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April 22, 2021
Episode 57 of the NewRetirement podcast is an interview with Peter Leyden — an author, entrepreneur, and public speaker — and discusses what the next 30 years might bring us and how that could impact our lives and the lives of future generations.
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Steve: Welcome to The NewRetirement Podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking with Peter Leyden, an author, entrepreneur and public speaker. Peter has spent his career figuring out the future explaining what’s probably coming next, and helping envision how we could create a better world. He came to San Francisco 25 years ago to work at Wired Magazine, founded two of his own media startups, and hosted several interview series with a network of innovators. Peter has written two books on the future that went into multiple languages, including The Long Boom: A Future History of the World from 1980 to 2020.
Steve: He recently published the sequel, an online series of stories in Medium called The Transformation: A Positive and Plausible Narrative of America and the World from 2020 to 2050. We’re going to talk about what the next 30 years might bring us, and how that could impact our lives and the lives of future generations. With that long preamble, Peter, welcome to our show. It’s great to have you join us.
Peter: It’s great to be here, Steve. Thanks for having me.
Steve: I appreciate your time. One thing that struck me and the way we got here was I saw the talk you did on Long Now, which we’ll link to. But given all the angst that we have right now, we’re living through COVID, this pandemic. There’s concerns about AI, and will that get out of control and climate change. But with all that backdrop, you strike me as fundamentally an optimist, and I was just curious to get your perspective on that.
Peter: Well, I’m genetically predisposed to being an optimist. I’ve been an optimist since I’m a little kid, so there’s this personality type thing about me. But more seriously, I’ve spent a lot of my life looking at the big picture long-term trends. I’m also been a student of history even before I got into the future’s business, which has been the last 25 years or so, come off of my experience at Wired Magazine, where you said there, which was really a magazine about the future as well as a magazine about future technology. One thing you realize when you look back in history to me is an inexorable progress, at least not only just through the Western countries and through American history, but also ultimately now globally.
Peter: There are so many ways you can track long-term trends on data, whether, like I say, through the West, through the developed world, through the developing world even now. Things are getting better, and there’s many ways to measure this. In that big picture lens, you can make that argument. What’s interesting to me is when you turn your gaze to the future, we leave all that perspective looking back at the door, and we don’t really keep thinking more big picture long term going forward, and we lose track of these larger trends that are moving in these directions.
Peter: We tend to just be very focused on immediate things that pop up and freak people out. That’s particularly true for people who are investing. I mean, you’re looking like, “Is it up? Is it down today?” This and that earnings call, boom. Boom. Boom. It’s all short-term super focused in the moment things and very little… I don’t know exactly your crew and how you do it, but many people lose track of looking at the long term, and so there is a body of work. There’s a bunch of tools of what they call strategic foresight. There’s scenario planning. A bunch of things have been developed in the last bunch of decades of which I’m quite familiar with and have been schooled in that help you think more systematically, more rigorously, more comprehensively, and more accurately, I would say, about the future.
Peter: When I, about this project of the transformation, started about 18 months ago, where we were just surrounded by gloom and doom. I mean, it was climate change, of course. Everyone’s paralyzed by it. But then income inequality and what’s happening in the society and racial inequities, and all that kind of stuff is going on. Political polarization in this country and all through Europe, and freaking out about AI is coming, and we’re going to have overlords, and genetic engineering, we’re all going to be mutants. Anyhow, you just roll the thing out, and you’re surrounded by science fiction movies. You’re surrounded by magazine cover stories.
Peter: You’re surrounded by tweets from all directions and stuff. At some point, I said, “Wait a minute, I’m just going to step back here, folks. There’s so much else going on here, and much of it very positive that we really just need to step back, see the forest for the trees.” With that, I started this project where I went out and interviewed about 25 world class experts over the world on this bigger picture framework of the next 30 years. I started looking at the data and the way I do it with a big picture lens, long-term lens, and I came up with a very different framework of what I think we’re heading into, which is, in fact, almost the opposite of this dystopian craziness, but I think we’re moving into a lot of things, which we’re going to talk about today, but it’s largely much more positive in my opinion.
Steve: No. That was what was so… I think I found so invigorating about it was that you had this really positive perspective about what’s coming. I definitely want to dive into that. That’s going to be the meat of what we’re going to talk about. But first, I wanted to have you take us through your thinking for the Long Boom that you wrote. I think you wrote this article in 1997, and then you published the book in 2000 of the same title, and that you really looked at, I think, from the 1980s and then through 2020, and what was happening, and like you’re describing, what really is driving change.
Steve: I would love to get how you framed up your thinking there, and what you saw as the big drivers for the Long Boom that were, I guess, ending now or bookmarking before we go through the transformation, which we’ll talk about next.
Peter: Totally right. Here’s the deal. I was recruited to the very early Wired magazine. I’m not a founder of Wired, but in the early days of Wired, which was the early to mid ’90s, people lose track and forget about that period. But literally, people were just trying to what is email, and what is the World Wide Web? There’s literally about 20… In 1995, when I really started the project, the Long Boom Project similar, because even though it’s published in ’97, the way a magazine pieces big cover stories usually take a good year, if not more. This was really a 1995 story.
Peter: It started through ’96, and ultimately came to fruition in 1997. The reason I’m saying this is it’s a good practice to say 25 years ago, we were looking around, and we were looking, and people were, frankly, coming off a recession in the early ’90s. People forget this. There’s a lot of gloom and doom, and everyone was also looking at this goofball internet thing, where this company with a nutty name of Amazon was trying to sell books online. Anyhow, there’s just this whole crazy thing at… Anyhow, there’s this situation where everyone was like, “What?”
Peter: Even though there was people who were starting to talk about the potential of digital technologies, and they were starting to talk about, “Hey, what’s going to happen as we connect the world up in what I would call the first phase of globalization?” People couldn’t see it. They couldn’t see it coming together. They couldn’t see how it cross connected, how it reinforced itself. At Wired though, we were immersed in that scene, and we were also plugged into all these entrepreneurs who were giving shape to that future, and so we said… I basically took the lead with another guy called Peter Schwartz. He was trained in scenario planning and thinking long term.
Peter: He was working at the time at a place called Global Business Network, world-renowned scenario planner. He and I, we essentially created this creation called The Long Boom. What we really did is, you’re right, we started with telling the story that everyone’s familiar with starting in the ’80s, the beginnings of personal computer stuff, but we basically kept going through the ’90s. Then we just kept telling the story all the way to 2020. What we did is we tried to explain how as more and more people were going to get online, and these computers through Moore’s Law were going to get more and more powerful, and when they were going to start shrinking in size.
