The Uncertain Future
The Uncertain Future
What Awaits Us in the Near and Distant Future and What Say We Have in It
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter illustrates the Twelve Great Issues for the Future, which are the things that people must keep examining while trying to peer into the future. What happens next will depend on things that happen at the same time. These twelve compass points are: the rate and limits of economic growth; the evolution of values and their cultural implications; the institutionalization of globalization versus the growing chaos; regional integration; the role of nongovernmental organizations; the natural environment; demographic processes and migration; poverty and social inequality; the knowledge-based economy and society; scientific and technical progress; the evolution of networks; and conflicts and security (war and peace). The essence in seeing all of these lies in the fact that, as humanity edges forward over time, we will see something new and different each day. It is always better to see than not to see, to understand more rather than less.
Keywords: economic growth, evolution of values, globalization, nongovernmental organizations, natural environment, demographic processes, poverty, scientific progress, evolution of networks, conflicts and security
The greatest of human migrations lies before us—the voyage into the future.
WE ARE CREATING this world for ourselves, more in its cultural and economic dimensions than in the natural one. The more we know and understand, the more we will be able to create. Almost everyone thinks about the future, often with misgivings and apprehension. People are afraid of what they do not understand.
We have a choice: a future of understanding or a future of misunderstandings. The latter would be, or will be, exceptionally costly for development. What we need to understand, however, is that most of the misunderstandings result not from the “clash of civilizations,” but from the clash of ignorances. The clock is running. Tomorrow will be today, and today will be yesterday.
If you listen to what some people in Iran think about the United States and how Americans feel about Iran, it’s hard to be an optimist, but it’s also hard not to see that a great deal could be achieved through a sensible, substantive dialogue without preconceptions. Yet they’re not exactly falling over each other to get started. Leaving aside such extreme cases as Israel and Palestine, where there will not be any sensible conflict resolution without strong and rigorous pressure from outside, (p.339) the mutual perceptions of the United States and Venezuela or Great Britain and Zimbabwe would make an objective outside observer’s hair stand on end. The degree of neighborly misunderstanding between Poland and Belarus or Russia and Georgia is enormous. It’s not much better if you listen to what they say about Russia in Washington and New York, or about the United States in Moscow and St. Petersburg. It’s all somewhat reminiscent of Japan’s relations with the rest of the world on the eve of the Meiji reform era, except that now it’s twenty-four hours a day, at the speed of light, and accessible to almost anyone who cares listen in.
Today such syndromes cannot be overcome by sending in the British troops or the American frigates, as was done when China was forced to buy opium or Japan was made to open up to external commercial contacts. It takes intellectual effort and political action on both sides. Just as unrestrained economic expansion helped break down the isolation of the Far East, so economic interaction can accomplish a great deal today, in reference not only to investment and trade, but also to research and education. The best example in recent years is the significant improvement in bilateral relations and mutual understanding between China and the United States, not to mention the encouraging example of the integration of the postsocialist countries into the mainstream of the global economy and world culture. The role of intellectuals and of entrepreneurs, who make direct business contacts without government interference, in creating an atmosphere of mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect should be emphasized.
In searching for answers to questions about the sources and mechanisms of development, we have worried on more than one occasion about the way that practice has been led astray by ignorance, greed, or emotions, even when there was scholarly understanding of the issues. Time has been wasted. More precisely, it has been wasted from the point of view of the interests of the majority and the general population, because there were some people who were making very good money out of the situation and who continue to do so.
At times, however, the fact that something that is “theoretically possible” fails to happen is proof of the superiority of practice over theory. This is true in physics at least. This is why we are still waiting for the end of the world, even though it could theoretically happen right now. If it happened now, it would result not from ignorance, but from the accumulation of immense quantities of knowledge and the success of (p.340) yet another great human endeavor. At the beginning of 2008, the power was switched on at one of the most complicated devices in history (and also one of the most expensive, since it cost over $8 billion). This machine is relatively more complicated, for us, than the Anti-kythera Mechanism was for the ancient Greeks. We are talking about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the particle accelerator located in a 27-kilometer tunnel outside Geneva, which may help us to answer some questions about the structure of the universe, or universes. The fascinating thing is that the results of these experiments and theoretical studies might even show that the Big Bang never happened and that we will have to rewrite the few things we think we know in our brief chapter on the history of the world.
Some people think that this “Geneva Mechanism,” built by the consortium known as CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), could create a small black hole. Is this merely additional mumbo-jumbo, but from the world of physics? Perhaps so, although even Scientific American cautioned about such a possibility in the summer of 1999. It is “theoretically possible”; the probability is close to zero—yet it is still greater than zero. Back then the context was a smaller collider, the RHIC (Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider) at Brookhaven National Laboratory. MIT physicist Frank Wilczek (the grandson of immigrants from Poland) explained that the threat was not really a black hole, but rather something known as strangelets. Some physicists (physicists too have opposing views, although for different reasons than economists) contend that neutron stars could be turned into this hypothetical form of matter. This would mean that something referred to as an ice-nine transition could occur, although there is still no proof. If this occurred on earth, then the entire planet could be converted to strange matter and the world we know would be gone. The administrators at the RHIC convened a special committee of scholars that ruled out such an eventuality and calmed the overexcited media speculation about the danger. Frank Wilczek went on to win the Nobel Prize in 2004, although not for his work on strangelets. He is yet another Nobel Prize laureate who understands things that no one else, or hardly anyone else, understands.
