Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

Long Term Planning

From our Swindon Correspondent:

From The BBC

The Commons Public Accounts Committee recently pressed the top civil servant at the transport department, Bernadette Kelly, on passenger forecasts.

Chesham and Amersham MP Dame Cheryl Gillan, one of HS2’s most vehement critics, questioned whether the cost could be justified when “you have not established that the future use of public transport will be at a level that will make this railway viable in any way, shape or form?”

In response, Ms Kelly said the business case had been closely examined before Boris Johnson finally gave the go-ahead a year ago.

“HS2 is not a project about the next five or 10 years,” she said. “It is a project that we expect to be still delivering for passengers in 100 years and 150 years. The conscious decision was taken to continue because it is a very long-term project and it is long-term investment in future infrastructure and future economic activity. That is the driving factor.”

100 years? 150 years? There’s a reason that almost no-one spending their own money invests that long, And it’s not because they’ll be dead. In 30 years, something with 70 years of value can be sold.
The real reason is that you just can’t predict the future that far ahead. What might a 150 year Victorian long-term investment have been in? Silkworms for more stockings? Hats? Cavalry? Better ways to hunt whales for lamp oil?

When you look at any past visions of the future, they’re invariably wrong and often miss quite big, but unsexy changes. Like most 1950s visions of the future still assumed women would be housewives. Blade Runner assumed a 2019 future of artificial people and flying cars, but completely missed digital photography and smartphones. And some are even shorter than 30-odd years, like Concorde being developed as communication technology advanced, making it redundant almost as soon as it was launched.

I would say that 25-30 years is probably the very best you can plan ahead. Maybe longer for simple things like energy. We already know there’s a shift to remote work happening, which started a few years before Covid which changes how people get to work, and that’s over 50% of train travel. That’s only going to evolve because everyone would rather not spend an hour getting to work, and employers would rather have a wider range of skilled people.
Beyond that, who knows. Maybe we discover that global warming is massively exaggerated, or that we finally get fusion, or start plugging into neural links. Maybe we just work a lot less as we have robots for so much stuff.
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Michael van der Riet
Michael van der Riet
3 years ago

But in our interim assured certainty that global warming is real, let’s carbon-tax the shit out of the economy and do some winner-picking in favour of dodo technology like windmills and solar panels.

3 years ago

No, gov’t can’t do planning even 25-30 years out. Its only input is from lobbyists and gadflies – whose vision of the future is not based on trends but on personal financial or ideological interests – and its only focus is winning the next election. If this is not true of every single bureaucrat, it certainly rears its head at salary review time.

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