Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker is siding with contrarian optimists: Humanity is entering a post-scarcity economy, rather than a pre-scarcity paradigm.
“If I was forced to come down on one side or the other, I would say post,” Pinker told Paradox during an event in Washington D.C. “Economic growth, except for recessions, all of which have been temporary, has had an upward trajectory. So that means, we’re always in a post-scarcity society. Of course, there’s a possibility of utter collapse, but I don’t think so.”
A post-scarcity economy is one in which nearly all goods are produced en mass, including via simulation, and affordable to most people. A pre-scarcity society, by contrast, is one in which resources become increasingly limited due to overpopulation, overconsumption, and climate change.
“There are technologies that have vastly expansive potential, such as fourth generation nuclear, fusion, 3D printing, mRNA vaccines, and agriculture technologies,” continued the Harvard professor. “There are opportunities for abundance. Whether there will be a collapse where we can all lose all of it, nobody can say for certain. But this is the way history has gone so far.”
Pinker’s body of work is largely one of optimism, with each title examining how human ingenuity over time has produced more just societies. In The Better Angels of Our Nature, the Harvard theorist demonstrated how violence has declined as a whole across human history. His newest book, Rationality, examines theories surrounding logic, probability, and causal inference, in a time when humanity faces “deadly threats” to “democracy” and “the livability of the planet.”
“Though the problems are daunting, solutions exist, and our species has the intellectual wherewithal to find them,” says Pinker in the book’s preface. “Yet among our fiercest problems today is convincing people to accept the solutions when we do find them.”
Despite Pinker’s optimism toward new technological achievements leading to a post-scarcity society, the psychologist is less enthralled by blockchain and cryptocurrency.
“I don’t know, because so much of it has been devoted to speculative bubbles and the massive consumption of energy,” Pinker told Paradox. “The benefits have yet to materialize. Some of the promise benefits like frictionless all-electronic banking seems like it could be done with or without blockchain, but maybe blockchain will make it better.”