Peter: Pretty soon, they’re going to be mobile, and very soon, these ways to connect were going to be wireless. We just walked through the probable trajectory of what was seen to us as an inexorable development. This was going to happen, maybe not totally inevitable, but it was inexorable. We saw that. Then the same thing with globalization. It was at the mid ’90s, it was just starting. We said, “What’s going to happen when you start cross connecting all these economies, and when you start moving to supply chains, and when China starts developing, and we start outsourcing jobs and things like that?”
Peter: Well, there’s positives and negatives of that, but the positive of that is you’re going to essentially reinforce these kind of… You’re going to stimulate the economy. You’re going to stimulate growth. You’re going to start moving. Essentially, the economy is going starting to move towards a boom. We were predicting what would happen if you had a digital economy boom? What would that look in its adulthood coming out of infancy there? Then how would it get reinforced in a global context through globalization? We basically told the story of the world from a future historian looking back on this period was telling the story of the world to 2020.
Peter: Here we are in 2020, and basically, what we laid out largely was true. We can get into that if you want to talk about that. Some things we got wrong, but largely, we got it true. By the way, since this is an investment crew, the Dow is at about 5,000 in 1995. When our book came out, which is late ’90s, 99 actually, you’re referencing the paperbacks. There was a crop of books we were grouped with. Dow 36,000 was one of them. I don’t know if you remember this, or even reference this thing. We were grouped in that, and people just thought we were insane.
Peter: I mean, we weren’t particularly talking about the stock market. We were just talking about, “We’re going to enter a global boom driven by these fundamentally new technologies. These goofball startups are going to be the most powerful companies in the planet by 2020,” and this is just… You gotta wrap your head around this, people. That’s kind of what we were saying. What do you know? Here we are 2020 and the Dow has cracked three 30,008. It’s like, now everyone just shrugged it off like, “Of course it’s going to happen,” but at that time, they thought we were literally insane. Anyhow, I’m just putting this as we pretty much nailed it on the fundamental trends like that.
Peter: Then we had goofy things like we thought literally we’d maybe get back to Mars for storytelling reasons of this stuff. We threw stuff into the story, the scenario. The story is from the future that went wrong, but that wasn’t the fundamental story. The story we were trying to say is what I just laid out to you.
Steve: Right. Well, that’s incredible, and good job calling that out. I do remember Dao 36,000.
Peter: Oh, you do remember that.
Steve: The problem was… Well, I had a company that we started in 1995. We filed to go public in 1999. We waited, and then the window go public closed, and so we saw the whole… I mean, I lived through the carnage of like, “Oh, hey, we can be worth tens of millions of dollars, or we could be worth nothing.” Then-
Peter: Exactly. I feel your pain. I was involved [inaudible 00:11:05]. But here’s the thing, inexorably coming off the crash was the web 2.0, the next crop of stuff. I mean, this big story didn’t really get fundamentally disrupted by that crash even though everyone was wringing their hands saying, “Oh, my God, it’s over.” This is the same thing today. This is why… Just to preface where we’re going with this is the same situation around 2020. I’m sitting there going, “Everyone’s gloom and doom, and does that, but they’re missing the forest for the trees, because my God, not only are we going to, I would, argue go into another tech boom, I think we’re going to go into tech boom that’s tech boom squared.”
Peter: It’s going to be even a bigger deal. Anyhow, there’s a bunch of reasons for this. We can talk about that later, but the point is we’re doing it again.
Steve: No, it’s so interesting. I mean, there’s definitely a parallel because… Dow 36,000 came. The market tanked [inaudible 00:11:53] like, “That’s total bogosity,” but then, if you pull back a couple decades, you’re like, “Oh, they’re actually right.” Now, what’s funny is there’s a group called Ark Investments. They’re like, “Hey, the future is going to be hugely massive, all Tesla. There are total balls.” But everyone else, a lot of people are also like, “This is a complete bubble.” It wouldn’t surprise me from an investor psychology perspective that we do see a correction.
Steve: People dismiss that, but maybe they’re right and like you’re saying, “By the way, maybe you should go work for some hedge funds, and just dump a lot of money in these theories because that’s probably where they get very rich,” because that’s what they like to do is like, “Let’s go [crosstalk 00:12:30].”
Peter: Well, let’s see. That’s the secondary conversation we’re going to have, but all right.
Steve: Well, this is great. Before we move on to the transformation, two questions about this. One, did anything surprise you after you wrote the Long Boom till now, that things that have happened that you didn’t anticipate one way or another?
Peter: Well, yes. They come in a couple of categories here. Again, I’m thinking of your audience a little bit. People are thinking about the investment side. One of the things we thought at that time in the mid ’90s, we could see the climate pressure is already going to build, and we could imagine that we’re going to have to… The technology is around. The alternative energies are going to have to evolve quickly alongside that, and so we just went with that saying… In fact, at the time, it was interesting. You’re always trapped in the time when you’re talking about it. We were totally bullish on hydrogen fuel cells at the time, which I don’t know if…
Peter: Given that you sound like you’re a mid ’90s guy, you were in that scene. The idea was that’s possibly the way we’ll go rather than the way… We ended up going with batteries and electrical grid power, stuff like that. Anyhow, the point is we made some early thoughts of how that would go, but the thing about that, and then also another category of biotech, we also saw the beginnings of biotech genetic understanding, although at that time in mid ’90s, it was very crude compared to that. We thought, “Oh, gosh, biotech was going to move faster than it did.” There was a basic thing is not all technology is created equal, and certain things you think could move faster than they did.
Peter: I think we were… Essentially in our scenario, we were trying to think that we thought both those would move faster than they did. They both didn’t. One of the reasons they didn’t was essentially because of politics. There’s a second way… There’s one thing of like, sometimes things take longer than you think. There’s a whole way to talk about that if you want to go there. But the other way I think is important to this is politics matters. Politics can screw stuff up. For example, on biotech, because of all the federal approvals and drug testing, and there’s a bunch of things that put overlays in that that we hadn’t fully thought through just how long that stuff takes, and more neutral…
Peter: You just think of it. That’s just what it takes to deal with human-oriented stuff like that. The other one, though, in terms of politics gets very… It’s really interesting. For example, think about the election in 2000, which was neck and neck between George Bush, the Texan oil guy, and Al Gore, the guy who later is the champion of climate change. It came down to a few chats, and flew to Florida, whatever. You could imagine an alternative history, a credible alternative history of America that would have been a very different period of time if you would have built off of that momentum of the 90s into a different way around clean energies that mattered.
