Human history seems to be a popular topic to write about these days. Maybe it’s the Sapiens effect, or just the amount of change that’s happening in the world. People want to know what’s next, and are looking to the past for answers.

Morgan Housel just published Three Big Things, is one of the best essays I’ve read recently on the topic of human history. It talks about how much of what we experience is a second, third and n-th order effect from some big things that happened many years ago. Our modern society, for example, has largely been shaped by the events of World War II. Our current norms of personal finance, military strategy, and even civil rights are a result of the war.

There are three other big things that he discusses:

  • A shift in demographics: Modern society is aging, people are living longer, working longer and having fewer kids. Immigrants will make their way to become the majority. These changes will be the most important factors shaping economic output in the upcoming decades. Want to know which economies will fare well? Observe the demographics.
  • The breaking point for wealth inequality: The wealth gap has never been worse, and there’s a cyclical trend at play - the pendulum will start to swing the other way as masses lose trust in economic and political systems. Morgan states, “…power is transitory. It shifts when those who don’t have it get so fed up that they bond together to gain enough influence to take it back. Never underestimate the power of a unified group of powerless people with a shared goal.” There will be a disruption in education, an increase in entrepreneurs, and new systems will be built along the way. It is a time to be optimistic.
  • Realizing the full potential of the internet: Access to information has changed the dynamics of how society works. Whether it’s solving a crime or finding a life partner, we are just scratching the surface of what’s possible when there’s an ever present information layer in our daily lives. While this will do a lot of good - more nuance in our understanding of the world, meritocracy that actually works - there are also some big, unsolved problems, such as the loss of privacy and spreading misinformation.

Nothing about these trends is new. That’s the whole point - we are so fascinated by the new that we miss out on the tidal waves that we are already on. This essay brings that into perspective so well.