Over the next 50 years, innovations in technology and business could tremendously improve living standards for people of all income levels. But widespread abundance won’t materialize if government decision-makers or cultural trendsetters cripple the incentive or ability of producers to bring new discoveries to the marketplace.

The contingent nature of material progress is a key theme of Future: Economic Peril or Prosperity?, the new Independent Institute book edited by Christopher J. Coyne, Michael C. Munger, and me.

Featuring chapters by 18 economists (plus hilarious insights from P. J. O’Rourke), Future offers a generally optimistic, if cautious, estimate of life in the year 2066. Here are some of its projections:

  • Robotics, 3-D printing, production on demand, and other innovations will slash prices and revolutionize what we make, how we buy, and where we work.

  • The cost of solar power and battery storage will continue to plunge, making fossil fuels go the way of the dinosaurs—unless breakthroughs in fossil fuels outpace progress in alternative energy.

  • Because driverless cars will move safely at high speeds, cities will be redesigned. This could mean suburban “sprawl”—an ugly name for a benign process—on steroids.

Despite their overall positive outlook, several of the book’s contributors note threats to material progress:

  • Unless the government overhauls entitlements, history suggests that U.S. debt levels will climb to unsustainably high levels.

  • Predatory rent-seeking, cronyism, and stultifying regulations could intensify to a degree that slows productive innovation.

  • As household incomes rise, people could become politically complacent and lose their freedoms. This is one reason why friends of liberty should redouble their efforts to ensure that young people learn how free men and women act.

I suspect that if economists were asked 50 years ago about the future, they would have voiced general optimism while expressing worries about threats from nuclear war, resource depletion, overpopulation, and starvation in less-developed countries. Fortunately, their nightmare scenarios didn’t unfold. Instead, things turned out mostly better than many expected.

May we be so blessed.