42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a future not about Republicans vs. Democrats...
...not even about Liberal vs. Conservative. Everyone seems to want change. Postrel make the convincing argument that the battle is really between those who demand central control and a pre-planned future vs. those who are willing to let the future evolve in a many time unexpected way. Essentially it's an age old debate - almighty wisdom vs. evolution.... It's...
Published on June 10, 1999 by Dick Bjornseth
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too long, fails to address some important questions
I enjoyed the author's thoughts even if I am not inclined to agree with all of them. She could have stated her case much more concisely. She does an excellent job of citing her sources, but I thought she beat her subject to death and then some.
The author likely has a point about individual and non-government directed successes. What she ignores are the...
Published on August 21, 2009 by Nick
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a future not about Republicans vs. Democrats...,
This review is from: The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress (Hardcover)...not even about Liberal vs. Conservative. Everyone seems to want change. Postrel make the convincing argument that the battle is really between those who demand central control and a pre-planned future vs. those who are willing to let the future evolve in a many time unexpected way. Essentially it's an age old debate - almighty wisdom vs. evolution.... It's authority (whether it be religion or the state) versus freedom of choice (whether it be the markets or experimentation). Postrel delineates the battle ground with a variety of examples...both contemporary and historic.
The book offers insights into the potential of creativity breaking out from the traditional command and control mentality. As a former urban planner, I was particularly enlightened by her examples as they relate to a changing urban scape.
Overall, this is a ground breaking book that links a number of guru management ideas, politics, science and economic thought....the kind of cross-disciplinary analysis that opens up new ways to more objectively view the world. The Future and Its Enemies is a worthwhile read that will help the reader understand the real underlying dichotomy and debate ("the paradigm" which is a term that Postrel gratfully doesn't use) that defines how politicians and others react to a wide variety of contentious debates. Now the reader can understand the underlying personalities and sets of beliefs and predict how the future balttle lines will be drawn..and what side to be on.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Postrel applied on a semi-socialist state,
This review is from: The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress (Hardcover)As a citizen of Sweden Postrels book gets a special meaning. As a liberal politician in Sweden even more so.
Sweden can be classified as a semi-socialist state. On one hand Sweden is modern and liberal when it comes to all the standard human rights issues. On another there is a very deeply rooted, and dominant, culture of social engineering and socialization. Virtually everything, and I really mean everything, is in some manner under direct political influence. As everything in this country is politics, everything is also subject to thorough planning, scheduling and political debate. From my point of view, Sweden is a "stasist" state with very little room for any kind of dynamist influenses. This book has given me, beeing an anti-socialist in a semi-socialist society, new hope. Maybe there are other ways to break the stale mate in our country, when it comes to analyzing politics. I'll apply the dynamist-stasist dimension here, and see what happens.
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Heroine for the 21st Century,
This review is from: The FUTURE AND ITS ENEMIES: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress (Paperback)I was familiar with Virginia Postrel's work in Reason magazine before I bought this book, so I was already looking forward to it with great expectations. However, Ms. Postrel actually managed to exceed them! So often even the best journalists cannot make the transition to writing full-length texts, but Ms. Postrel has done so with ease. Some reviewers have complained that the book lacks depth and it is true that Ms. Postrel could have added more case studies or psychological and philosophical analysis. But I have never thought that every book must achieve the scope of _Human Action_ to be useful. Indeed, something can definitely be said for making a book accessible to the public-at-large rather than catering to the converted.
I found Ms. Postrel's arguments very compelling, especially when taken with the writings of previous authors. F.A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, and Frederic Bastiat of course did not use the terms dynamist and stasist in their works, but the same thread is clearly evident. Hayek, Rand, and Bastiat (along with many others) long ago identified the alliances between the far-left and far-right for the purpose of destroying progress. Yet Postrel's book brings that analysis to its logical conclusion by finally obliterating the falsity of the left-right dichotomy which many 19th and 20th Century writers still implicitly accepted even when they identified the parallels between stasist groups.
That said, Postrel's book, although certainly capable of being read on its own, would be best read as part of a body of literature. I would recommend also reading Hayek's _The Road to Serfdom_, Rand's _Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal_, and Bastiat's _Economic Sophisms_ for readers previously unfamiliar with the subject. Those texts are readily available and are as accessible as Postrel's for the novice reader.
