Tag Archives: Future

People in 1900 predict our times…

ImageIn yesterday’s seminar, we discussed Matthew Rendall’s fascinating article about protecting our grandchildren against climate catastrophe at their own expense. The article builds on the idea that under certain assumptions our grandchildren might be much better off than we are.

This assumption about rising levels of welfare caused a lot of protest. The point that still bothers me in this whole discussion is this: How on earth could we actually give reasons for claims to the effect that future generations will be better off than us or worse off than us?

I suggested some ways of giving reasons for such claims here. Here’s a further method one could use for avoiding arbitrariness about predictions about the future:

  1. Estimate your own gut feeling about the future being richer or poorer than us.
  2. Think hard and carefully about the direction in which our gut feeling is probably distorted by biases.

In that context, it might also be instructive to see whether the past over- or underestimated future welfare rises. A fun and interesting example is from the Ladies Home Journal of December 1900. A journalist asked the “wisest and most careful men in our greatest institutions of science and learning” what they expect the world to look like in 2001. Read here for yourself.

They predicted peas as large as beets and strawberries as large as apples. Sometimes the forecasts are quite good, though. Twitter even seems to have made this prophecy come true  “Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers. English will be a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas (…)”.

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People are pessimistic about the future

An interesting excerpt from the newsletter of the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations: “An international public opinion poll recently published by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) shows that of the 13 countries investigated, only citizens in Brazil, Belgium and India believe that future generations will be better off than today’s generation. 66% of respondents from all countries believe that future generations will be worse off, while only 27% believe they will be better off. According to the survey, the French have the most pessimistic outlook, with 93% of respondents feeling that future generations will be disadvantaged. The findings represent the opinions of over 1.4 billion people. The full study is available on the ITUC’s website.”