Dreaming of a future utopia

Jonathan Power imagines a utopia four generations hence, where hunger, poverty and war will be nothing but faded bad memories

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 2:46am

In 1776, Adam Smith published his Wealth of Nations, which has guided economists and political thinkers ever since. It marked the start of the Industrial Revolution that began in England and then spread throughout most of the world. That was 237 years ago.

It is not that long ago - only four life spans or so. Where will we be 237 years hence? Presumably, just as today, we will listen to Mozart and read Shakespeare - they have survived all changing tastes and spread well outside their original orbit of European culture. In all likelihood, we will probably still enjoy tastes picked up from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but we won't have better artists - who can ever rival Tchaikovsky, da Vinci or Tolstoy?

In 2250, the great world wars of the 20th century, the holocaust, the rise and fall of communism, the first black president of the US, the dominance of America, mankind's early exploration of the solar system, the great recessions of today and the century before, and the poverty and underdevelopment in Africa will have become faded memories.

Instead, for most, all possible economic and material needs will be satisfied. People will be satiated by progress on this front. Some will be living until they are 200, bored by prolonged retirement and wishing they had died 100 years before. But there will also be a flowering of the arts. Space travel will have made mining on the moon an everyday practice and unmanned spaceships will have explored the distant reaches of our galaxy.

As today, the means and future of economic progress will be a topic of intense conversation. The "limits of growth" will no longer be discussed. The world will have abundant energy, food and minerals because science will have brought us fusion power feeding on sea water, crops that produce unimaginable yields and ways of transportation that require only small amounts of energy.

John Maynard Keynes' thoughts - written in the 1930s - will still dominate the thinking of future economists. His ideas on demand management will be in vogue and the ideas on austerity to balance the books will have been long declared null and void.

Economic progress, Keynes wrote, will enable us to be free "to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue - that avarice is vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour and the love of money is detestable. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful."

The likes of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mobutu, Pinochet and Assad will have been thrown into the dustbin of history. People will be too well educated and prosperous to allow tyrants to emerge and the world will be so cosmopolitan that nationalism will have withered on the vine.

Democracy and the observance of human rights will prevail. The Catholic Church, Judaism and Islam will no longer be theocracies. Atheistic, non-violent, Buddhism will be ever more popular as the source of a universal moral code and Buddha's denunciation of war will make military conflict the practice of inferior human beings.

Is this just my idealism? As the poet Robert Browning wrote, "Man's reach must exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for?"

Jonathan Power is a syndicated columnist