For much of our lives, we’ve had economic growth of a few percent a year. So too, have our parents and grandparents. It seems reasonable to assume this growth will continue, no?
Holden Karnofsky, co-founder and CEO of Open Philanthropy, calls this living in the ‘Business As Usual’ world in ‘Cold Takes’.
“In Business As Usual, the world is constantly changing, and the change is noticeable, but it's not overwhelming or impossible to keep up with. There is a constant stream of new opportunities and new challenges, but if you want to take a few extra years to adapt to them while you mostly do things the way you were doing them before, you can usually (personally) get away with that. In terms of day-to-day life, 2019 was pretty similar to 2018, noticeably but not hugely different from 2010, and hugely but not crazily different from 1980.”
The paradox of the Business As Usual world is that even with all of the talk of recessions, these are abnormal times. Zooming out to 5000BCE, we are living in the fastest economic expansion in human history.
Karnofsky calls this abnormality the This Can’t Go On world. While what we’re experiencing looks like a fairly stable chart of growth - up and to the right, what we’re actually experiencing is more like this feeling:
“It is remarkable to think that we have had electric lights and telephones for about as long as we have known that germs kill people.” ― Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life
When we are so used to our many comforts - being able to clean ourselves daily, warm up when we want to, eat well preserved food - it is easy to forget how recent most of that is. And how hard it was to obtain. And how quickly those comforts expanded to most everyone. And how fast we are approaching the limits of that kind of growth.