Peter: Politics mattered there in a way. Other things in a broader sense of politics is who could have predicted that Middle East terrorists were going to blow apart the World Trade Center, and the United States was going to go into trillion wars in different parts of the Middle East. I mean, anyhow, stuff like this happens. Now, this is inevitable. There’s always going to be crazy wildcards that happen. But anyhow, there is stuff that can knock these things off. Anyhow, there’s some ways to think more systematically about thinking politics. I will say this is I took all these insights from what I learned in the past 25-year run on this last thing of what worked, what didn’t work, and why it didn’t work.
Peter: I spent a lot of time in that. In fact, the Long Now talk you’re referring to, I literally dwelled on that a little bit more since that whole crowd is interested in future thinking. Maybe this crowd, probably less interesting on that stuff. But anyhow, I thought that through in order to readjust my lens going forward for the next 30 years, and I think I course corrected for some of that stuff. That’s maybe some of the stuff we can talk.
Steve: For sure, we’ll dive into that. On the climate note, I think that maybe we’re at a moment and inflection point in history since I think the climate… There’s the obviously underlying drumbeat about, “Hey, carbon levels are going through the roof, and sea level rise.” I mean, well, we’re here in California, right? Wildfire is becoming a more frequent, much more intense problem. Where I live in the WUI, the wildland urban interface, here, I feel like our house could burn down at any fire season. Basically, I’m mentally prepared that this thing could be gone. Everything we own was gone, which is very strange.
Steve: That’s not I grew up, and that for my kids, I don’t know. When I was a kid, I wasn’t thinking, and we don’t obviously communicate this to our kids, but I wasn’t thinking our house could be toast. I might have to move somewhere else, and go to another community, but that’s the reality. I think also with what we saw in Texas, and tornadoes and hurricanes and flooding, I think it’s becoming a more real thing for more people in this country that, “Hey, climate change could disrupt their lives materially,” and then now Biden’s elected.
Steve: He’s talked making millions about… Maybe we’d go all in on green energy, and I think you’re going to talk about that a little bit, but I could see us saying, “Hey, let’s make those infrastructure, investments, create jobs.” By the way, I have solar on my roof. Shout out to Tesla. That has been… I have a couple batteries in it, so it’s like a giant iPhone now, but it’s pretty cool, right? [crosstalk 00:18:13]. We can keep doing this.
Peter: No, I have a similar system. The storage batteries are awesome off the solar. I have actually… just the car that actually… I am now running all my electricity in my home off the sun, and all the energy of my fuel for my cars off the sun. I’m literally spending nothing on electricity or fuel for now for whatever. It’s such a no brainer. Anyhow, so now the market takes over. This is exactly right. We’re at a point now that, again, looking forward, this is going to start taking off in a big way.
Steve: One comment on that, I think that Elon Musk does a good job of… He wrote up this thing called the Master Plan 10, 15 years ago saying, “Hey, guess what? I want to build an electric car. They’re going to start expensive, and then they get cheaper, and then I want to do solar, and then I want to do batteries. And then I want to build these little micro grids in people’s houses.” You have that. I’m one electric car from getting that. Then drive around for free electricity, and extrapolate that to the world.
Steve: You’re like, “Oh, we have free energy.” That free energy feels a lot more real when it’s running. There is actually free energy at their house. I saw electricity back with the grid now, because we overproduce it. No, I mean, he did a good job of doing what you described, which is thinking in 10, 20 year chunks what’s possible. It shows you how far it gets you, because look at what the guy’s getting done now launching spaceships and stuff like that.
Peter: Totally. Well, that’s… Should we get to that? I mean, where we’re at now? Where do you want to go?
Steve: I want to dive into the transformation. What do you think… You talked about some of these long-term trends. Looking forward, is it the same trends, or are there new things? What drives the transformation in your mind?
Peter: Here’s way to think about this, one of the things we got worried, or I got right in the Long Boom, I think I just described to you, is you can actually get pretty damn close to the core technological developments, the trajectory of those, and the general trajectory of those. You can come pretty close to that. You can also… There are certain things around demographics particularly too. There are some inexorable things like if someone’s born 20 years ago, they’re going to be 20 years old today. Anyhow, there’s a bunch of things that you can actually map out long term some of these things.
Peter: There’s other things that are more fickle or more kind of, “Who knows what will happen?” If you filter those off, and you just get to those core things, what are they? If I look ahead at the next 30 years, there’s essentially about a dozen what I would call inexorable. The reason I call them inexorable is they’re not totally adaptable. They could be shaped and push back and slowed down a little bit, maybe nudge this way or that way. But in general, these are inexorably going to happen under almost any scenario. If you start thinking those through, many of them are largely positive developments that we’re under appreciating.
Peter: From the point of view of… The first way is say, “Yes, there’s technology developments, but it’s not just the old technology developments, but it’s not only… but there is an extension.” If you take just information technology, if you took the last boom, we just went through the Long Boom from 1980 to 2020, that 40-year run was racy driven by digital technologies. It’s true, we got to this point now that’s pretty damn amazing, that 60% of the world is online, and we have these powerful technologies and all that, but there is an extension to that boom. We’re now heading into the next phase of this thing.
Peter: One way to think about it, there’s three big developments you gotta think about, or at least two. One is in the end of this decade, in the next decade, we are going to connect up every single person on the planet with a few rounding errors, a few [inaudible 00:22:12]. But in general, we’ll have eight billion people on the planet who will be reached by high bandwidth. By today’s standards, it’ll be like 5g around the world. This is decades from now, right? You talked about Musk is… One of his projects is these low-level satellites bringing broadband to every place in the world, right?
Peter: Anyhow, and he’s not the only one doing that. It’s evolved. It’s inexorably going to happen that everybody in the planet can be connected in 10 years. Well, that’s like, “Whoa, we’ve got 60% now.” By the way, just to put it in perspective, in 2000, we had about a handful of about… A handful of Americans were based online, really. The point is this thing is it’s a world historical moment. We’re going to connect people like this never happened before. It’s going to happen in this space in basically 30 years. That’s amazing at some level, but it also opens up all these cross connections. That’s one.
