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flutherother's avatar

Generally speaking, in the long long term do you think people will get richer or poorer?

Asked by flutherother (30716points) September 20th, 2010

In our lifetime people have on average been becoming better and better off but can this continue indefinitely. Looking very far ahead do you see people being richer than today or poorer?

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31 Answers

tranquilsea's avatar

Poorer, in general. Too many people are carrying crippling amounts of debt.

marinelife's avatar

Richer. I think the recession is over and people’s fortunes will turn around and the markets will rise.

Ltryptophan's avatar

The meek shall inherit the earth so it seems they will be getting much much richer, as long as you think the earth is valuable.

flutherother's avatar

Personally, I think richer in the short to medium term but beyond that as oil starts to run out and food inflation starts to kick in we will on average start to become worse off. We are living in a golden age.

iamthemob's avatar

Richer. In the developed world, and as I hope (and perhaps naively think) in the developing world in the near future, the poorest of our population is better off than probably a majority of the population one or two centuries ago.

the one thing that I think would reverse that, funny you should mention, is the peak oil issue…we really need to get it together and you know, use alternative technologies? Right?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Isn’t that the way it’s always been for eons? I see the rise of the middle class in the last 200 years or so as an aberration.

YARNLADY's avatar

In my dreams, I see a day when mankind grows up the needs of all are met.

Berserker's avatar

In most of man’s history, if not all of it, the rich and the poor have always been severely divided, putting the rich into the minority, and I don’t see that ever changing. As for ,‘getting poorer’’, well looking at the state of many people, especially in places like Africa, I don’t see how much more poor you can get.

I did read something interesting not too long ago though, about how people who live in extreme poverty and have had their culture basically defined through famine and disease could never adjust to a regime of lower/middle class, let alone upper class, since all they know is being too busy walking 12 miles for water, then another 3 to go to school and then go home and spend four hours making some meager dinner out of sun scorched veggies from their puny gardens.

However, people like us would, also, never be able to live the way they do, what with our computers and convenience stores and cars. It’s off topic I know, but it does say a lot for what degrees of poverty exist everywhere, which may be related to this question.

Maybe that will happen to us too, when some day homeless people will be out of a job since nobody will have change to give em…but the way shit works, we might see a revolution, like they had in France, or something like the cold war before everyone is left to fend off like starving hounds. Who knows…

jerv's avatar

In this country, I see the gap widening and the majority being left behind, unable to enjoy the advances that the rich enjoy, like a standard of living that improves despite inflation. Already, the poor have the same access to medical care and proper nutrition commensurate with life decades ago while the elite enjoy the longer lifespan that modern medicine allows for; amongst industries nations, our average lifespan is pretty short, which is a sign that on average, our quality of life isn’t really improving.

Sure, a poor person now has access to tech toys that have become commodities now that the technology behind them has become relatively inexpensive, but do not mistake the price drops of technology like HDTV and cellphones to mean that we are more prosperous on average. Instead, look at the rising poverty rate, at the proportion of people left behind. At the quality of education outside of the top tier of society. At the fact that our lives are so “bread and circuses” that many feel compelled to escape, whether through mindless drivel on TV or good old drugs and alcohol.

I personally have been watching the quality of my life and those around me decline (even for those earning in the low six-figure range) as income grows slower than inflation. It used to be that a family could live on one paycheck, but now it takes at least two for too many families. Is that prosperity? Is working harder for less a sign that we are wealthier on average? I think not, so I say we are getting poorer.

josie's avatar

If governments keep stealing people’s wealth, or if governments fail to protect people as they attempt to produce wealth, they will become poorer. Otherwise, they will become richer.

ETpro's avatar

Your details for this question say that in our lifetime, we the people have been gaining income and wealth. If we are talking about America, that is not true any longer. Over the last 30 years, the top 10% have become wealthier and the top 1% have become very much wealthier. The next 10% have just held their own. The bottom 80% make less today in real, inflation adjusted terms than they did in 1980. The bottom 40% have seen what little wealth they once had transferred to the wealthy. If we continue that trend, we will destroy our middle class. If we accelerate the trend, say by adopting a flat tax, we will be a banana republic within one generation.