Finally, I must say that with this book, Ms. Postrel joins Wendy McElroy as a heroine for the 21st Century, carrying on the work of such great liberal (in the proper sense of that word) women such as Ayn Rand, Rose Wilder Lane, and Isabel Paterson.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hayek for Everyone!,
This review is from: The FUTURE AND ITS ENEMIES: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress (Paperback)It has become fashionable as of late to argue for cultural stasis. The green left, for instance, argues that nature is best and any 'progres' away from the natural should be silenced. Similarly, the conservative right warns that culture and social structure should remain in the '50's and that the new 'consumerism' is threatening cultural 'stability.' Both groups, and others like them, have their own vision of the 'best way' for society to be. To varying degrees, these groups want to save the people from the 'wrong' future by technocratic planning and regulation that allows for the 'right' future - their future.
Virginia Postrel opposes ideas of a planned future based on any model of the 'one best way.' She argues in this book that the best way for the future to happen is sponteneously. Instead of regulating industries, mores, and ideas, we should let people and companies be as free as possible to experiment with new ideas and innnovations, and through trial and error, let THEM decide what they like and do not. A future planned in advance through regulation and government controls leads to stagnation and fewer options. An open future leads to vibrancy, ingenuity, and increased options.
These ideas, of course, are not new. Those familiiar with economists like Hayek, Sowell, and Friedman will recongize them instantly. These and other economists argued (iconoclastically) that planned societies (or planned markets) not only ciphen off people's inborn urge to try new things and experiment, but lead to social and economic stand-stills.
Postrel's book alternates well between theory and practice. She offers scores of examples illustrating why regulations on markets tends to stifle valuable innovation, and why deregulation tends to lead to better and better technologies (while allowing consumers to sort the good from the bad instead of being dictated to from on high). From the ingenuity made possible by deregulation of airlines, to the remarkable progress (and sponteneous order) that the internet (unhampered by regulation) has offered, Postrel brings theory home by illustrating its practical effects.
My favorite chapter is "Creating Nature," focused particularly on the biotech industry and "its enemies." It is also the chapter most relevant to me. While writing a grad paper on biotech, I read many of the works noted (and deftly criticized) by Postrel - by the likes of Leon Kass, Bill McKibben, and Jeremy Rifkin. These rather anti-technology luddites sincerely argue that the days before technology were better and that if we were as smart as they, we would realize it too. As Postrel notes, they are unashamedly snobbish, often deriding the general public for valuing the better life afforded by technology and the bugbear of 'consumerism.' Postrel eloquently explores all of this, highlighting the problems endemic to such thought.
The only two criticisms I can offer of the book are these: First, Postrel seems so intent on grilling the luddites that she might err in the opposite direction and exhibit TOO MUCH faith in change for change's sake (she uses the phrase "faith in progres" quite a bit). Unfortunately, this makes her come off as having the same level of unquestioning zeal that she spots in her opposition. Second, the book is unabashedly libertarian. While this is not a problem for me (I am one too) she never quite comes clean about it. This may strike some readers as a tad covert.
All in all though, this is an excellent read. The chapters are organized so as to minimize repitition, the research is varied and well done, and her arguments are extremely tight. For those not afraid of progress, or those curious about those that are, this is a must read.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp insight from Virginia Postrel,
This review is from: The FUTURE AND ITS ENEMIES: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress (Paperback)I consider myself an optimist and insightful person, but somehow managed to miss many of Postrel's insights. She gives me even more hope that the future is going to be more wonderful than I previously thought. She does keep that hope in check, though, by talking about the enemies of the future- primarily protectionists and those that see free trade as a threat, instead of the blessing that it is.
She thoroughly destroys the notion that 'there is nothing new under that sun'. While the universe, therefore our earth, is necessarily finite, we misunderstand this finiteness because we misunderstand the different combinations things can be arranged in. For example, a deck of cards has only 52 cards, but the number of combinations you can put the cards into is 52x51x50x49x...x3x2x1, which is a number larger than the number of particles in the universe! So whenever you shuffle a deck of cards, you can rest assured, that that is probably the one and only time that arrangement of cards will ever be in existence... ever.
People are so inventive and creative and always looking for new things. Obviously, there will always be new things. Every time someone declares that we are nearing the end of history, science, technology, etc. it's safe to say they have no idea what they are talking about. We need to let people be as creative and as inventive as they can. It will only make our lives better, on the whole. There will always be setbacks, but as long as people can think, we will always find a way to make out of those setbacks.
The book is a stunning, intelligent look at modern life. I liked it so much, I bought The Substance of Style, which is, yet, another insightful look at modern life.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why care about the future?,
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too long, fails to address some important questions,
The author likely has a point about individual and non-government directed successes. What she ignores are the thousands of years of state directed projects that still rank amongst the greatest achievements of all time. I would point out not only the Interstate highway system, the Panama Canal, the lend lease program of recent times. I would also point out that there are examples of state sponsored works of literature (the Aeneid)and music (the music composed for the courts of Europe) which are rather famous. The art and architecture of "stasist systems" include Versailles and the Peterhof. Not too shabby.