Peter: The second thing that’s happening is essentially, we’re entering the era of AI. Essentially, what you’ve now got is intelligent machines getting more and more intelligent. They’re not by the way… I would say the computer scientists I talk to, they’re not going to become smarter than us, and our overlords and all that kind of stuff is just this goofiness that happens to whatever the media does. Sci Fi does this. At least in this century, we’re not going to be in that situation Anyhow, the point being is but we’re going to have these incredibly powerful extension of our capabilities, and this is going to go into advanced robotics.
Peter: They’re going to get more and more subtle, so we’re entering this crazy moment here that essentially human capability is going to have this exponential increase in our ability to do shit, and it’s going to happen to everybody all over the planet at the same time. You start thinking, “Wow, that’s a big deal.” That isn’t just like, “Oh, we got a new feature in our phone or something. Anyhow, that’s a huge thing. I would argue the third inexorable about that is essentially, these two things among others is going to lead to accelerated innovation. That’s one of the others.
Peter: I squeezed all these extras down to two words. It’s either universal connectivity. We’re going to have ubiquitous AI. You’re going to have accelerating innovation, because basically, innovation is cross connecting people from different backgrounds, different fields in terms of seeing how to solve problems differently, and that’s what innovation is. If you take everybody in the world who, by the way, AI is going to enable simultaneous language translation seamlessly, so you essentially will be able to with subtlety and nuance be able to communicate with anyone around the world for them to understand what you’re saying immediately, and read all the stuff that’s in Chinese or Farsi or Swahili.
Peter: Anyhow, this cross fertilization of ideas and people is just world historical. Again, it’s going to turn our Tower of Babel into this crazy, seamless connected humanity. Anyhow, who knows what that’s going to do? But I will say one thing is do not bet against the ingenuity of human beings, and don’t bet against the power of these tools, because it give us crazy capabilities. Now, can it go wrong, and can there be issues in privacy? I mean, everyone’s raising these issues. I get that. We had enough people focus on it. I’m just trying to open yourselves up to think what’s going to happen when that happens, because it’s going to happen this second.
Peter: Anyhow, that… Now, what’s crazy about this thing is it’s not just information tech. We know that story, because we’ve been playing in it. Right alongside it, we’ve got a world historical boom happening in biotech. We have now for the first time really mastered genetic understanding. 20 years ago, just 20 years ago in 2000, we had not yet cracked the first human genome, and it costs two billion dollars to figure that out. Now, anyone can get their genome, their entire genome cracked for about $1,000. It’s going to get to nothing or about $100 or something in this decade. That’s not just humans.
Peter: We’re taking a virus that comes to the pandemic. It’s all like the virus comes in. We’ve got it genetically coded in a second. We’re just like… The mutations, we got it in the next day. We can figure that out. Anyhow, the point is the amount of our genetic understanding is just insane. Then now we’re on the verge… We also with CRISPR, that can genetically engineer things. We can now engineer life, living things, which, by the way, is everything. Most people’s homes are built with wood. That’s genetic engineering. Their food is living. Their clothes is cotton. That affects all these materials, and all these industries, essentially, that are previously like, “Hey, let’s just grow them.”
Peter: It’s like, “Wow, now, we can actually engineer them.” Anyhow, so there’s a whole thing there. I mean, again, we just [inaudible 00:27:01] program on that one. On top of it, and this is the crowning achievement, we’re going to… Essentially, we got the energy, clean energy technology revolution that is essentially in the space of about 30 years is going to completely replace the entire… Carbon energy infrastructure of the planet is going to be transitioned to a clean energy infrastructure of the planet. I mean, it won’t be totally completed in 30 years, but it’s largely going to happen in the next 30 years, ad there’ll be petered out whenever.
Peter: It’s something decades later a little bit as it peters up, but the point is the amount of change is going to happen and retrofitting everything and all our energy systems. You talked about your house. That’s going to happen times eight billion or… I mean, eight billion, but some three billion homes are going to become like that. Anyhow, the point is I’m just talking excitedly like, “You got a triple whammy technology boom, not just the ’80s ’90s, or the 90s digital technology, but you got a triple whammy thing on a world scale, because it’s all going to happen on a global scale.”
Peter: It’s crazy. If you can’t make money in that environment, you better go back to just start over simply because it’s like the opportunities are going to be nuts. Could shit happen and could things slow down? Absolutely, but the general context of this is mind blowing at some level when you really grok what’s starting to roll out here.
Steve: No, I hear you. I actually heard Greg Ventnor, the guy who sequenced the genome, talk. He was saying, “Hey,” describing exactly what you said, which is like, “When we first did this, it was a few hundred million dollars to sequence a genome, and then it got down.” Now, you’re saying it’s 1000. He said, “It’s going to go to two cents, the same cost as flushing your toilet. As soon as it’s that… This is what he said up on the stage. He says, “When it’s that cheap, guess what you’re going to do, you’re going to… We’re all going to be sequencing our genome a couple times a day or every day like Apple Watches or whatever, and it’s going to be like, “Hey, okay, looks like you don’t have cancer today and or whatever.”
Steve: It’s like, “We’re scaring you.” I think that definitely this idea of an abundant future where unlimited energy, that’s free. Everybody’s connected. AI is solving all kinds of problems. I mean, it sounds like utopia and some… I also wonder about other things like, “Okay, the idea that we might live a lot…” If we don’t get in car accidents, we might live a lot longer, and what does that look like? I mean, hopefully healthier lives. Maybe we can extend our health span, but there’s going to be these second order effects where there’s not enough work to do. I mean, I think we’re already seeing that.
Steve: Look what happened with COVID. It’s like, “Slam the brakes on the economy.” A huge chunk of the service economy is isn’t working, but a huge chunk of the economy is plowing ahead at 90 miles an hour, working all the time, but we’re able to… Market’s up. Everything’s up. We’re able to support a big group of people that aren’t working for now at least. I mean, I know we have to get everyone back to work, but I hear you. When I listened to you, it’s like, “Okay, there’s going to be an economic boom. The technology’s going to drive.” I mean, if history the last 40 years, is there any indication, we just went through a huge acceleration and improvement in quality of life for most people, and also lowering of poverty worldwide.