Theoretically possible though it may be, then, the end of the world will not take place, or at least not this year. Numerous new mistakes in economics, business strategy, and public policy are also theoretically possible. What is worse, they are inevitable for reasons with which we are familiar by this point. Nevertheless, we must go on looking for (p.341) economic theories that are just as accurate as, and more comprehensible than, the intricacies of particle physics, and for practical applications of the factors that encourage progress. Despite the great volume of accumulated knowledge and the wealth of historical experience, the problems keep coming. This is one more paradox of development.
Some believe that there is no point writing about the future if you cannot terrify your readers. This is not so, but it is also wrong to lull people into complacency. The one thing that is certain about the future is that it is uncertain.
The signs are increasing that the world will be unable to escape the spiral into which it has fallen without a crisis and new revolutions. It would be better to escape this spiral through evolution and universal development that is politically, culturally, socially, ecologically, economically, and financially balanced, but it is both too late and too early for that. What kind of crisis will it be? We do not know. When will it happen? We do not know, but it is only a question of time, because there are more and more contradictions, and they are becoming increasingly antagonistic. Overcoming them will take movements on an almost tec-tonic scale: profound structural changes, the adoption of a new value system, and a different balance of power and allotment of roles on the world stage.
Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) liked to say that all his troubles came from the fact that his imagination was slightly more vivid than that of other people. He was not the only one to have such a problem. Yet it is a good problem to have, because it is an inspiration for critical thinking. People who have such good problems should not feel bad, and societies and nations should wish for more such problems. The thing to watch out for is a superfluity of really painful problems. The only way to deal with them is to stretch our imaginations about ways to shape our future.
Knowledge about the future and after-the-fact speculation in the alternate-history mode should be of help. Intelligently asking “What if?” can be highly creative. We know how and why certain processes turned out the way they did, and we know that many of them could have ended otherwise. It is a certainty that this will continue to be the case in the future. The future is partially determined, and there is nothing for us to do except wait for it and take advantage of the best parts. Much else, however, depends on our actions. These in turn depend on what we have really learned from the past, both remote and recent. To have any sort of perspective, we must understand history.
(p.342) It is hard to evaluate hypothetical scenarios for the future because it is hard to compare them, not only because of the enormous differences of subjects, scope, depth, and time frame, but also because of the impossibility of subjecting them to the falsification test. We cannot disprove something that has not happened yet. By the time anything turns out to be true or false, it belongs to the past.
All sorts of analytical and prognostic centers sketch out scenarios for the future, even such serious ones as the CIA and its affiliates. They go so far as to publish such scenarios, which might seem surprising for an intelligence agency—not that we believe they publish all of them. The most intriguing scenarios are surely stamped “Top Secret.” Yet even the ones available on the Internet can serve as inspiration.1 We should add that these published scenarios are intended to influence the future, because they shape expectations that have an impact on the behavior of various entities. The purpose of some forecasts is to prevent things from happening, rather than to encourage them. Other predictions aim at making it so. In the short term, this also applies to the financial analysts in the service of speculative capital, who do their part in manipulating the markets. On the most important issues, the time frame is very long, so that we will have to wait thirty or seventy years for the archives to be opened and the “Top Secret” material declassified. To avoid being shocked, we can try to have somewhat more vivid imaginations than other people.
Nevertheless, we will get things wrong. Only afterward do we learn how well we did, in big matters and small. In 1975, Business Week wrote about the coming paperless office. Since that time, paper consumption in the United States has tripled. We were supposed to be flying hyper-sonically by now, but in fact we are flying as slow, or as fast, as we did in the 1960s, or even slower, since the supersonic service of Concorde flights has been shut down altogether (in addition, the airline meals are worse, which no one could have predicted). In the mid-twentieth century, we were promised electricity so cheap, thanks to nuclear power, that it wouldn’t pay to meter it. We were supposed to be living on other planets, to eliminate pollution on earth, and to vanquish poverty and hunger. Now we are only aiming to halve these scourges by 2015. Artificial substances were supposed to solve the problem of resource scarcity. In a depiction of the year 2000 from my schooldays, I learned that there would be moving sidewalks everywhere, but the kids are still trudging up the hill to my old school building today. The science columns in the (p.343) newspapers promised that robots would cook our dinner and brew our tea. Today many economists, and others as well, are just as enthusiastic about the “new economy.” No “new economy” will solve our ageold problems.
These blunders can have serious consequences for planning. To hold them to a minimum, we need to ask as many questions as possible. Sometimes a good question is more informative than a partial answer. Questions, as opposed to answers, don’t insist. They hint. They give us a nudge about which direction we should be looking in.