This is why the fight over whether to give the richest 2% the same tax cut all the rest of us get, or a much bigger one as the Republicans want to do, is so crucial to America’s future. If we wipe out our middle class, we wipe out the spending that small businesses rely on to stay afloat. It’s bad economic policy, as we saw in the recession of 2007–2009.

wundayatta's avatar

The wealth will always grow, except in times of horrendous disaster, like the plague or a comet hitting the earth. This is because humans are inventive and we are always making things more and more efficient. There are also more and more people contributing to the overall wealth.

The poor now are richer than the poor ever were before. The wealthy are far wealthier. The amount of wealth created is constantly growing—faster than the population grows.

No matter how our access to resources changes—if oil “runs out” or some mineral becomes difficult to find, we will manage and our economy will grow. We are very good at finding substitute materials when one thing has run out. Our creativity is what keeps us successful, and that will not go away. It can’t The dumb will die out, and only the creative will reproduce. Humans will constantly improve, and this will drive our wealth creation.

jerv's avatar

@wundayatta The poor may have more dollars, but prices have gone up faster, so we really aren’t any better off in the lower income brackets that an increasing number of people find themselves in these days.
Of course, since having one guy with a million dollars and nine people with nothing yields an average of $100,000 it is easy to fudge the numbers to hide an ugly truth. In order to be wealthy overall, the average member of society has to be able to afford to buy stuff yet more and more people are living paycheck to paycheck. Overall wealth may be increasing, but average wealth sure a hell isn’t.

Frenchfry's avatar

People have ups and downs. Atleast is what I see in my lifetime. Depends on the economy.

wundayatta's avatar

@jerv It is true that the distribution of wealth is getting more and more lopsided in favor of the rich. That’s a tax policy issue, it seems to me.

iamthemob's avatar

@wundayatta Spot on. Wealth discrepancy is getting more and more ridiculous. But hell – we can say it’s terrible for super rich to be super rich, but that’s not really an argument that they shouldn’t be. That they shouldn’t be able to enjoy such decadence if some could be redistributed to the very poor so that everyone’s basic needs and some vacation time could be met, well…that’s silly.

In general, over time, and steadily, mankind has always gotten wealthier comparatively. Again, unless we hit peak oil, don’t think there’s anything to indicate that should change.

flutherother's avatar

What I was really getting at in my question was do you think economies can expand forever or are they tied to the real world of limited resources so that as resources diminish wealth will also. It seems to me our wealth comes from cheap energy, mainly oil, and exploitation of the earth’s minerals and agricultural productivity. This source of wealth is reaching its peak and is set to go into decline. I wasn’t so interested in the distribution of wealth between rich and poor though in a country where overall wealth is declining this becomes a very sensitive issue.

iamthemob's avatar


That’s a new wrinkle then. Your assumption is that the resources are limited, which isn’t really so (or isn’t in the way you’ve described). We have plenty of cheap energy resources besides these – it’s a matter of building the infrastructure and consolidating the different sources before it’s too late to do so without a significant risk.

A lot of these sources of cheap energy are potentially limitless – the sun, wind, water (above ground and current). Others…like biodiesel and methane gas…are byproducts of production, and therefore it’s sort of like the economic version of a perpetual motion machine.

If we can manage to continue on this path, we will continue to be wealthier.

But now, what do you mean by wealth?

flutherother's avatar

If resources were limitless we could indeed continue to become wealthier and wealthier and by wealth I mean easy access to the things that make life worthwhile. I don’t share your optimism that resources are limitless however. Everything is limited as our planet is finite. Solar energy and wind power are renewable sources but cannot substitute for oil and gas and some day we will run out of all the other substances our economies require. We are even running out of land and water. Less and less to be shared among more and more. I would like to be optimistic but to me the facts don’t look good.

iamthemob's avatar


I don’t think that you can say that solar, wind, water, etc. cannot substitute for oil and gas without support. People make that argument without qualification or support all the time.

And I tried to qualify my description of limitless…of course, literally, not limitless. However, as long as we’re here…most of the renewable resources will be. And as time goes, we won’t be limited to planetary resources necessarily. I doubt all of that would run out prior to the system becoming uninhabitable.

flutherother's avatar

There just isn’t enough renewable energy to replace non renewable resources. We are also running out of just about everything else you can imagine and quite quickly too. And the idea that we can mine other planets for resources is literally pie in the sky.

iamthemob's avatar


Saying again that there just isn’t enough renewable energy to replace non renewable resources is not support (sorry if that sounds blunt – I just seem to hear this from people and they can never point to a source showing this clearly).