Steve: Those trends are accelerating, so wealth creation should increase. At the same time, we are probably going to see more taxes because we’ve got more progressive cohort of folks, generation, the Gen Z, the millennials. They’re going to be like, “Okay, listen, we want better quality of life. We want more equity. We want wealth spread around more, and stuff spent on infrastructures.” We’ll see both of those things, but hopefully, we can afford it because the economy’s cranking.
Peter: Again, I don’t know the net worth of the people who might listen to this, but there’s plenty to go around, folks. I mean, it’s like, “Give me a break.” It’s like… Spread it around. It’s for the good of everybody, and there’s plenty. You’re going to live fine. Higher tax rates individually or corporate taxes or any of these things that get rebounds, even just back to their historical norms, there’s always going to be a way to do this. Like I said, there’s going to be so many ways to make money and coming up here. Don’t focus on, “Oh my God, my tax rate’s going to go up 3% or something.” Just think about, “Oh, my tax or my stock portfolio is going to go up 20% or something.”
Peter: There’s a bunch of ways to think about it. Again, that’s old thinking, to be freaking out about that. That was the last era’s freakout and fight. Just get over it, because we’re in a different thing. Honestly, the golden age of American capitalism was the post war boom. It even dwarfed what we’ve been through the last 40 years. It was actually better. We had that level of growth rates, and that was essentially… I mean, honestly, at the very top, the tax rates in the 50s and the stuff on multimillionaires were like 90% or something. I mean, people get around it in various ways, but the point is the nominal tax rates were phenomenally higher than what they are now.
Peter: You know what? People were fine. They felt they were still… People still felt great. They still had multiple homes. I mean, how many damn things can you get? Anyhow, the point is just reframe the thinking around this. I think it’ll be a lot better. Also, the other thing is, if you don’t do this, and this is where we got to essentially in the last decade is the pitchforks are coming. I mean, it’s getting to be crazier and crazier the solutions people are talking about. Historically, watch what happens if you don’t bend with that because literally, the print shorts do come.
Peter: They eventually does get to be really a big problem. Roll with the punches here, and go with the flow. I think it’s a much better practical plan politically, in my opinion.
Steve: It’s important to study history, right? When you get too much wealth inequality, you get revolutions, French Revolution, all these different revolutions that are-
Peter: Totally. [crosstalk 00:33:22]. It’s all over the place. Anyhow, totally on point with that. One thing you mentioned though that I would just add to… Maybe you’re going to go there, but I would say the other thing which is amazing about what this is you made vague reference to it. But globally… We’ve been focusing a little bit on the U.S. here, but just putting it in context, because I didn’t really go on this up till now. But for example, in that 40-year period from ’80 to 2020, China went from a middle income country, which I think they had about $1 trillion economy in ’95, 25 years ago, to essentially about a $15 trillion GDP now, which is the second biggest superpower in the world, next to the U.S., about 20 trillion.
Peter: That happened in this space 25 years, but here’s what they did also is they pulled 800 million people, 800 million people out of essentially dire poverty, which is about the $1.50 to $2 a day they were living on into the cities, into a working class or what is in a global sense global middle class lifestyles, which is not American middle class, per se, but they had a refrigerator. They had a scooter, electric scooter. They had that kind of level stuff and a little security, so they could weather whatever. That happened to 800 million people. I know globally, it’s happened to about two billion people, so there is a larger human story that’s this thing, which is a good story.
Peter: That is… Now, we need about two to three more million people to be… Sorry, two to three more billion people to do that, but we’re interestingly on track to do that. Anyhow, this whole thing can happen. The other thing that’s about it is we’re on the same planet. If we don’t do that, we’re going to essentially blow the lid off the climate because those people have to come off the land. They’re burning the trees. They’re burning the forests just to survive and all this kind of stuff. They need them to get a much more efficiently into cities. You need them to get into a more productive economy. You need them to…
Peter: Anyhow, all the stuff we know, there’s just very tried and true method that the America and the West has been through, developed world. Now, China’s been through it as the first or one of the biggest to go through that in terms of the developing world. Now, we’ve got others like that, but we’re on it. We know how to do that. We can do that in the next 30 years, too. Anyhow, this is an exciting thing not just domestically, even globally. Again, if you’re talking to a domestic crew, this boom is not… It’s going all over the place, just like the last one was. I mean, people forget.
Peter: But remember, in the 2000s, when we had the dotcom crash, everyone was wringing their hands in America. I mean, China was on fire. Turkey was on fire. Brazil was on fire. The price of oil was going to about 150 a barrel, because everyone wanted oil because the global economy was booming up until the 2008 crash. The point is these things don’t… They’re global, because we’re so connected, and so lot of this is going to go global, and that’s a good thing, because we needed to be there. Anyhow, there’s a lot of trends to go here.
Steve: It’s great context. I mean, I’m looking at a chart of the S&P 500. We’ll post this up here, but in 1980, it was roughly 130. Now, it’s about 3,800, so a little bit more. That’s 30 times in 40 years, and you can see it’s generally up, and then there’s the bump around 2000, it came down. Then there’s another bump around 2008, where it comes down… drawn out, I should say. Then from 2000, it’s like a freight train going straight up. I mean, there was the COVID downturn, which then came back just as fast, but, I mean, if you look forward in time, if these trends continue, we’re going to see some massive wealth creation.
Steve: Back to these ark guys, we’ll see how present they are, but one thing they’re talking about is like, “Hey, AI and deep learning is going to create $30 trillion of value on top of the internet.” They made an interesting analogy. They were like, “Hey, pre internet, the internet was tiny on top of IT,” and then the internet became much bigger than IT, and just dwarfed IT kind of like. Then they think AI and deep learning is going to dwarf what we’ve done with the internet so far, essentially saying what you’re saying, but $30 trillion is one and a half times the U.S. economy today.
Steve: That’s just one thing.
Peter: Exactly. Exactly. At least my understanding, there’s about 100 trillion sloshing around in market and investment capital. Well, you might know that better than me, but that’s the other thing people say is, “Well, can we pull this climate transition off, and scale up the clean energy infrastructure fast enough?” It’s like, “If you turn the supertanker of global finance and liquid capital towards these increasingly obvious growth areas, it doesn’t need to be government.” In fact, it shouldn’t be government doing all this. It should be government setting some high standards, some good directions, some consistent policies, and then private capital moving in these directions to fuel the build out, and the build out can take off.
