Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How Stretchy is the Future?

The other day, I was listening to NPR's excellent Planet Money podcast--an episode on Prohibition and whether FDR drank moonshine before being elected president and getting the 18th Amendment repealed.

It's an amusing (and informative) show, but one of the things that struck me was the discussion on inelastic goods. These are things that people will buy no matter how high the cost rises. Some good examples are tobacco, coffee, and gasoline. Our insatiable demand for booze is one of the things that doomed Prohibition, in fact.

These are pretty classic examples, and have been more or less constant for the last century (if not much, much longer). Now I'm wondering about the next century...

What are the nearish future's inelastic goods & services? What will we be unable to live without?

I think bandwidth is a likely contender. Whatever the internet looks like in 100 years or so, we're going to want to get connected and stay connected. We seem to be on the road to augmented reality (virtual overlays on the real world through our glasses, iThingies, phones) and this information will only become more and more vital to our everyday living. See Jack Graham's excellent two-part post on for more on that.

But what else? It's easy to believe that medical insurance (in the U.S. at least) will continue to be in high demand, despite the costs. I can imagine some life extension therapies might be high demand and high price, but I don't see them as commonly available as something like alcohol, but you never know.

Education, perhaps?

I'm also thinking if some of the worst predictions about global warming and resource depletion come true, we'll be seeing some pretty high prices on staple food crops--maybe even on the processed junk. People gotta eat.

What about water? Especially in the southwest, where drought conditions are already prevalent, how much would you pay for a glass of water? Would you have a choice?

A lot of question marks in this article, but it has got me thinking. Feel free to comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Jim said...

Some definite parallels to what Thomas Friedman wrote about in "The World Is Flat." Water will, without a doubt, be the oil of the next century. Which is silly when you stop and think about it. Water has got to be the most fungible commodity on the planet. And unlike oil, God didn't choose to bury all the water beneath a bunch of assholes. But still, barring a technological advancement in desalination, there's not going to be enough of it to go around.

Jack said...

You forgot another classic example: sex. And as society grows more permissive, paying for it is likely to become more acceptable (which I don't really think is a good thing, but it's gonna happen).

And thanks for the mention. :)

Ink Gorilla said...

@ Jim - I still need to read that book. Thanks for the reminder.

@ Jack - oh, good call! There will be a Sexbucks on every corner. :P