I’ve been reading Al Gore’s forthcoming new book The Future, which I’m reviewing for The Independent so will not write about it here. But it set me thinking again about how hard it is to be long-termist, especially in the public sphere. My own book The Economics of Enough is about some of our societies’ multiple failures to respect the future. Can we hope that long-termism is at long last an emerging theme in the policy debate?
Recently I went back to Paul Krugman’s 1990 paper (pdf), History versus Expectations, which shows in an endogenous growth model that the rate at which the economy grows depends fundamentally on expectations of progress. But of course the past matters in shaping current attitudes and behaviours, and hope and respect for the future will depend on appropriate deference to the past – neither being trapped by it nor overlooking it. Both past and future play their part. Browsing through some Tacitus as a delaying tactic before starting work this morning, I think his Agricola summed it up:
“Think, therefore, as you advance to battle, at once of your ancestors and of your posterity.”
Agricola and Germania (Penguin Classics)