A Future That Isn't Worth Two Cents?

Physician's Money Digest, May 2007, Volume 14, Issue 5

It was just supposed to be a routinetrip, traveling back in time30 years to interview PeterLynch on the eve of his assumingcontrol of the legendary FidelityMagellan Fund. Unfortunately, mypilot and friend, Joe, called to say hecouldn't make it.

"Sorry Lou, my kid's got a soccergame, but you should go. The controlsare simple, just punch in the number ofyears you want to travel backwards intime and pull the control lever back."

Distracted by my pager during hisinstructions, I am having trouble rememberingwhat Joe had said. "Let mesee," I say. "First punch in the numberof years. Check. Then push the controllever forward. Check. That wasn'tso hard. Wait?did he say to pull thelever back, or push it forward?!" Itwas too late. Here I am in the year2037! Change in plans.

A Look into the Future

While I'm here in the future, I decidethat there are some important bits ofinformation I should get that will bequite valuable when I get back to2007—like who will win the SuperBowl in 2008, and, oh yeah?what the30-year inflation rate will be. But I can'tjust stop somebody on the street andask what's been happening for the past30 years—they'll think I'm crazy.

Lost in thought, I wander into a coffeeshop. I might as well have a cup ofcoffee while I consider how to proceed.The clerk, a strange-looking youngwoman with a curious silvery cast to herskin, takes my order for a cup of latte,and stares at me as I hand her a $20.

"Wow, a $20! We don't see thosevery often in here," she says.

As I sit down at a table with my cupof latte and my change, 1998 pennies, Iknow that something very strange hashappened in this world of the future.

Money Growing on Trees?

A chatty gentleman sees my confusionand asks if he can help me. I mumblesomething about being away for 30years on an extended vacation and canhe please explain why you can buy acup of latte for only 2 cents.

The cost of everything, it seems, hadbeen going down every year since thelate 2000s. Robots now did everythingat a very low expense, freeing up peopleto pursue their dreams and enjoy themselves.Even those with the most modestdividend checks had more than enoughto live comfortably.

"Okay, I can see how manufacturingcan be done by robots, but what aboutservice jobs?" I asked.

"Robots, as well," he replied. "Theywork for nothing, no benefits. That BillGates model 1750 over there [pointingat the silver-cheeked clerk] is one of thenicer models, don't you think?"

"And energy costs?"

"The GE model 600 Micro Fusion1.21-gigawatt power supply changed allthat. The energy industry collapsed in2019."

"Health care costs?"

"The Med-Tronic surgi-bot in2018. The Pharma Gene-Fix kit in2025. The pharmaceutical industrycollapsed in 2027."

"Transportation costs?"

"GE model 600 again, flown bypilot-bots."

"Real estate costs?"

"Why would you want to buy realestate? Nothing costs more than a fewcents—you can stay as long as you wanton a trip to Hawaii at a fancy resort forless than a dollar. You'd be waited onhand and foot by robots. Why wouldyou need to own property?"

"Excuse me a minute," I said, hopingmy time-phone was working. Ihad to call my financial advisor backin the past. There are a few changes Ineeded to make in my portfolio. Itjust goes to show how technologicalbreakthroughs can have a huge impacton our economy.

"What are you going to do with allthose pennies?"

"Lattes for the entire house, onme," I say.

Louis L. Constan, a family practice physicianin Saginaw, Mich, is the editor of theSaginaw County Medical Society Bulletinand Michigan Family Practice. He welcomesquestions or comments at 3350 ShattuckRoad, Saginaw, MI 48603, 989-792-1899, or louisconstan@hotmail.com.