Here's some perspective on how good we have it, from economist Brad DeLong

Economist Brad DeLong recently spoke with “Trekonomics” author Manu Saadia about how we’re living in a post-scarcity world.

Sure, we don’t have a replicator — that “Star Trek” device that can create any object in an instant — but we have more than enough resources for everyone to get by, and most people live comfortably by historical standards.

DeLong offered some perspective, first on food supply:

“Look, 1776 North America was a very rich country by 18th Century standards because of the enormous land to labour ratio, and yet still 75% of our people were farmers engaged in growing your 2,500 calories per day plus essential nutrients plus other things. Now, in the United States we’re down to 3% of the labour force who are growing our food, going from 75% to 3% means as far as basic calories and nutrients are concerned we have gone 95% of the way to the Replicator, right?”

On diet:

“Roman legions conquered Europe and much of Asia on basically a big loaf of garlic/barley bread plus some salt, plus whatever squirrels they could catch and whatever greens they could gather where the legions were marching. And they were happy to have this diet as long as they had sufficient salt attached to it. And that 2,500 calories plus essential nutrients plus enough protein was the destiny for most of the human… the occupation of most of the human race since the invention of agriculture. And this average diet, even with 75 to 80% of your labour force growing it, produced adult males whose average height was maybe 5’2″ or 5’3″. Such a diet, that if you try to give it to your children today Alameda County Child Protective Services would come and take your children away and you would never see them again … if you gave them that diet.”

On comfort:

“We have solved scarcity with respect to food, we’ve solved scarcity with respect to clothing, when we consider that the average Prussian noble family in the 18th Century had one gown suitable for court appearances to be shared among all of the females and these are people who are nobles, these are people with a Von in their surname. Last time I was in Britain, in Norfolk and we went to Oliver Cromwell’s house, the house he lived in when he was parliamentary representative … [and the] ceilings are seven feet tall. As far as that, when I was 5, my house in Wolford Massachusetts was more comfortable and had many more square feet per person than Oliver Cromwell’s house, plus we had appliances and we had central air.”

On health:

“Nathan Rothschild, the richest man of the world in the 19th Century, died when he was younger than I am of an infected abscess in his back. We don’t die of infected abscesses.”

So are we living in a “Star Trek” world? Not quite, but we’re almost there. As for what happens next, people might start acting more like they do in “Star Trek,” as DeLong explains:

“People regard Riker as a weirdo because he would rather be second-in-command to Picard than to control his own spaceship. And it’s pretty clear that that’s a feature of society rather than errors by screenwriters who haven’t gotten the way…

Indeed, people may be kinder, as Saadia explains:

“What’s so funny is, very often people criticise ‘The Next Generation’ and ‘Deep Space Nine’ because all the characters, they’re not relatable. They’re too perfect, they’re too nice, they’re too goody two shoes? They’re intergalactic boy scouts. But in fact, those traits are very consistent within a society where gift-exchange — that type of cooperative behaviour — is probably more rewarded than being a Ferengi.”

“Trekonomics” will be published by Inkshares. You can watch clips of DeLong’s conversation with Saadia on YouTube.

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