Three thoughts make a post.
I’ve been thinking a little this morning about second order effects from technology.
Electric cars and the Meadows.
Prompted by an article on the ever popular Andrew Ducker’s Interesting Links I’ve been thinking about the geography of the Meadows.
There is a strip of park that runs along Melville Drive, the big road that runs along the south side of the Meadows and the north east side of the Bruntsfield Links. It’s on the south side of Melville Drive, so not part of the Meadows proper This bit of park land is about 20-40 feet wide and runs from outside my flat to the far west end of the Meadows. It’s tree lined and has a foot and cycle path running along it. It’s pleasant to walk through but it’s not much used for anything other than being walked through. Nobody sits there, even when the Meadows is utter full. I think this is because it’s right next to a main road. It’s noisy and a bit fumey from the traffic.
When we start using electric cars which are quiet and non-polluting* I think this area becomes much more likely to be a place to sit. On hot days when the Meadows and Links are full it’s an extra three quarters of a hectare of shaded outdoor space. As I walked to work I noticed quite a few spaces where one might sit were it not for the noise and gases from passing cars dotted about Edinburgh
So, I’m wondering what parts of our cities become much more pleasant to use when we have mainly electric cars.
Language barriers and Cultural barriers.
My second Wold question** was about language translation. What happens when we have access to fast to the point of instant, very accurate translation. I type an email in English, you read it in German, or Latin or Lithuanian. Going a bit further, I chat away in English and your earphones translate my chat into your language of choice. Thinking about these abilities being so good that they eliminate the language barrier.*** I wonder if it removes the most significant barrier to labour mobility in the EU. Does it remove it and is it the most significant barrier to labour mobility?
Labour mobility, or the relative lack of it compared to China and the US, I think is one of the reasons why the EU is just slightly under performing its own economic potential. The US has a population of several hundred million who speak one of two languages and can move anywhere. The EU, with a slightly larger population has a couple of dozen.
I think more practically porous borders might help with some of the acute difficulties facing some EU populations. It’s currently not hugely helpful to an unemployed Greek or Spaniard that the German economy is booming as they find it difficult to migrate to Germany to find work because they don’t speak German.
Does the economy of the EU get a boost from increased labour mobility or do we end up with even larger migrant populations crowding into cities where the economy is growing?
What happens to culture when we all, in practise speak German and Greek and Spanish? Does it persist geographically? By interest group? By outlook?
So I am wondering at the secondary effects on the EU of reducing the language barriers through technology.
A Huge Economy, A Large Public Sector.
By 2046 the UK public sector will be the same size of our entire economy is today.
Or rather, assuming average growth in the UK returns to slightly below its long term average i.e. 2% and the proportion of GDP spent through the public sector in 2046 rises to 50% in 2046 the size of the public sector will be about £2.48 billion from a total GDP of £4.96 billion.
At 2%***** growth, compounded, our economy doubles every 35 years.**** I think a lot of this growth is going to come from technology.
At current wage trends we should see income parity with China sometime around 2030. Productivity adjusted unit cost of labour parity is likely to arrive sooner than that.
So we’ll be richer in 35 years. With less competition on price for jobs.****** Obviously, there are questions about how that wealth is distributed which matter a lot to our individual and collective experience of that increased wealth. I’m thinking about the second order effects of additional wealth. Do we become more generous? Do we choose to take that growth as leisure, as stuff, as transfer payments or investments to promote equality?
Will we notice, or will life still feel like hard work when lived from the inside? If life feels easier I’m wondering how that changes us. Would we see a reduction in the number of two income households? More amateurs in all fields? A great culture explosion as freed from the tyranny of paid work we invest our time in our hobbies and our children?
*At the point of use.
** A Wold Question is a family term for a pondering, not very acute but makes you think a little bit question. The term originates with my mother who on a trip to the Cotswolds with her friends asked “But what is a Wold?”
***Douglas Adams fans know the answer to this but after we’ve rebuilt Europe what then?
****At 4% it doubles about every 18 years or so.
***** 2% and a bit has been the trend of growth in the UK for some time and there is some evidence to suggest that 2% is the long term growth trend for the world over the last several thousand years when you strip out the effect of population growth and accumulation of capital. That is to say that the effect of technology on growth is 2% per annum.