We should be looking all around the horizon. It can be divided into a dozen compass points: the Twelve Great Issues for the Future. These are the things we should keep examining all the time as we try to peer into the future and ask, “What next?” What happens next will depend on things that happen at the same time. Many events will take us by surprise, but much else should be less than totally unexpected, because it depends on conscious human actions. These twelve compass points are
1. The rate and limits of economic growth.
2. The evolution of values and their cultural implications for development processes.
3. The institutionalization of globalization versus the growing chaos and lack of coordination.
4. Regional integration and the way it meshes with globalization.
5. The position and role of nongovernmental organizations.
6. The natural environment and competition over dwindling natural resources.
7. Demographic processes and human migration.
8. Poverty, misery, and social inequality.
9. The knowledge-based economy and society.
10. Scientific and technical progress.
11. The evolution of networks and its economic consequences.
12. Conflicts and security, war and peace.
The first compass point, the issue of the rate and limits of economic growth, could just as well conclude our reflections as open them. If we understand the rate of growth as referring to gross domestic product, then we should be under no illusions that its average rate over the last (p.344) ten or twenty years cannot be sustained in the long run, over a period of, let us say, fifty or 100 years. As surprising as this may seem to some, the facts are plain—the world must slow down. However, “the world” does not mean everyone, or everywhere, or to the same degree.
The poor countries should speed up the development of their economies in terms of the quantitative growth of output and the accompanying, interrelated structural changes. This is desirable and, as we know well, possible. However, for it to happen, these countries must base their development strategies on the correct theoretical premises, as derived from the coincidence theory of development. They must also define long-term national development strategies, based on the new pragmatism, that mesh with the continuation of globalization. There should be no illusions that they will repeat the success of Europe—first Western, and then Eastern—or North America. At best, they can significantly reduce the development gap with these most highly developed regions of the world.
The postsocialist countries of East Central Europe should set out to maintain a rate of GDP growth twice as fast as that of the richer part of Europe through the coming generation, in the temporal perspective of 2035–2040. They have a realistic chance of doing so. This will completely eliminate the gap in income levels and reduce the gap in living standards in a tangible, visible way. However, it will not happen by itself. Transformation and integration with highly developed countries, and especially the European Union, will be a great help, but the effort will not succeed without the appropriate national development strategies.
Among the post-Soviet republics, the ones endowed with rich reserves of energy resources are in a particularly good situation, on the condition that they prove capable of taking full advantage of favorable combinations of circumstances—the bounty of nature, continuing high energy prices, and the transformation to a market economy. So far, they have not done particularly well, because they have relied too much on the easy pickings that they owe not to wisdom, organization, and hard work, but to the generosity of Mother Earth.
The remaining former Soviet Republics will be in a difficult situation, and the distance separating them from the more developed parts of Europe and Asia will probably increase over the next few decades. Ukraine, of great strategic importance in post–Cold War cooperation and confrontation, finds itself in a special predicament. Its fate depends (p.345) on whether it manages to become integrated with the European Union over the next decade or two, draws closer to Russia, or splits up. The most favorable variant is integration with the European Union, on the condition that it is not used as an instrument for weakening Russia, but rather as a geopolitical meeting ground for mutually advantageous cooperation. Belarus will soon face the same problems as Ukraine. The whole sweep of the postsocialist countries, however, from Mongolia and Tajikistan to Kosovo and Macedonia, will develop faster than the world average.
Over time, China will slow down. Warnings issued repeatedly since the mid-1990s notwithstanding, that time has not yet come. We may assume that efforts to provoke the disintegration of China, on which the West may be relying, will not succeed. It should also be assumed that the Chinese authorities will continue, as they have for the last thirty years, to combine enlightened policies, aimed at structural reform and the construction of market institutions, with development. If they also decentralize the administration in a systematic, gradual way while slowly making the political system more democratic, the Middle Kingdom may succeed in continuing to develop more rapidly than the average for the rest of the world for another decade or two, although not as rapidly as in recent years. Taiwan may be joined to the motherland in a similar time frame, especially because the differences in levels of development with the southern regions of the mainland will disappear, which will add further to Chinese power.
Africa must speed up. This region in particular must develop faster than the rich countries in order first to keep the chasm from growing, and then to begin narrowing it. All it will take—no small matter!—is for Africa to continue to grow faster than the rest of the world. The continent grew at 5.8 percent per year, as opposed to the world average of 5.0 percent, from 2005 to 2008. These are overall figures, which equate to about 2 percent less per capita in Africa. We should add at once that the essential conditions for progress include a significant limitation of the rate of population increase and a fight to maintain the long-term growth in GDP per capita in the range from 2.5 to 3.5 percent. This is daunting but not impossible.
The rich countries, and above all the United States, must moderate their economic growth. It is doubtful that they would do so voluntarily, and so they will have to be compelled. This will happen either gently and gradually, with growth being curbed as a result of rising (p.346) prices and increasingly difficult access to certain raw materials, or radically and suddenly, as a result of An Even Grander Crisis. Such a crisis could be set off in various ways. The classical way would involve a chain reaction of negative adaptations of the real sphere to the structurally imbalanced financial sphere. In that case, however, we would be looking not so much at a slowing of the rate of growth as at a deep collapse—no one knows how deep—of the level of output, and a fall in its absolute level, before growth resumes at a slower rate than previously.