How is this true? And what sort of consumption does it take into account.

Further, what are we running out of that we actually need? I know that there’s been water depletion, but are predictions based on current consumption rates and predictions based on those rates?

Finally, an increase in wealth doesn’t mandate an increase in consumption of resources. It could in fact mean a reduction in consumption of resources.

jerv's avatar

Material resources are not much of an issue in my mind, as humanity will adapt… or at least we can, though we may not unless somebody can make a buck off of it. Of course, the new technology won’t be available to all. I don’t see myself buying an electric car, and if gas shoots up to $100/gallon then the rich will be driving around in brand new electrics while most people are walking because they can’t afford to keep up with technology.

Theoretically, we could have everybody get rich over time, but I seriously doubt that’ll happen because we are humans.

ETpro's avatar

@flutherother I’m sorry I didn’t address your concern about dwindling resources more directly. We can play our cards wrong, and let fossil fuel depletion be a huge problem plunging Earth into a new dark age and perhaps requiring that populations be adjusted back down from 7 billion to 1 billion. But that would be an incredibly stupid path to follow. One, however, that the right wing in America seems determined to pursue.

The truth is that the Earth receives far more solar energy each year than all its fossil fuel energy deposits combined. Earth has 2,265×10²° Joules of total energy stored in all its known coal, oil and natural gas deposits. We receive 54,385×10²° Joules of energy in a single year form the sun. That means we get over 24 times as much energy from the sun each year as we have in all Earth’s fossil fuel reserves combined.

We can also tap into geothermal energy under the Earth’s mantle. That is maintained by a thermonuclear reaction in the Earth’s core and won’t go away for more than a billion years. I have no doubt that we will also master fusion reactors and make fission reactors far cleaner and safer through technology improvements.

The Universe appears to be finite, but the resources in it are so close to infinite compared to what we currently need that for all practical purposes we can consider them to be infinite.

downtide's avatar

I think the quality of life for the poor will continue to improve due to technological advancement, but I don’t see the actual wealth divide inproving any.

flutherother's avatar

I can accept that there is a huge amount of untapped renewable energy in the world which ultimately comes from the sun but it is not as easily accessible as oil or gas or coal, which is why we use these resources. It is not simply a matter of switching from one energy source to another as oil and gas run out. Renewable energy is expensive and there are many constraints on its development and the share of non hydro renewable energy in the world’s energy mix is expected to increase to only 3% by 2020 (from 2% in 2002) Source IEA

iamthemob's avatar


That’s not a constraint on our ability to tap the resources – the restraints that are discussed are MARKET restraints (they’re looking at the sources ability to turn a profit because of the infrastructure costs versus the gross income).

It’s not because we can’t…it’s because we won’t. Of course it’s expensive, but if we don’t invest, we’ll have to do it all of a sudden anyway. It’s just us being short sighted. I argued from the beginning that we needed to start the infrastructure now and transition gradually.

Essentially, we’re saying we’ll start saving for our retirement at 60.

ETpro's avatar

Renewable energy is only expensive on initial investment. And as technology develops, thos costs will come down dramatically as well. Renewable is dead cheap once the front-eid investment is done.

Remember that the ENIAC developed during WWII, was the size of a large building, weighed 30 tons, had almost 18,000 vacuum tubes in it, and required a refrigeration plant in another large building to keep it cool enough to operate. It cost over 6 million dollars in today’s money. And it was less powerful than today’s cell phones. Its mean time between failure was only 3 hours.

When we truly unleash technology development on renewable energy, expect the same sort of exponential development and cost curve to apply.

jerv's avatar

Yes, but that energy is kind of useless without a home to heat and to fill with energy-consuming devices.

flutherother's avatar

That is my point I suppose, that energy will be dramatically more expensive in future which means that just about everything else will become more expensive causing a decline in our living standards.
ETpro I love your optimism and I hope you are right.

iamthemob's avatar


No it won’t. There will be a period where energy costs will increase, but that is not something that will be required over time. Renewable sources require high initial investments in infrastructure, but after that the cost of the resource is zero, and therefore we will have a much higher return in value.

Therefore, if we invest in the infrastructure during the time where we have excess wealth, we will have the resources we need if the non-renewables run out in the future.

Further, you seem to neglect the fact that U.S. citizens count for 5% of the population but consume 25% of the resources. Aren’t you neglecting the fact that a decrease in consumption balances a drop in non-renewables?

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