the sonic part. A sonic boom is powerful, but also nerve-shattering.
History teaches that when some crisis interrupts larger trends, as soon as the crisis concludes, the larger trends resume. Before the international economic crisis that began in late 2007, the larger trends were robust global growth and rising economic insecurity. Look for both trends to resume in a Sonic Boom world.
Many aspects of a Sonic Boom world will be wonderful. Faster, cheaper communication; easy global access to information and knowledge; rapid innovation, including for green energy; increasing freedom, especially women’s freedom; greater awareness of other cultures. Women’s freedom will itself double the world’s supply of ideas! And the more we know about each other, the less nations and cultures will fear each other, meaning militarism should decline.
But the same forces bringing about better products at lower prices, and improved communication and cultural exchange, will make jobs less secure. It’s not just autoworkers in Indiana--soon everyone everywhere will feel insecure about his or her source of income, even if the economy is basically fine.
And does globalization drive you crazy? Then brace yourself: globalization has barely gotten started. A decade from now, the world will be far more globally integrated. That’s good (ease of communication, improved understanding of other cultures) and bad (businesses will come into and go out of existences even faster).
Here are some important considerations for the Sonic Boom:
- Network effects are just getting started. You may already be sick of the Internet--but it’s still in infancy. We will soon be more globally linked than today.
- Universal high school must be replaced by universal college. A century ago, school was mandatory until age 16; adjust for rising life expectancy, and school should now be mandatory until age 23. In a technological world, college is far more valuable to a nation than petroleum; the United States needs a sweeping commitment to everyone attending some college.
- The Microsoft Word Test. I typed a misspelling of "Ljubljana" on my laptop, and Word provided the correct spelling. You know where Ljubljana is, don’t you? You’d better--it is becoming an economic player. In the Sonic Boom era, any nation or city whose correct spelling is recognized by Microsoft Word is a place that may cause economic commotion by, oh, tomorrow morning.
- The Super Bowl of Stress. It’s approaching. Stability is the underdog!
A chaotic, raucous, unpredictable, stress-inducing, free, prosperous, well-informed and very smart future is coming. Sonic Boom provides a guide to what to expect--and how to cope.--Gregg Easterbrook
Easterbrook is the author of six books and contributing editor to the Atlantic Monthly and the New Republic. In his previous book, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse (2003), he argued that, by all standards, American life has been getting better and better for generations, and compelled us to utilize our prosperity to improve the lives of the disenfranchised around the world. Here he extends his theory to the now-familiar territory of globalization, showing how since World War II the greatest nations of the world have put more of their resources into economic growth and less into military spending. According to Easterbrook, this has all been fueled by reductions in import tariffs and relaxed trade restrictions. Although the current global downturn puts a chink in the armor of his case, he still claims that the larger trend will continue to put pressure on nations to reduce violent conflict, increase the rights of women, and convert to free-market democracies. Easterbrook’s power of economic positive thinking allows the reader to step back from the gloom and look at the larger picture. --David Siegfried