To some degree, this moderation of growth must be connected with a deliberate resignation from some part of financial accumulation. Instead of investing capital domestically or in other parts of the global economy as direct or portfolio investment, it should be transferred to the poorest countries in Africa, South and Central Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The sooner the transfer of 0.7 percent of GDP from the rich to the poor stops being a slogan for international bureaucrats and becomes an instrument in a planetary development strategy, the better. It will also be better for the wealthier countries, which will then be under less migratory pressure from the wretched of the earth, because there will be fewer of the wretched.
There is justification for warnings about the enormous risk that aid, in the form of a small fraction of the income of the wealthy countries being transferred to poor countries, could be wasted. Nevertheless, it is an undeniable fact that this aid, no matter how modest, leads to improvements. It is true that the greatest accomplishments in fighting poverty and breaking out of stagnation have been made by the countries of Southeast Asia, which have benefited to a minimum degree from external transfers while making strong progress thanks to trade expansion and their own entrepreneurship. Africa has not done this.2 The truth is, however, that about one percentage point of the economic growth in the poorest countries during the last generation is attributable to direct foreign aid.3
Without it, the misery would be worse. If there had been more aid, the present level of output would be higher. What about the fact that there is a need for special institutional and political measures to prevent these aid funds from going astray? We already know this. We must take action, and development economics tells us what action to take. By the same token, we know that aid money should not be assigned to arms imports—another country’s exports—or returned through other channels to the “givers.”
(p.347) Therefore maintaining the world growth rate at a real level oscillating around an annual average of about 2 percent for the next several decades would be a great success. It would be an even greater success if we managed to maintain that average with the rate being higher for the poor countries and, as a consequence, lower for the rich countries. Is this possible? It all depends on what happens in the other points of the compass in the horizon that surrounds us.
Let us now look at the second of these compass points, the question of the evolution of values and their cultural implications for development processes. This is an important matter. To date, humanity has produced splendid civilizations. Some were being born while others were on the way out. Sometimes they vanished on their own, in a natural way; at other times they were helped off the stage thanks to the aggressiveness of their successors. Today we hardly face any “end of history,” because no civilization—excepting Soviet socialism, or, as some prefer, communism—is being relegated to the scrap heap of history. There will still be great conflicts, although they will not necessarily be “clashes of civilizations.” No new civilization will be born during the next few generations. However, the planetary ethnic-cultural melting pot will evolve through the interpenetration and blending of diverse values.
In some sense, of course, there already is a new civilization. How lucky we are to have a global economy, worldwide finances and electronic money, transoceanic jets and mass international tourism, the Internet, and satellite television thanks to which more than a billion people could watch the landing on the moon or the World Cup finals. We have wireless communications and mass culture, and people can buy more copies of a book—the latest volume in the Harry Potter series—in a single day than all the libraries in the world held 500 years ago.
The pursuit of material values dominates this civilization to a large degree, although spiritual values are beginning to count for more, just as they did in antiquity. The shifting of social priorities on this level could have enormous consequences for the way we do business, and the issues of economic dynamics. Stagnation and output growth, development and the lack of development may be seen in new ways. Individuals can develop “horizontally,” thanks to spiritual growth and a deeper experience of nature and culture, as well as “vertically,” by climbing the career ladder and amassing possessions. Something analogous could (p.348) occur in models of social development, with more attention paid to the verb “to be” than the verb “to have,” and the latter seen not merely in terms of “the more, the better.” Of course, in order to be, you must first have at least the minimum, but there is no reason that the growth of the state of possession need necessarily outstrip experiential development. Such changes would look different in poor countries, because the priority there must be an increase in output to ensure at least a chance of satisfying the elementary material needs. A reevaluation of consumer preferences may take place. Poor countries will not uncritically replicate the patterns of rich countries, not only because objective physical barriers may rule this out in some places, but also because doing so will not seem worthwhile. The world is not going to become one big North America, but it is not going to become one big Bhutan either. It will be somewhere in the middle, between these two extremes.
In the new civilization, working together, coexisting, and tolerance exist side by side with conflicts, marginalization, and ruthlessness. This civilization is developing to an increasing degree through cooperation and coordinated action, and to a decreasing degree through dominating others. It is more a civilization of a multiplayer game than of people struggling against each other. Games must always have rules, but struggles often have none. This aspect of things will be increasingly important in terms of the cultural conditioning of development processes. An increasing level of global regulations will be negotiated among the players in the game, rather than being imposed on the weaker by the stronger. There will be a fundamental value shift in the direction of the democratization of economic processes. Economic growth itself will contribute to this, because there is a positive correlation between the level of development and the advancement of democracy.
The world is not democratic. Moreover, even if democracy triumphed in all countries—something we are closer to than ever before—the sum of national democracies would not equal planetary democracy. Recent events at the United Nations illustrate how far we are from such democracy. A record number of countries, 182, voted in the General Assembly in 2005 to condemn the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. Voting against were only the United States, its faithful ally Israel, and two small island states from the Pacific, Palau and the Marshall Islands. The United States took no notice, because it is not some world quasi-democracy that should decide what is right, but rather the caprices of a (p.349) group of old-school politicians. This will change, and it will happen before our eyes.
