Technological advances, from the light bulb and telephone, to the car and airplane, to the transistor and internet, are discontinuities from life as previously known. So are penicillin, the C-section, Lipitor and MRI’s. So are innovations like the corporate org chart, capital and expense accounting, the experience curve, and consumer marketing. All these innovations constitute the infrastructure of wealth and longevity.
Within the general trend of increased global wealth and longevity are periods of decidedly negative impact as well. The Black Death of 1348 wiped out half of Europe, the 1918 influenza epidemic killed 30 million people, and World War II reduced the earth’s population by 2.5%. Mao and Stalin also killed tens of millions of their people. There have periods of economic death as well. The 75 years of the USSR’s existence comes to mind, and of course the Great Crash, when the Dow Jones Industrials went from 299 to 41, and a quarter of America went unemployed. We would note that few of these negative discontinuities were foreseen (heck, the New York Times may still think that the USSR was a model of economic success!).
We really don’t know what is going to happen in the future, in part because the West is fat, dumb and happy, and has been so for a very long time now, at least since World War II. So we do not know what will happen when the West, and other parts of the world, experience the inevitable and severe stresses associated with the massive discontinuities that inevitably happen from time to time. The West has been super lucky in that the post-WWII discontinuities have almost all been on the positive side so far. It would be a mistake to blithely extrapolate that endlessly into the future.