Is It Time For Long-Term Thinking?

News headlines and the daily flow of media stories highlight a world full of urgent and significant problems. But without developing a long-term approach to such events the right solutions will not be found.

Short-term failure

Brexit is consuming so much government time that everyday concerns are lost in the chaos of different factions. But the issues faced by hospitals and schools deserve attention and the effects of technology on the economy must be mitigated as they hollow out the middle ground of traditional jobs. The current short-term approach of dealing with only the most immediate issue leads to greater long-term difficulties. One solution is to agree a vision of how we want things to be in 20 to 30 years from now. Thinking of how we want the economy and society to operate and planning what needs to be done to make it happen offers the best chance of success.

The idea of developing a grand vision is of course easier said than done, as the concerns of government, businesses and individuals are more immediate in nature. The democratic system doesn’t lend itself to long-term thinking either, as it is consumed with short-term strategies to survive the next crisis. But considering what lies ahead is a good place to start. For instance, the growing influence of technology as it disrupts industries and invades the privacy of users; the effects on health and other public services of an ageing population; the current growing gap between the needs of employers and the skills of employees; the loss of influence from democratically elected governments to large technology companies; and the increasing demands on an economy that struggles to grow at a level necessary to pay for public services.

Long-term success

In the next twenty years there is little doubt the economy will transform beyond recognition, as old jobs are displaced and new ones created. Some of the change will be beneficial; some will not. In either case, short-term thinking will not be enough to build a positive future. The time to act is now; otherwise the forces already at work will sweep away any hope of influence. Government must move quickly too, not least because its sovereignty is already threatened by an inability to ensure fair and transparent elections.

In the past, economic growth acted as a panacea for any economic ills that arose, as it generated enough wealth to pay for essential services. In the future, it is hard to see where growth will come from as demand currently exceeds the supply of resources in many sectors. Without a significant shift from short-term to long-term thinking the current dearth of solutions will become difficult to address without significant pain for millions of people. With a shift to long-term decision-making, opportunities will be found and the right solutions will be implemented.

So, generations of economic growth have masked the weaknesses of short-term thinking to the extent that it is now time to commit to a long-term vision of the future.