Until these qualitative changes occur, countries can focus on the bottom line when voting. Interesting research by two Harvard economists proves that the American government corrupts some countries. They found that fifteen countries that served as rotating members of the U.N. security council received 59 percent more foreign aid when they held voting rights in that body than before or after.4 This enhanced level of aid is maintained during the two years they have seats on the council, after which, as soon as they give up their seats, the level of foreign aid drops back to its previous level. This is called democracy in action.
A system of feedback relationships and mutual influences between regulation and democratization in a multipolar world is now taking shape. It will be more supportive of increased output and the sensible division of this output than the world that was divided between two opposing camps in the second half of the twentieth century, or the world that was dominated by a single superpower at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
A multipolar world must find a way to govern itself. Perhaps it would be better to say that it must find a way to steer processes with global consequences that must be supervised but that exceed the supervisory capacity of even the most powerful individual country. This is not a call for a world government, which would be the height of naïveté. However, there is a need for institutionally simple solutions, namely, coordinated action and international agreement. Institutions of this type, coordinating policy on a global scale in order to control events, will become increasingly common. In the coming decades, they will have more impact than technological change on the way things are run.
More of a sense of justice in distribution and less action from a position of economic strength, less ignorance about the cultures of other countries and deeper mutual understanding, more formally equal rights and genuine respect for partners—these are the cultural traits that have a chance to develop in the coming decades. It is worth doing everything possible, because this is the way to have fewer conflicts, disputes, and wars, and more cooperation and development.
However, we should not have illusions or encourage them in others. The twenty-first century will be a time of cultural confrontations, but (p.350) not the same as in previous epochs. This is the result of the overlapping of various phenomena and processes in science, technology, economics, and politics. Technology will force the desired cultural changes no less than politics, and the economy will benefit. Politics will interfere, spoiling things at times but encouraging development at other times. If we manage the great feat of coming up with knowledge-based politics, then policy will be more of a catalyst than a roadblock to balanced growth.
In evaluating growth and development, we will rely less and less on the inadequate category of gross domestic product, which still dominates the thinking of economists and the actions of politicians. It will be replaced by new concepts and measures. We can hope that one of them will be the ISI—the Integrated Success Index, which I proposed earlier. It offers an all-around reflection of the complexity of socioeconomic progress. This is not so much a matter of changing the way we measure the scale and rate of economic change as of doing it the right way.
The third compass point on our horizon is the increasing need for policy on a planetary scale, capable of dealing creatively with the interdependence characteristic of the contemporary economy. We face a fairly stark choice: the institutionalization of globalization versus increasing chaos and lack of coordination. The birth of a new institutional order will be painful, and it will be slow. The pain will come because the powerful feel pain when they give up any of their power. They are used to applying the principle of divide et impera, divide and rule, in the old style, but new times have arrived. There will have to be a somewhat different way of ruling, and it will be impossible to keep creating divisions in as unjust a way as heretofore. The birth will be slow because it will not be designed from the top down, although that is theoretically possible. Instead, it will have to come about through a laborious learning process. It has never proved possible to design an institutional order intelligently, and in advance, on the basis of the canonical knowledge in management, economics, sociology, and psychology, and then to put it into practice. Things like this have always emerged, instead, from the interplay of interests. Academic knowledge plays, at best, the role of prompter in the theater of real life.
The desire to rebuild American hegemony into a position of permanent world leadership is a symptom of naïveté underlain with nostalgia, (p.351) and megalomania, but most of all it is a waste of time. The exceptional American position as a superpower that could largely dictate and condition the rules of the game, including the economic game, has been short-lived: less than two decades, from the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. to the end of the current decade. In his book Second Chance, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a great spokesman for the American cause, tried to make the case that if it had not been for mistakes by the last three presidents, and especially those that George W. Bush committed in his two terms, the United States could have held on to its dominant position. Perhaps—but only on the condition that it had been inclined to share power, just a little, with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it was not so inclined and, even worse, it is still not so inclined. Brzezinski believed that there continued to be a chance for a Pax Americana. All it would take, he said, was for Americans to elect the right president in 2008, and for that president, in turn, to choose the right values and the right way of running world affairs. He added that there would be no third chance. Brzezinski was wrong; despite what some people wished for, there was not even a second chance. The position of the United States in the twenty-first century may change, as did that of Spain in the seventeenth. Spain too was a world superpower, but its industry did not have to manufacture much because the country could buy everything it needed with the gold and silver that it brought home from its colonies—up to a point. Its situation was very similar to the unique position of the United States and the dollar. Is this a good thing, or bad?
It depends. The world might be better without American leadership, or it might be worse. We got along fine without Spain, because England emerged as the powerhouse. What will happen this time around? Not so long ago at all, the United States had the kind of exceptional influence over world affairs that no one ever had before. It could have chosen to set up better institutions, more pro-development and conciliatory, to run the world. However, it ran things too much with an eye to its own particular interests. Furthermore, it ran things badly—short-sightedly, without vision, more as a mentor than as a partner. Along the way, it wasted its second and final chance to dictate a planetary institutional order, and left us in chaos. This was not a good thing.
It also, however, represents a chance, and it’s always a good thing to be in with a chance. It is not a second chance for American world leadership, but rather a chance to arrange things in a sensible new way. (p.352) There must be an order based on peaceful coexistence rather than wars either hot or cold, and on an imperative for the efficient functioning and development of a globalized economy.