Peter: There’s a way to see the… My project, The Transformation, was essentially a quest, you can say 18 months ago, where I said, “I’m just going to go out and interview some of the most amazing people in the world.” Look at this numbers the way I’ve been able to do this my whole life, and put this together. Yes, I talk in different podcasts like this. The other thing though I will say about this series, which we haven’t really talked about is before the talk, I actually wrote a series of articles, and meaning there’s a half a dozen of them. One of the ways I did this was to tell this the comprehensiveness of this story, the way you and I are scooting from, “Oh, it’s tech. Oh, it’s demographic. Oh, it’s politics. Oh, it’s global. Oh, it’s China.”
Peter: There’s a million ways to tell a story. What I decided to do, and it’s essentially a small book, you could almost say, the six stories add up to about 25,000 words in Medium, which is open to anyone, by the way. Just search The Transformation series in Medium. My name is the guy there. Anyhow, the point is what I did is I told the story of our era from 2020 to 2050, the next 30 years. I told that story from the lens of a person in 2100, which is 80 years from now. The reason I told the story like that is that is the distance that if we told the story of what came out of the Great Depression and World War II, we’re also 80 years away from that.
Peter: You can tell that story with clarity, “Oh, there was a bad guy. This happened. We had to go to war. It took four years. Oh, we came out of that, and we did all these programs to build the infrastructure.” Anyhow, you know the story now, so we can tell it with clarity. I was just having this guy in 2100 tell the story. How did we solve climate change? How did we deal with this income inequality and evolved capitalism? How did we actually deal with political polarization in the West? Anyhow, I lay that thing out, and so it’s a comprehensive story. Here’s the thing though, which I think makes it more real for people, is that person telling the story is actually a member of Gen Z.
Peter: This is a kid who might be your kids, whoever’s listening to this thing, was born in 2000, came of age, and got to college in 2020 in this pandemic, and then spent the next 80 years, in his case, living at age 100, which by the way, in 2100, age 100 is going to be 65 or 70 now, because you will still be… A lot of people vitally won’t be … Anyhow, we’ll have so much medical advancements, so many genetic understanding, so much biotechnology treatment, so much understanding of cell deterioration, so much neuroscience understanding of dementia and all that stuff. We’re going to be in a lot better shape as we get older.
Peter: There are some limits to how much we can live, but let’s just say these kids are going to live to the end of the century. They’re going to be through this whole thing, and so this kid is aged 100 looking back with clarity and crisp remembering everything and saying, “Here’s how we did it from 2020 to 2050.” It’s tells that story, laying out all these pieces that we’ve been trying to talk about more directly and abstractly today. Anyhow, it’s a cool way to do this, but it makes you think that this is not some crazy abstraction. It’s like the kids today, your kids, if you’re listening to this and you got kids, or maybe [crosstalk 00:42:13].
Steve: I’ll send it to them. I have kids, but I’ll send it to them.
Peter: Maybe they are already investing [crosstalk 00:42:17]. This is not an abstract thing. It’s like we’re either going to solve climate change and solve these problems, or we’re totally screwed.
Steve: We’re dead.
Peter: You aren’t going to make it to 2100. I’m assuming we’re going to make it to 2100. That means you’re going to tell us a positive story of how we did it. That’s what I do with this series, and so it’s great. Anyhow, it’s been very popular, and people are really getting into it. This is the basis of what we’re doing here.
Steve: Oh, I love that perspective, because you’re right. I mean, sitting here today in 2021, and thinking back to… If I was alive in World War Two or something, or the Great Depression, I don’t think… People then couldn’t imagine what it’s like today, right? They just would have a very hard time.
Steve: I think if we put that lens on and say that it’s accelerating, I don’t think we can really imagine… We can start to imagine, but the innovations are coming faster and more furiously. The iPhone was invented in 2007. It’s 14 years. I mean, how much has the world changed, right? It’s just ridiculous, right?
Peter: Well, here’s a good… You’re totally right about this, but here’s a little thought experiment. I say this… We’re damn lucky that this global pandemic hit in 2020, because if it would have just happened literally just 20 years ago, 20 years ago in 2000, it wouldn’t have been that much different than the global pandemic that hit in 1918. I’ll tell you why. Because in 2000, first of all, you wouldn’t have I’d like to say maybe, I don’t know, about 50 million Americans online. You would have zero Chinese online. You wouldn’t have… Anyhow, the whole world… Nobody in the Middle East… Anyhow, nobody would have been online, except for these affluent Americans kind of thing.
Peter: Here we are 20 years later, and the pandemic hits, and boom, everybody jumps onto Zoom meetings, and keeps working. Kids go to school over the Zoom things. Everybody has these powerful computers. We all have these connections. They’re all high bandwidth. We could actually do… We couldn’t do any of that in 2000, none of it, zero. There would have been [inaudible 00:44:22]. There would have been some creaky modem that might have gotten confused connected to the server maybe. Anyhow, the point is just think about the next 20 years. That’s one category. [inaudible 00:44:31] categories that we already talked about, but just to refresh our memory is we wouldn’t have been even cracked the first human genome for a billion bucks. We would let alone been able to watch the daily mutation of the genome of the virus.
Peter: We would have been totally screwed there. We wouldn’t know what the to do, and we would have been so far away from these pandemic. These vaccines are all essentially a breakthrough that’s been working on for the last 20 years. We didn’t even know how this could have happened even in 2000. Anyhow, the point is just 20 years [inaudible 00:45:00]. The third thing is in 1980, it would have… Sorry, in 2000, with the crash of oil and carbon energies that happened around this pandemic, we’ve been in a position that there’d be no alternative coming off this crash to really build on this clean energy infrastructure because solar was way too expensive just 20 years ago.
Peter: It hadn’t gone down that price curve grinding down for the last 20 years. Actually, it’s been grinding down for 40 years. Anyhow, it wouldn’t have done that. We wouldn’t have been at the place, and so we wouldn’t be in a position where we can actually rebuild a whole different infrastructure, and really have a shot at doing climate change, so we’re lucky, but that’s only 20 years have passed. That have given us those advantages. You think ahead, and you go, “Well, let’s see. In 20 more years, what are we going to be able to do in 2040, 20 more years in 2060, and 20 more years?”
Peter: I mean, it’s really makes you think at some level, because people don’t really grok how fast technology changes, and how big a difference it can make in all of our lives. That’s what I think.
