This could be our economy in the year 2100
We could design a solarpunk future.
In my last essay, I mentioned that our global economy could be worth up to $1,000 trillion by the year 2100, with a global average income of $140,000 per person per year.
That’s a good thing. If the economy is so big that it generates enough wealth for everyone to earn $140,000 per year, we have eradicated world poverty and everyone has what they need to survive and even thrive.1
The question then becomes, what do we want our economy to achieve—apart from provide us with jobs and money? Because an economy in which everyone works in retail creates a very different future than if everyone works in green energy—both industries might earn workers a $140,000 salary but they do very different things for society.
That’s why I wanted to figure out what our economy does right now so we can figure out what we want it to do in the year 2100.
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What the economy does now
Right now, the economy isn’t very intentional, it’s opportunistic. It came about because we thought, “here’s an opportunity to make money,” “there’s an opportunity to make money,” and we created the economy we have now in response to those opportunities.
But we can intentionally determine what we want to achieve and engineer the economy to create it. Governments can (and do) incentivize certain markets and industrial sectors based on the needs of humanity. The question is: what do we want our economy to achieve?
What do we want to achieve?
Once we have developed all of the world’s economies and swapped our energy sources for renewable ones, we will have eliminated poverty even as we’ve drastically reduced our impact on the environment.
In my mind, the only thing we need to accomplish after that is to improve global health, invest in child and elder care, support access to education, and incrementally improve our lives based on our needs at that point—perhaps by automating lower-paying jobs, reducing our workweek hours, improving public transportation systems, and so on.
By the year 2100, our checklist could look like this:
Eliminate poverty Don’t destroy the place we live
Improve global health
Support child/elder care
Improve global education
Bonus category! Incremental improvements forever!3
Most of those priorities are only indirectly related to the economy. Our healthcare and education systems are very important, for example, but the money for those programs comes less from the market, and more from the government taxing the market and using that money to invest in and support those systems. In the United States, healthcare contributes very little to the economy (it’s not even on the above pie chart!), but it makes up a very large percentage of the government’s budget (26%!).
In this way, it almost doesn’t matter what our economy is producing so long as the money it generates is taxed and then used by the government to better our lives. But there are collateral effects to that kind of thinking. If our economy is dependent on making lots of clothing and material goods, we might make enough money to support healthcare and education programs, but we will wind up using way too many environmental resources to produce them and we will fill up our landfills in the process.
An economy that is built on science and technology, however, won’t use as many environmental resources and could drastically improve our lives.
What the economy could do in 2100
If it were up to me to reorganize the economy according to the priorities above, I would make it look more like this:
In this economy, we would still have a healthy manufacturing sector that builds high-speed trains and advanced public transportation systems, retrofits green buildings and public parks, and manufactures medical technologies that improve our health. Our infrastructure sector will support a global WiFi satellite network, power our cities using renewable energy, provide clean water for the world, and mine the materials we need to maintain our public infrastructure, manufacture lifesaving medical equipment, and support our technological needs.
From there, I would drastically increase the science and technology sectors. With close to half of the economy now working to eradicate disease and better humanity, we will use our workforce for scientific research, designing sanitation systems that monitor public health ,and inventing AI that prevents disease. Our technology sector will build beautiful garden cities with moss-covered buildings that absorb pollutants from the air, luminescent trees that light the streets, and smart greenhouses that grow food for every block.
We will still need some material goods, but probably not everything one can purchase on Amazon. That’s why our retail sector is much smaller—existing almost entirely as second-hand markets with Etsy-like artisans crafting the rest. We will also need banks, but not necessarily the full spectrum of financial activities that make that category so inflated. That’s why our financial sector exists solely to fund and support our now very robust science and technology sectors. We would also get out of oil and gas altogether (which we are already on track to do).
Altogether, this economy will make governments so rich that they can fund robust healthcare systems, quality care and education systems, and even a universal basic income that sparks a renaissance of artists to beautify our society. With the whole world working, our economy could very well be divided into 20-hour workweeks spent on careers that better our society, while making our governments rich enough to support us with free healthcare, free childcare, free education, and universal basic income.
One worker in this economy might spend the morning working at the lab curing cancer only to spend the afternoon gardening in the local greenhouse. Another worker might spend the morning making a sculpture for the local park before heading to work as engineer for our high-speed train systems. Still another worker might spend the morning teaching at a university or taking young children to coding camp, only to spend the afternoon baking bread for the neighbors or enjoying a picnic dinner with friends and family.
Thanks to scientific advancements, we will live longer healthier lives even as we eradicate disease. Thanks to technological advancements, we will live in 15-minute cities, with everything we need—schools, work, parks, libraries, and greenhouses that grow our food—within walking and biking distance. Almost all of our work will be done from local coworking labs and shared tech studios, and we can jet away to another hub with the same amenities with a just quick train ride or flight across the country. Our workforce will be actively researching and bettering our lives, and that will make our governments rich enough to support us with time that can be spent on art and with our communities.
This future is not a scientific rendering—in fact, it’s highly speculative. But the economy can absolutely be designed to support whatever future we want to create. We can incentivize the parts of the economy that will most contribute to advancing humanity (like science and technology) while decentivizing the parts that don’t (like retail and finance). We can have a very large, $1 quadrillion economy that provides for everyone, even as that economy uses very little of the environment and incrementally improves and supports our lives.
But this is just one vision for our future economy and I’d love to know yours. Join us in the comments section for further speculation on the economy of 2100! 👇🏻
Thank you so much for reading!
P.S. This is the third part in my growth & degrowth series.
I’m purposely only looking at “advanced economies” because it’s our best indicator of what our global economy will look like when all of our countries are developed.
This is very similar to the UN’s 17 priorities. I just condensed theirs because if we make the economy very big that will solve 1, 2, 8, and 9. And if we are using renewable energy sources that will solve 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15. From there, the government will be rich enough to enact policies that solve 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 16, and 17.
GOAL 1: No Poverty
GOAL 2: Zero Hunger
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being
GOAL 4: Quality Education
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
GOAL 13: Climate Action
GOAL 14: Life Below Water
GOAL 15: Life on Land
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal