All economists scorn attempts at describing a future world economy. As an economist manque I feel able to avoid the charge by describing an outline of the over 200 nation-states of the world registered with the United Nations in five categories:
1. The ‘Original Six’ and their consequences. This category comprises England and the five additional countries that responded immediately when a few carpenters rigged a multi-bobbin machine in Manchester that stretched, twisted and span raw cotton into standard cotton thread. The following countries were France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and America.
From then on, they dominated world production of cotton thread — then highly expensive — and, since then continued to dominate world trade in all high-value goods that consumers were demanding from about 1850 onwards. It’s not surprising, therefore, that these six still have the highest standard of living in the world.
The Original Six also hold scientific enquiry, testing and measurement high in their cultural scheme of things. Their labs cover every possible scientific potentiality and are first onto totally unexpected discoveries as they occur from time to time. They win almost all the Nobel Prizes for scientific subjects every year. Whether any or all of the Six maintain their present respect for science in the next 100 years only our descendants will know.
2. The ‘Might Catch Up Ten’ countries comprise the three Nordic countries, the three Baltic countries, Denmark, Israel, Taiwan, Iceland, Australia* and Canada.*. All have great respect for high levels of education and they all have at least one or two scientific projects in which they have a leading edge and have won at least one or two Nobels — small numbers so far but already greatly disproportionate to their small populations. One or two or these — probably Israel — might well break into the ranks of the Original Six in 100 years’ time.
[*Unaccountably I missed these two from the original and have apologised in the Comments.. These have been added in postscript here for the sake of any reader in future weeks who may read this version first.]
3. The ‘Seven Long-Shots’ comprise China, Japan, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India and Brazil. All these countries have poured vast investment into science, engineering and technology. They are basically copiers of technology, not originators. Scientists from all of these countries have won Nobel Prizes but only in miniscule numbers, greatly disproportionate to their large populations — relatively large when compared with those of category 2.
The chances are that this category, as with the first two, will be locked into much the same relative standard of living as they have now. There’s unlikely to be any significant change until we finally leave the present metal-based mechanical era and move into a future biologically-based services era — in which the two main services, education and health. These will be be very highly priced — that is, needing an altogether more efficient and fairer taxation system.
As for the remaining 180 countries registered with the United Nations, what can we say? They’re likely to have a very bad time in the next 100 years, not being able to break into trading high value goods. One or two lucky ones might acquire governments which manage to steer them gently, but swiftly, down a steep population control path. Smaller populations will help to raise their standard of living. Also, some governments might decide seriously to conserve beautiful environments — and attendant animal life — in their domains. This could attract growing numbers of appreciative holiday-makers from the Original Six — plus, of course, accommodating many more scientific research projects than are carried out now.