Steve: In your talk, you referenced Amara’s Law from Stanford, Professor Roy Amara, if I’m quoting correctly. We overestimate the impact of technology in the short term, and underestimate it sounds like wildly in the long term.
Peter: Totally right. In Silicon Valley tech circles, that’s unknown. It’s not that well known quote, but for people outside that scene, that’s a good thing to contemplate, and it’s very true. Very true.
Steve: Well, I’d love to dive into a couple user questions. One is from Teresa Young. She wants to know, “I’d love to hear more about why he’s optimistic about the environment.” That’s her biggest area of concern for the future. What trends are you seeing to make you feel optimistic? Also, elaborate maybe on electric cars and what you’re saying with solar and fossil fuels and so forth, maybe carbon recapture, too. I don’t know. There’s some stuff happening there.
Peter: Well, good question. That is essentially the main motivator. I mean, that is the problem that has flummoxed and is depressed more people than any of them is that question. Mountain climate change, how can we ever what I call turn the corner? We’re probably never going to get back to where we were 30 years ago feeling, and so we’re going to have to mitigate the worst excesses of what we have been worried… We’re worrying about a lot of different bad scenarios, so the question of solving climate change is never going to be completely solved, “Hey, we’re back to where it was in 1900 or something, probably.”
Peter: Money is not out of the question long term. Anyhow, in this century, we’re going to have to deal with containing as much as possible. I think we can do that, and then evolving essentially our society to be more adaptable, resilient, and deal with it, but still be able to live thriving lives that… It’s all good. That’s my shorthand. When I say solving climate change, this is the way I think about it. There are many things that give me hope on this level, and not just goofy hope. We mentioned some of them, that technology is here. We talked about solar.
Peter: I mean, if you look at the numbers, and again, this talk I did, I did a ton of infographics that show this very inexorably. We have hit the price points now in the next few years. Well, right now, solar is cheaper than other alternative carbon energies across many places, certainly in sunny places like California and Texas. Anyhow, there’s all these things that are now at the point where it is now… We’ve turned the corner on. They’re cheaper. They’re better. They’re more scalable, and they’re continuing to go down in price. This is something that the tech world has learned a long time ago is once you crack a scalable technology like that, that keeps coming down in price, boom, they just go nuts.
Peter: There’s nothing to stop it ahead of it. That’s not just solar. It’s a bunch of things. Same thing if you take electric cars. It’s a similar thing, which, again, if you take the price of batteries, they’ve been driving down just like the price of solar panels have been driving down. They have now hit the point where they’re as cheap. In the next few years, it’ll be cheaper than internal combustion engines, and it’s just going to continue in a way that… For people who don’t have… Electric cars are just better all the way around. There’s no maintenance. There’s literally no moving parts. There’s no maintenance.
Peter: They’re safer because the batteries keep you from crunching the thing down. I mean, it’s just a complete and utter no brainer to go electric. Of course, that’s what’s happening. Elon Musk saw it earlier. People saw it earlier, but now, every single car company in the world is now in this demonstration. We’re doing it, so that’s positive. Anyhow, you can just go down the whole list. The [inaudible 00:49:56] are there. I told you about the politics is changing in a fundamental way. We’re seeing how… Global capital is starting to get it, and move the money differently.
Peter: Anyhow, there’s a lot of things coming together. It’s a longer answer for you, but I’m saying, we really have to reframe… It’s not this completely dystopian, no win solution that’s just innervating and everybody debilitating, and if we go there, then we might not pull this off. But it’s much more hopeful than you think, and if you really look at the numbers, it’s actually really heartening. Anyhow, you need a more comprehensive… It’s going to have to get out there more, but we’re turning the corner on this thing.
Steve: I mean, I see it happening. I mean, solar on my roof, batteries, and then when I drive around California, big giant windmills and solar farms and solar panels on schools, on parking lots and stuff like that. It’s definitely proliferating. I’m a believer on that. We have another question. Shawn Bailey, “What are your thoughts on technologies that might dramatically enhance longevity and quality of life, and do you see the percentage of people who live to be over 100 increasing dramatically, or just staying on the current trend?”
Peter: Well, I made some reference to that earlier in a podcast about Gen Z is living to 100, and going beyond that, frankly. I always give you the reasons. I mean, we’re just entering the biotech era, you could say or something. One way to think of it, again, from an investment point of view is biotech is where infotech was in the ’90s. It’s not well understood outside of the circles of who knows, but it is totally ready for primetime, and it’s ready to scale. It’s got… I mean, you can take any category. Take cell-based meat or something, which is essentially creating meat by taking the stem cells of animals, not killing them, by the way, and just growing that same thing, and that feeding it.
Peter: It’s so much more efficient. It’s so much more environmentally friendly. It’s actually getting to the point where there’s real products. The price point’s coming down. I mean, the [inaudible 00:52:09] stuff. Anyhow, you just go to any of these things. There’s a million… They’re all over the place now. Materials, you’re going to see basically materials. They’re going to replace plastic. The scourge of plastic that everyone’s wringing their hands, it’s polluting everything, and screwing the planet up and all the damn oceans floating with them. You could actually re-engineer biological materials that essentially would essentially biodegrade after being exposed for two weeks to salt water in the ocean, and they’d be gone.
Peter: You could basically see if it’s exposed to UV light for more than three weeks or something, it’ll go… Anyhow, there’s a bunch of ways you can play this thing, where we could just completely saw that. Anyhow, the point is that they’re all over the place. Anyhow, those are more material things. But for human health, it’s just going to go the same way too, all this stuff going on with human health. We’re going to really redesign how healthcare goes. Yes, these things are going to go. There is one thing that people in the long-term future think about is there is a limit. It’s a technical limit that we think it’s not clear how humans can get beyond about 120 years, which is a whole technical way to describe that.
Peter: The term, exactly okay. If we want to go into it, There is some fundamental limits, and so it’s not… I’m in a group that I don’t think it’s going to relive the thousand years or something. That’s not going to happen, or at least [inaudible 00:53:31] in the next century. Anyhow, it’s going to be… The thing to think about it is not super long, maybe up to 120, but also pretty vigorous and active lives till about 100. Then you’ll slow down in different ways, but think about that. That’s extending life. Essentially, the life expectancy of Americans in the 20th century went about 40 years, expanded by 40 years to about…
Peter: Now, it’s about 80-year old is the average age, and it’s not crazy to think we could expand them maybe another 20. The average lifespan will be 100. There’ll be people who go over that. The person I interviewed on the show would be 120 or something, but they won’t be 100. 100 would be like, “Okay, yeah, you made it to 100. Awesome.” Everyone are dead. Many people are dead.