New institutions, functioning in suitable organizational frames, must therefore ensure a relatively stable financial basis for macroeconomic reproduction. A great deal can be accomplished by curbing the unfettered movement of speculative capital, which must be brought under more stringent control than at present. Taxation is an instrument that must be used to cool the excesses.
The fact that the United States, Britain, and perhaps some other countries oppose such measures, and will continue to do so for a long time, disqualifies them as sensible world leaders, just as much as their occupation of Iraq or uninvited efforts to impose the neoliberal system.
An effort should also be made to limit the number of national currencies and support efforts to create more common currency zones, not only as instruments of regional integration, but also as stepping-stones to a world currency, which just might come into being someday.
The World Trade Organization has a large role to play. It is the best of the big international economic organizations, in part because it is the least undemocratic. The institution of free trade can do more than almost anything else to maintain a high growth rate for the poor countries, without harming the rich ones. However, it must be authentically free, without nontariff barriers or subsidies that are either overt or concealed in the manipulation of currency rates.
In creating a new institutional order that is up to the challenge of the world economy and the contemporary multicultural civilization, it will be necessary to delegate successive prerogatives of authority to international structures, regional integration groups, and international governmental and nongovernmental organizations. Before they can play their role, international organizations, and especially the United Nations and the Bretton Woods system, will have to go thorough democratization. They were designed for the institutional architecture of the divided world that emerged after World War II, and later modified to only a modest degree after the end of the Cold War.
Among the markets emerging from both the former Third World and the postsocialist transformation, the position of the poorer countries must be shored up significantly. China, India, Russia, and perhaps Brazil and Indonesia are capable of looking after themselves and getting (p.353) what they deserve. Others need to be helped, rather than hindered, in making their voices heard. Stronger regional structures can play a role in this.
The twenty-first century will belong not only to China, but also to the European Union. This epochal experiment in bringing together nations that fought and slaughtered each other more often than they cooperated over the last 2,000 years will be carefully monitored by others. If it succeeds, and there are many signs that it will, then other countries on other continents will have no choice but to draw their own conclusions. In wishing for the success of the European Union, we are wishing for the success of the world. The still-evolving institutional order of the European Union—which unfortunately has many flaws, especially where it permits excessive bureaucracy and the wasting of public money—can serve as a reference point for others. Local specifics notwithstanding, certain of the market economy institutions that function in a supranational context have universal import.
The new world institutional order must be meshed with the growth tendencies and component parts of the global economy, on the one hand, and evolving cultural values, on the other. It cannot follow a Western model, but must take account of the countries of the East and the aims that guide them. From this perspective, it is impossible to overstate the role of China in working out a new institutional model. It would be advisable for the European Union, the United States, and Japan, which together still account for half of world output, to consult China on all important issues, including those that do not affect it directly. Then there will be a better chance that China, when it is on top, will also consult others on matters of mutual interest.
We must be on our guard against the danger of losing our way on the road leading to the new institutional system that the globalized economy needs so badly. The United Nations was not up to the job, the United States got in over its head, and we have no idea where current trends are leading. Are we heading toward a new order or new chaos? If it is order, then the globalization process should accelerate, and it may show its human face. If chaos, it will be a drag on globalization and in turn on the development of the world economy as a whole. A new, progressive order will require the curbing of the economic and political ambitions of some of the players on the world stage so that things can be better for everyone. A new, regressive chaos will limit the possibilities (p.354) for the entire world community while allowing the few to make money. This is the alternative.
The fourth compass point on our horizon poses the question of the future interaction of globalization and the processes of regional integration. The integration of neighboring countries into regional groupings will continue. These groupings will take different forms and will be held together by bonds of varying strength. Their organizational structures and institutions will also differ. There is already a spectrum of such organizations. ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has ten members.5 Since Georgia quit, eleven post-Soviet republics, with Russia in the leading role, of course, make up the CIS, the Commonwealth of Independent States.6 Mercosur, the Mercado Común del Sur,7 is the common market of South America. NAFTA8 groups countries in North America. The SADC is the Southern African Development Community.9 There are fifteen members of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States.10 The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC,11 is grouped around India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Six countries from the Gulf area belong to the Gulf Cooperation Council.12 Then there is the European Union,13 the most advanced of all these players. Over 100 members of these various groupings account for almost three fourths of world output. More new groups will arise. Once an economic and currency union forms around China, Japan, and a unified Korea, we will have almost the entire world economy grouped in ten regional structures.
There are many fascinating sidelights here, because some of these regions overlap and there are ambiguities as to their scope and function. We do not know where we will have complementary, integrated neighboring structures, and where there will be rivalry. One group that bears watching is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), founded in 2001. Still a loose structure, its significance should evolve in the coming years and crystallize in the coming decades. Its members include China, Russia, and the four post-Soviet Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. India, Mongolia, Afghanistan, and Iran, which aspires to full membership, have observer status. The member countries have a billion and a half people, and the number rises to almost 2.9 billion if we throw in the observers—over 40 percent of humanity. The integration of the core of the CIS (p.355) with the core of the SAARC, with China as the linchpin, could completely change the shape of the global economy. Many politicians see this as a tactic for outmaneuvering the West, and that is exactly what it is, and what it will continue to be.
