What's in store for the next century?
If you live in the world created by Gene Roddenberry and the writers of "Star Trek," then by 2062 -- the year the Fundamental Declaration of the Martian Colonies will grant local autonomy to all inhabited regions of our solar system -- you might live on Mars, or be present in 2063 when Zephram Cochrane's discovery of warp drive leads Earth to its first contact with extra terrestrials, the Vulcans.
The possibilities seem limited only by our imaginations and maybe our natural resources, at least until we have replicators or find replacements.
Outside of science fiction, can we really predict how we will live 100 years from now? Will a fancy sports car, an elegant house in Connecticut, or a great bottle of wine -- all symbols of success in our time -- hold the status they might hold for us today?
"Predicting the future is like predicting the stock market. No one has done it yet," said Russ Ray, professor of finance and futurist at the University of Louisville, Ky. "No one has consistently done that."
We can, however, speculate.
As for the car, house and wine, Mr. Ray speculated, "a lot of these things will be antique.
"We'll have air travel, but I don't know about the Concorde."
And even a Harvard education might be outdated with the growth of distance learning.
As to the future value of items on Pensions & Investments' list of luxuries, well, Mr. Ray pointed out that in order to make those predictions, we've assumed some basic things about the future. In order for Harley-Davidson motorcycles priced at $16,325 in 1999 to be priced at $313,744 in 100 years, we assumed they will still exist 100 years from now and that supply and demand will remain exactly as they are today.
Next we assume that the inflation rate will follow the trend of the past 75 years and average 3% each year for the next 100 years and that the U.S. won't reindex the dollar, something it never has done. After all, if what's worth a nickel today is worth a dollar then, the U.S. Treasury might have to do some revaluing.
So what might hold the greatest value 100 years from now? It's the natural depletable resources that will have the greatest value, Mr. Ray said.
On the top of that list is land. Property ownership could be the greatest sign of wealth in the future, he speculated. The world's population is growing exponentially and land is finite.
A three-bedroom ranch-style house in middle America on a quarter acre probably would grow at a much higher rate than we are speculating on here. At 3.8% annually, a home worth $83,900 in, say, Ames, Iowa, would cost just under $3.5 million 100 years from now.
"Clean water will become less and less common. Good water might be at a very high premium," he said. "Clean air will also be at a premium, but I don't know how that might be sold."
We note there already are recreational oxygen bars.
Oil reserves, so much a part of everything we produce, are expected to be depleted in 75 years, Mr. Ray said. Oil prices could go very high until we find alternative sources of energy that might push them back down.
As for the price of gold -- the historical commodity backing money and the commodity we flee to in times of crisis -- that depends on the world's financial security, he said.
Gold averaged annual gains of 11.22% between 1968 and 1998, according to CPM Group, New York.
But the chances of world financial markets collapsing in the next 100 years are pretty good, Mr. Ray said, and no one knows how long that could last. A collapse would send the price of gold skyrocketing. Only a recovery could bring it back down.
Then there are the new wonder metals such as titanium, a premium metal especially to some golfers, and other special-use metals or nuclear fuels that could skyrocket in price, he said.
As a futurist, however, Mr. Ray has seen a lot of predictions. No matter what think tank does the forecasting, he said, "nine out of 10 times they're wrong. We just can't predict the technology, world wars, accidents, inventions and so forth."
As we all have read before, past performance is no guarantee of future returns.