Steve: Well, so for our users, it’s like, “Hey, the traditional trajectory of life is you’re educated and growing up from zero to 25. You work from 25 till 65, and then you live another 10, 20 years, and then you’re done,” but there are also people who are trying to retire earlier. There’s people that are trying to retire 45, 50, but if you’re living another 30 or 50 years when only working 20 something years, the calculus changes. Maybe if the economy is cranking and the market [inaudible 00:54:59], maybe it doesn’t work out.
Peter: Well, here’s what I would say beware of is, first of all, people who are already old now, I would just say boomers and older, the damage has been done. [inaudible 00:55:14] say a lot of this stuff is essentially going to be essentially… That’s why I use Gen Z. A Gen Z who is coming of age of 20 now, and will spend their life, which is they’re super healthy and nothing’s really happening to them yet and whatever, those people will be in this new medical, genetic, biotech era, and so they’ll hit that 100, but I don’t think it’s going to do a lot of good or much good for the 70-year-old Boomer right now.
Peter: Anyhow, a lot of the demographics are gonna play out with it. The other thing I would say about this to you since you’re… I don’t think it’s going to be that everyone’s going to sit around for 50 years doing retirement. I think we’re going to restructure what the work life is. It’s going to go longer. It’s going to be more knowledge work. [inaudible 00:56:02] biotech, a bunch of stuff is we’re not going to be flipping burgers and shit, but we will. People will do stuff, but it’ll be meaningful. It’ll be fulfilling. It’ll be paid, but it might only be 20 hours a week or something and whatever.
Peter: You’ll do it till you’re 80 or something, or who knows? I don’t know. There’ll ne some changes.
Steve: I totally agree with that. I mean, that’s our vision right now is like, “Hey, we see a lot of people in our community. They’re super intelligent. They’ve got great experience, and they’re like, “Well, now, I’m financially independent, so I don’t need to work.” But they’re also like, “Well, I don’t want to just sit around, whatever, playing golf or something all day long. They’re trying to find meaningful things to do, but they want to control their schedules, so do work that they like, when they want to, where they want and when they want. I think that’s definitely how we see the future.
Steve: Let’s give a shout out to Gen Z. Even though Gen Z, you think you’re getting screwed, because all the wealth is with the 50 year olds, those guys are actually still going to not benefit all these technologies and boom that you’re going to benefit, so you will get paid back.
Peter: Well, if you really want to boost if you’re Gen Z, read my story, because you’ll save the world. I mean, honestly, the way I frame it from this guy in 2100 is it’s really going to be the millennials and Generation Z that are going to pull this off for us. It’s not going to be led by boomers. It’s not going to be led by Gen Xers even, but it’s going to be essentially… The story of the century is going to be driven by those two big generations, and so you’ll have a lot to be… You’ll be responsible for this in a good way that you’ll have pull it off.
Peter: If we don’t pull it off, lay the blame on the boomers of the Gen Xers who have got us into this mess. But anyhow, I’m being a little facetious, but I’m just saying there’s some truth to that, actually.
Steve: All right, this is awesome. Well, so just before I wrap up, for you personally, are you going to take these Medium articles and turn them into a book, or what are you spending your time on the next few years?
Peter: It’s possible. In fact, [inaudible 00:58:05]. I’ve written a couple books, as you mentioned. I’ve written a couple of them, due for another one, and this would be a good one. I’m doing two things right now. If you want to follow what I’m doing, I’m now going to start a new conversation series. Think of it as a podcast or something with the Long Now Foundation. It’s the group that I actually did this talk with on the transformation, but it’s essentially on a monthly series. I’m going to be interviewing some of, to my mind, the most remarkable people on the planet about the long-term future of this century.
Peter: We’re just developing it now, but it’s a committed thing we’re going to do. It will probably launch within a couple of bucks, and you can get that through the Long Now. It’s the nonprofit looking ahead, trying to foster long-term thinking. I’ll be doing that as that. Then I’m also… Right now, I do a lot of public speaking, and so if you’re interested in that, you can go to my website, peterleyden.com, and through that to my agents and stuff. I’m doing a lot of speaking around this issue. I’m doing a lot of advising of senior execs, because I do a lot of… I spend time with them.
Peter: I’m doing a big project now with my senior fellow for strategic foresight at Autodesk, the kind of technology company that essentially creates a software for all architects or most architects for construction firms or manufacturing folks, and even for Hollywood movies and stuff, trying to how to make three-dimensional buildings and understand how that all works as well as Star Trek, worlds that don’t exist, but they’re three dimensional. Anyhow, I’m doing some help with them thinking about the next five or 15 years. I spent a lot of time with companies like them, trying to get them to think more strategically about the future.
Peter: In their case, I mean, I think they could play a piece in this reinvention of the planet around retrofitting and redesigning everything for sustainable… everything. For me, I’m a more of a mission guy at some level, so I’ve gotta try to see, “What can I do to help people think long term and act strategically for the good of all for the long term,” and that’s where I’m at in my life. That’s my plan.
Steve: That’s awesome. All right, I appreciate hearing that. I mean, one of the things we want to do is do… We’re doing online events that are live, but if in person comes back, maybe do an in-person event. It’d be great to have you come over and speak [crosstalk 01:00:28].
Peter: I’d be happy to do that, happy to do that. Let’s stay connected on that.
Steve: I mean, one of the things that we think is going to happen is I see the human capital of people over 50 or more retiring as the next dark fiber. It’s all this human capital that’s-
Peter: That’s true too.
Steve: It can be unlocked and leveraged and used to educate people, or you’ve got these four billion people coming online, “Hey, put these folks to work, teaching them new things or bringing other ideas to them.” All right, so with that, I’m going to wrap it up. Thanks, Peter, for being on our show. Thanks, Davorin Robison for being our sound engineer. Thanks for listening. The folks out there, hopefully you found this useful. If you’ve made it this far, I encourage you to check out Peter’s work at peterleyden.com. We’ll link to that, the Long Now, his talks, and the Medium articles when we post this up.
Steve: You can also come to our Facebook group or follow us on Twitter. Finally, check out our tools at newretirement.com, so you can build a financially confident future. Also, any reviews are welcome. With that, thanks and have a great day.
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