There are three ways of looking at the evolving relationship between regional integration and globalization. Regional integration processes can be seen as
• An antidote to globalization.
• An alternative to globalization.
• A vehicle for further globalization.
The first variant sees globalization as a process that is irrational from the practical point of view. Local integration is a refuge against domination by a single planetary order that is not fully logical in economic terms. Globalization is inevitable, but encouraging and accelerating the formation of regional structures can cushion its impact.
The second variant, which sees regional integration as an alternative to globalization, is sharper. Instead of a strongly interdependent but weakly regulated world economy, we would have many organizations of countries that are close to each other both geographically and culturally. Globalization should be blocked and regionalization favored because it is more rational. The question is, “Would the sum of all this local rationality make the world as a whole less irrational?”
The third variant would treat regional integration processes as relatively safe and convenient vehicles for moving globalization on to the next, higher level of institutional maturity. This view sees regional structures as safe because they could aim for pragmatic local solutions without sacrificing the economies of scale, while at the same time avoiding the conflicts of interest inherent in the more differentiated world market. They also offer a chance to try out institutional innovations on a more limited scale, rather than on the world as a whole. Once more, the value of the European Union can be seen. If something does not work in the E.U., then it probably won’t work on the scale of the entire planet. What works in Europe might, but need not necessarily, work for the world. The convenient part is that the actors in the next, intensified stages in world integration would not be some 200 national economies that are highly differentiated in cultural, economic, and institutional terms, but rather a dozen or so regional bodies. They (p.356) would do the hard work of compensating for gross inequalities, coordinating levels of production, and bridging cultural gaps.
This third option, treating regionalization as a safe, convenient vehicle for sensible globalization, embodies the attributes of the coincidence theory and the new pragmatism. It would make globalization more sensible by limiting the scope for irrationality. We would speak in terms of “trans-regional” rather than “trans-national.” Fewer entities would have to coordinate their decisions and actions, and this should be more effective. Isn’t there a saying that correlates the number of cooks and the quality of the broth?
The fifth compass point on our horizon involves the potential for modifying the process of globalization, especially where it bears on the environmental, social, and cultural aspects of development, through the growing role of nongovernmental organizations. There are huge numbers of them, and that is both the problem and the hope. Some of them will never amount to anything, but others have already made a positive impact. The way some people bristle at the very name of these organizations shows that the NGOs interfere in matters that governments, global corporations, and international organizations would prefer to keep to themselves.
Organizations like Greenpeace, Oxfam, Jubilee 2000, Amnesty International, Transparency International, Médecins sans Frontières, and Reporters Without Borders play no small role in matters connected with fair development and authentic concern for its human consequences. These movements and structures will have a growing role in shaping the new planetary institutional order, where political, cultural, and technical considerations interpenetrate and overlap.
Oxfam and Jubilee 2000 lobbied effectively for the rich countries to write off the debts of the poorest countries. Transparency International and Reporters Without Borders keep the spotlight on corruption. Amnesty International and Médecins sans Frontières monitor the humanitarian treatment of political refugees. All of these efforts benefit from the synergy of technical, political, and cultural progress and transformation. The all-seeing eye of Big Brother, which Orwell warned us about, can also work for the good. Today almost everything can be seen everywhere, not just on the metropolitan streets or in the government (p.357) offices of the democratic countries, but also in Chechnya, Darfur, Abu Ghraib, or Guantanamo. This is true both figuratively and literally, because still and video images find their way so effortlessly onto the Internet. NGOs help in this, and they can quickly bring issues to the world’s attention.
The role of NGOs, especially the global ones, extends beyond lobbying and pressure tactics. It also includes worthy actions that governments and profit-oriented businesses aren’t interested in, or aren’t good at. The whole twenty-first century will inevitably throw up challenges for social organizations, mostly in education and culture, but also in environmental protection, social welfare, and health, especially preventive medicine. Nongovernmental economics experts will have their hands full. They will advise the governments of countries with emerging and less-developed markets about how to foster enterprise, and they will do so more frequently and better than the orthodox advisers from the Bretton Woods organization or the lavishly paid emissaries of the governments of countries that are concerned primarily with protecting their own interests.
Amidst this plethora of issues, NGOs must refuse to allow themselves to be burdened with tasks that remain the responsibility of states and markets. It is not the job of NGOs, from the local to the international level, to do government bureaucrats’ jobs for them, or to meet their responsibilities to the public. Nor can NGOs allow business to shift onto them the tasks that should be paid for by the taxes on business, such as aid for the socially marginalized or excluded. NGOs cannot agree to be left to clean up after business, especially in areas like environmental protection.
Public finance, the fundamental intermediary institution between the state and the market, must continue to play its essential role and must do so to a greater degree than ever on an international or even global scale. NGOs are not surrogates for either commercial or governmental and intergovernmental entities; instead, they stand alongside these entities as the third pillar of the contemporary economy. This is how they must be seen in the global perspective.
As a result, humanity will start to resemble a worldwide civic society, in a positive-feedback relationship with the advancing global market economy and the slowly emerging global democracy. Coordinating these megatrends is the greatest task facing the human race over the (p.358) next few centuries. In our lifetimes, we are already in a position to make our own contribution.