I'm not suggesting statism (which is really what the author is talking about while using the term "stasist") is superior to anything in particular but for all the successes of the dynamist approach, their opponents have a few laurels to rest upon too. Why is that? What kind of a book could have discussed the ups and downs, the drawbacks and advantages of both her approach and the state directed and controlled systems she loathes, and why are they important?
This book really doesn't address these questions and I think the author should have addressed them in at least the span of a chapter (while consolidating others). It's an argument that she either avoids for some reason or didn't consider, but "stasists" can mount a powerful rejoinder to her work, and a few reviewers here do just that.
In some important ways, this book disappoints. I think it has some merit and persons interested in free markets, free enterprise, and entrepreneurship might find this work very useful, if far from comprehensively advancing the author's arguments. I rate this book three stars. Were it not so verbose and repetitive, I would probably have gone four stars, yet written a similar review. Interesting? For the first 125 pages, yes. Valuable? Perhaps, but not as a comprehensive or forceful manifesto for libertarian ideas.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Figure things out now and save yourself pain in "The Future",
Virginia Postrel is the editor of the uber-libertarian Reason Magazine and also writes frequently for the Wall Street Journal. This book is basically a fleshing out of her favorite theme- that technology is what is going to carry us through the 21st century intact and save us from death by exponential and catastrophic population growth, and that the future of our culture and the arts are essentially tied to technological development. But she also warns us that only unfettered technology can flourish. Regulation means expense and expense is the great bogeyman of research and development. If governments start regulating genetic engineering, the Internet and nanotechnology while they are in their infancy, there will be no bright tomorrow.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book was the connection that Ms. Postrel draws between the neo-Luddite Jeremy Rifkin types of the left and the nationalist Pat Buchanans of the right. The idea that there is a coming realignment in politics is not original to her, but she presents the shift of political alliances away from left-right and into a freedom-tyranny oriented spectrum more capably than anyone else I have read.
She doesn't paint a utopian future. She makes it clear that the road to tomorrow won't be easy for anybody, let alone everybody. But we won't get there at all unless the social problems of our day and the problems raised by increasingly rapid change are delt with by individuals, not bureaucracies. If the great enemy of the future is regulation, its best friends are the thinker, the private humanatarian and, most of all, the entrepreneur.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pop Hayek,
This review is from: The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress (Hardcover)This book promises a new way to think about otherwize puzzling phenomena. It doesn't disappoint.
I enjoyed the book immensely, and thought its pronouncements on the bizarre alliances between "right" and "left" quite enlightening.
The book's central theme involves a conflict between what Postrel calls "stasism" and "dynamism," where the former view involves a blend of both reactionaries (whose primary value is social stability) and technocrats (whose primary value is control - "one best way for everyone"). This analysis enables us to understand the weird overlaps between reactionary environmentalists, who think that the only threat ecosystems face is human-caused instability, and conservatives, who fear cultural instability ("I refuse to let you affect my life.")
Then there are the technocrats, who, as Postrel ably describes, think that if one day care center has an in-house play area, then all of them should. Postrel quotes with merry abandon, laying bare the code in which technocrats talk (they love phrases like "national standards," "comprehensive plans," etc.).
These then are the future's enemies, and they tend to share either a distrust or ignorance of what Postrel, following F.A. Hayek, calls "localized" or "tacit" knowledge. Hayek described such knowledge as "the knowledge of specific circumstances, time, and place" -- that is, the sort of knowledge no technocrat in Washington could ever master, no matter how big his computer. The existence of this sort of knowledge is the reason why large-scale plans foisted on everyone, regardless of circumstances, tend to fail, and why markets, with their endless ability to customize and tailor products to even the most obscure of needs, tend to succeed.
Hayek wrote of these things many years ago, but even he disparaged his own writing skills. (Nonetheless, I am hard-pressed to think of a greater social thinker in the 20th century than Hayek.) It is a good thing that there are people like Postrel to take up the banner.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good premise but too long,
By A Customer
Overall, this entire premise would've been better covered in a 8-10 page magazine article. Brevity may be known as the source of wit, but for some of us, brevity is also the source of 5 star book reviews.
As a plus, I thought the author did a good job of footnoting her anecdotes.
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The FUTURE AND ITS ENEMIES: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress by Virginia I. Postrel (Paperback - December 8, 1999)