Have you seen the future?
Photo: Bernard Spragg. Source: Picography
We used to think it was coming with supersonic flight and high-octane service. The hood ornament to a ’56 Chevy Bel Air had a hood ornament that looked like a futuristic airplane. In fact, when Boeing introduced the 747 fifty years ago, it was considered primarily a freight design. People assumed that the skies would soon be dark with supersonic passenger planes, and we would all have personal jet-packs.
Later, we thought the future would be all-virtual, all-the-time. If your sensory experience online is the same as a real-life experience, after all, what’s the difference? If a virtual reality headset and a haptic bodysuit can fool our brains into thinking we’re someplace else, after all, what’s the difference between that and “real life”? An entire sub-genre of science fiction movies has been created around the potential of virtual reality.
Photo: Steve Troughton. Public Domain. Source: Flikr
Only, it’s not so easy. We really need to eat, sleep, and exercise. We live in a material world, where we need material things: food, shelter, relationships. Our minds are intricately connected to our bodies, not in some separate mind-space.
The future is indeterminate, never turning out the way we expect. Except in one regard. There’s a future that’s already visible, via the study of demographics. Because it takes a long time for us to grow up, form families, raise children, and launch them out into the world, the shape of the world’s demographics today tells us a lot about what’s coming for the next couple decades. And what we see is slowing growth in the world’s economy – especially in the US, Europe, Japan, and China. That’s not being driven by obsolete technology or a lack of corporate investment, but by aging populations which are in turn being driven by the demographics of education and healthcare.
Datong, a 3.3 million person city in Shanxi Province, China. Source: Wikipedia
Put simply, improving education and healthcare around the world has reduced the need for people to have large families. Urbanization means that people can be more productive, better healthcare means that we live longer. But smaller families and ageing parents require a larger percentage of family resources – resources that won’t be available for investment or entertainment or other productive uses. And as families shrink, government finances will be increasingly stressed.
When investing, we need to anticipate future trends and position our portfolios accordingly. Demographics is the future that already happened. By paying attention to these data, we don’t have to guess what’s hot or what’s not.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Charter Trust Company
“The Best Trust Company in New England”