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The next 200 years: A scenario for America and the world Paperback – 1983
All Books, All the Time
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Kahn outlined how the various views perceive their world. These views are then tabled by subject. He presents the future based on the various beliefs and the evidence each view uses to substantiate their premises. He call these views perspectives on the future and on the extremes are the Convinced Neo-Malthusian and the Technology and Growth Enthusiast. There are two others in between the extremes. Kahn was not pushing one perspective over the other. In fact, he gave warnings about the dangers of a too rapid growth based on Technology. His book outlines how to define the present day and then the manner how the various views see the future. For example, how does a Neo-Malthusian see innovation and discovery affects the future differently from a Technology Enthusiast. All of this is put into a easy table format. These perspectives are as valid today as they were in 1976.
This book is a classic and much of his analysis is worthwhile for today's view of growth. Most certainly just his tables and his classifications, as stated by another reviewer, are worth the price of the book. He, at the least, puts a strategy and a structure on methods used to view growth and the future. I used his methods and his structure in strategic planning and with one paper I presented at a Futurist conference. His use of tables to provide an understanding of complex subjects is the work of a genius.
If your interest in futurism includes learning from its checkered past, this is a good read. If you're looking for something that's still valid today, this isn't it. Most of what's presented in this 1976 book turned out to be wrong. (The biggest exception is that they accurately pegged the evolution of computers and the information society.) That may seem like a rash judgment since the book's 200-year time horizon stretches to 2176. But much of the book dwells on what will come to pass by 1985, by 2000, or by early in the 21st century.
Kahn & Co. wrote this book specifically to counter the so-called "neo-Malthusian" perspective of the 1972 Limits to Growth study and similar efforts of that era. But the authors go to the opposite extreme, purporting to show that there will be abundant energy, raw materials, food, and living space; no unacceptable effects on the environment; and increasing affluence worldwide even if the population grows to 30 billion (almost five times today's population) and global economic activity reaches 60 times the level of the 1970s. This scenario, we are told, holds true even without considering any significant inputs of energy, materials, or manufactured products from beyond Earth.
The authors ignore, dispute, or oversimplify basic concepts of international economics and trade relations. They believe that the more consumption there is in developed countries, the better it is for developing countries because it provides them with markets and jobs. They are unaware of a well-known phenomenon called the "resource curse" and assume every country with natural resources will end up as rich as Middle East countries with oil. They seem to wish away inequitable trade policies, such as subsidies and protectionist measures that close off markets. They assume that new technologies will be easily and quickly transferred to and absorbed by those who need them.
The authors are big believers in the technological fix. Whether it's extraction of raw materials, the production of energy or goods, the harvesting and distribution of food, or the worldwide improvement of health, they assume the right technology will be available in plenty of time. There are many examples of this, but I'll just mention one: they foresee practical fusion energy by the 1990s.
The authors find it hard to conceal their contempt for environmentalists, who they clearly see as mostly wrong-headed obstructionists. Some of the authors' ideas on the environment would be considered strange today. For example, they see the Amazon basin (among other locations) as a "relatively unused area" that should be converted to food production. Also, they acknowledge the possibility of global warming, but believe it could be a good thing - growing seasons in high latitudes would be longer, and even if the polar ice caps melted, it would only inconvenience a few coastal cities. (!)
I consider myself an optimist. The authors, however, go far beyond anything that could stand up to modern scrutiny. It would be nice to believe that conservation is not necessary and global solutions will come when needed if we just keep cruising on autopilot. But that's an irresponsible approach. The future is what we make it.
Remenber this the next time a PhD expounds on global warning.