“Not with a bang, but a whimper.” – T. S. Eliot
The West is slowing down. Almost imperceptibly, the rate of improvement in productivity and output per head is slowing to a stop. As this graph shows, the amount of wealth we generate per head of population is still increasing with time – but by progressively smaller and smaller amounts. That is, we are still getting richer, but at slower and slower rates with every generation. Soon, we may stop getting richer altogether. For some demographics in our society – what Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin call the “Left Behinds”, – that is already the painful reality.
As the politician and blogger Dan Hannan astutely observes, the media love to talk in term of apocalypses, but in fact long, very slow declines are far more common. A slow decline is in some ways more dangerous and difficult to reverse, as people tend to become conditioned to the new realities and have fewer sharp memories of what used to be considered normal.
Portents of doom are always fashionable, of course, but then it is also true that sometimes the sky really does fall in on societies andcivilisations. During the next few weeks I will be asking a series of questions on the reasons for the decline and if so, what are the prospects for our society: Are we really in decline, or is the current period just a hiatus before the dawn of a new golden age? Will the second machine age make wholedemographics redundant, and if so how do we reconstruct society to cope with an entirely new paradigm? Is the remorseless process of feminisation in society, while making our society in some ways kinder and more tolerant, also leading it towards stagnation? To what extent is demography destiny? If the acquisition of wealth once again reverts to the zero-sum game it has been throughout most of human history, is war among Western countries once again conceivable? What, if any, does the role of religion play in prosperity or stagnation?
Of course, these are almost inexhaustible topics several academic theses could be written on, so the purpose of the blogs is certainly not to come to any hard and fast conclusions, rather they are intended to start a conversation: a conversation about an age we are entering that promises not only to be very different to the last, but very different from anything we have seen before.