It’s time for some long-term predictions on a range of topics that this blog has covered previously. Unlike the vague equivocation that passes for calling the future elsewhere, here the predictions are specific, wide-ranging and go way beyond what can reasonably be inferred from the present day. As such, I hope to be the next in a long line of crystal-ball gazers like the IBM president who said in 1943 that “there is a world market for maybe five computers”, and a certain Prime Minister who hailed the end of boom and bust. Since there’s no such thing as a correct prediction – only a lucky guess – I’ve got nothing to lose if I get it all wrong! So, without further ado…
The current drugs classification scheme will be seen as arbitrary. Several (possibly all) drugs, including MDMA and cannabis will be decriminalised, and tobacco will be increasingly regulated, starting with plain packaging. Alcohol may see tighter regulation, but the demands of social drinkers will prevent anything more radical. Importantly, alcohol and tobacco will come to be seen as drugs, and will fall under the same legislation.
The obesity epidemic will level off. Measures will be taken to reduce the amount of sugar added to processed food and soft drinks, or tax them. The sponsorship of the Olympic Games by companies like McDonalds and Cadbury’s will be looked back on like health claims for cigarettes and alcohol are now.
Euthanasia will be legalised. There may be a conflict with the lack of free will consensus here though.
Climate change action may become more forceful if there is greater perceived economic equality between the major nations. The gradual shift to renewables and more efficient nuclear power will proceed quickly enough to wean us off fossil fuels.
In the longer term, the next rights revolution will be for people with low socioeconomic status. This will be different from previous ones in that explicit rights are already equal, but there will be a realisation of how heavily health and social outcomes are influenced by circumstances. Equally, advances in behavioural genetics will further increase our understanding of how behaviour is determined. Combined with insights from neuroscience which leave little if any room for free will, the extent to which people are held responsible for their actions will decrease. This will result In less punitive prison terms, with less emphasis on punishment and more on containment, deterrence and rehabilitation. Economic inequality will become less acceptable, and will decrease after a shift to more progressive wages and redistribution. It won’t lead to a breakdown in law and order, and people will go about their business unchanged.
Scotland will vote for a middle way on the independence referendum in 2014, giving more financial powers to Holyrood. This relative success for the SNP will carry them into the next election and see them do well again.
There will be a slow movement towards ‘fairer capitalism’, with more employee-ownership, and models like co-operatives and mutuals in companies and banks. Working hours will decrease, which will mean a fairer distribution of employment throughout the population. The west will lose its global dominance with the rise of the new economies, but this won’t signal a terminal decline. Our high-tech science and research industries will continue to be world-leading for some time to come. Across the board they will also inform government policy much more closely.