Monday, January 9, 2017

Could "Futures Studies" Address Regional Decline?

Even though unemployment levels are (supposedly) no longer a concern, regional decline belies the "all is well" refrain, which economists and policy makers have been inclined to agree upon. While a certain degree of regional decline can be inevitable at times, this phenomenon is becoming too prominent a feature in the economic landscape, to ignore.

Reasons for regional decline are numerous, and yet one element defines them all: earlier forms of economic complexity have been displaced. Nevertheless, recent losses in the U.S. have also contributed to the gains of other regions and sectors, since the Great Recession. Indeed, today's positive aggregate indicators only add to the confusion, of sorting out economic problems which have not gone away since the Great Recession. According to The Atlantic:
The employment rate in rural areas was actually 2.9% lower in mid-2016 than it was in early 2007.
In all of this, there's a real possibility of eventual employment losses in prosperous regions as well, due to automation. Why, then, is public dialogue still caught in a preliminary position, regarding the "unlikelihood" of further significant losses in labor force participation?

Of course, as usual: I'm entering an area of discussion which is speculative. And many in the blogosphere, don't consider speculation particularly helpful. When the WSJ recently ran an article about "futurology", their paywall prompted me to do a bit more searching for related articles and posts. Sure enough, it was easier to locate negative reactions against futurology, than articles in support of this relatively new area of study.

Granted, some continue to suggest imaginary scenarios which aren't much more than the usual refrains of doom and gloom. But what if positive actions could be taken, to counter the possibility of further negative outcomes? Wouldn't experimental plans of action be a better approach, than simply insisting no such preparations are necessary? In other words: what if it's actually a good idea, to craft viable responses to the pressures of economic uncertainty? Perhaps time spent preparing for a range of scenarios, could serve a productive purpose. Might futures studies help to reduce the possibility, of further regional decline?

 Wikipedia also provides detail, regarding futures studies:
Futures studies (also called futurology) is the study of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them...Futures studies (colloquially called "futures" by many of the field's practitioners) seek to understand what is likely to continue and what could plausibly change. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic and pattern-based understanding of past and present, and to determine the likelihood of future events and trends. Unlike the physical sciences where a narrower , more specified system is studied, futures studies concern a much bigger and more complex world system. The methodology and knowledge are much less proven as compared to a natural science or even social science like sociology.
While this BuzzFeed article was written some years earlier, not everyone is familiar, with the work that people engaged in futures studies have already provided. From "What It's Like to Be a Corporate 'Futurist'":
They work for large companies, large energy companies and oil companies, they'll do work for the government and militaries definitely, and you'll have some product people. I know General Mills and Ford both have futurists as well as Proctor and Gamble...It's not hugely popular yet, but because of what capabilities technology has given us, we can have more and more.
Consider what today's employment uncertainties entail, and how these issues are not easy to capture in primary statistics. Presently, there are few reliable policy approaches, for what has become one of the greatest problems of our time. Too many individuals are well aware, that they may not gain the level of economic access which is necessary to fully function in today's economy. Will their numbers only continue to grow?

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