The sixth compass point on our horizon will feature intense competition for dwindling natural resources in the shadow of intensified debates about the state of the natural environment. The two are intertwined, and the public awareness of the feedback loop connecting these issues will grow. Every so often, a grand assessment on the order of the memorable Millennium Ecosystem Assessment14 will appear. There will be recurring questions about the limits of growth and the admissible level of material- and energy-intensiveness in the world economy.15 Questions will also recur about the limits of environmental contamination. From this perspective, things do not look rosy. Supplying the materials necessary for life is a far different proposition when we compare the needs of almost 7 billion people, and 9 billion in the near future, with the situation not so very long ago when there were 2 or 3 billion of us. It is becoming increasingly difficult to dispose of everything left over from the production and consumption of these goods. GDP will mean less and less, while the world quotient of trash becomes increasingly significant.
Against this background, the twenty-first century and the centuries that follow will be kaleidoscopic. At times, the emphasis will fall on the need to reduce the use of raw materials, and at others on new technology and the implementation of advances in materials engineering. We will concentrate on extracting resources from previously inaccessible places, before shifting the focus to the value of “being” rather than “having.” Conciliation and negotiation will characterize certain periods, whereas conflicts and wars will dominate others. This continuously shifting kaleidoscope will help to undermine some barriers and bring others down entirely—but not all barriers. In certain fields, things can only get worse.
In the face of all this, change will be multidirectional, as it has been in the past. Half a century ago, declining supplies, on the one hand, and the explosion of new capabilities being developed by the chemical industry, on the other, led to a situation in which, boosted by clothing retailers, artificial materials took the place of natural fabrics. Women rushed to buy nylon stockings, and men proudly showed off their permanent-press shirts. People looked longingly at rayon coats, naugahyde (p.359) jackets, and polyester suits (not to mention leisure suits and pants suits) that they wouldn’t be caught dead in today. It turned out that breakthroughs in agribusiness (encouraged by clothing retailers) made it possible for vastly greater numbers of people to go back to natural fabrics, so that we now proudly wear silk, linen, cotton, and wool varieties from cashmere and Shetland to the mohair associated in the Polish imagination with the knit berets popular among the dowdy audience of talk-and-prayer radio.
There will be more and more well-dressed people and quality merchandise. Not so long ago, in parts of the world that are developed today, people went around barefoot, in their one raggedy shirt. Today hundreds of millions of people, perhaps even a billion of them in the least-developed countries, do not have a change of clothes. They are the ones who should be complaining to anyone in earshot that they don’t have a thing to wear. Yet we are more likely to hear this lament in the developed countries, even from people whose dresser drawers and closets are so jam-packed that they don’t know what’s in them. We can be sure that our grandchildren will be singing the same tune, and so will their grandchildren in the twenty-second century.
The changes dictated by fashion or the appearance of new gadgets are insignificant compared with the adjustments we will have to make as our stocks of raw materials decline and become exhausted. The trouble is that we know that these resources exist, and we know that they are limited, but we don’t actually know how much is left.
Skirmishing goes on all the time, especially over small, local issues. The greater crises and conflicts in the Middle East, the oil-bearing regions of Africa, or on the continental shelf off the south and east shores of Asia ostensibly concern other principles, but when we take a good, hard look, we see that it’s about access to oil. There’s a danger that it could run out. The traditional fields of conflict will be joined by new ones, like the Arctic. Energy resources, especially petroleum, are only a single factor in the supply of the world economy, no matter how crucial. Other resources that are nonrenewable within the historical time frame will also start running out, and the geological time frame is not an option.
Petroleum is problem number one for the twenty-first century in resource and energy terms. The hope is that, on the one hand, the supply is greater and the stocks will last longer than the scare stories in the media, and, on the other hand, that we will be able to make increasing use of alternate sources. If we keep consuming at the present rate of (p.360) about 80 million barrels a day, according to one frequently cited forecast, the supply will run out around 2040. Recent estimates by British Petroleum speak of a forty-year supply. As far as natural gas goes, we are said to have sixty years left. Is this the way it will be? If not, then why not? Where is the truth, where is the ignorance, where are the mistakes, and where are the lies?
Things are far more complicated than they seem to be at first glance. Here too we are dealing with the deliberate manipulation of public opinion, including garden-variety falsehoods packaged as expert analysis. The aim is to scare politicians and the general public badly enough that they will swallow the bitter pill of rising prices for gasoline, natural gas, and electricity without complaining too much. In addition, everything can be blamed on the Chinese, for adding to demand and driving up the prices of raw materials by buying more. Of course, anyone with any sense at all sees that the Chinese are not the perpetrators, but simply additional victims, because they are paying as much as everybodyelse.
The game will go on. The great transnational corporations from the energy complex will continue to corrupt politicians, while the politicians try to manipulate the corporations. The corporations and the politicians join in frightening consumers through the subservient media. All it takes is a pseudo-expert analysis or a political declaration, and the journalists do the rest, quickly and obediently.
As always, politicians may try to mete out justice, but they also find themselves on the receiving end. Sometimes they’re wrong, and their heads roll. Along with national security and the financial markets, energy policy is the biggest minefield for politicians, on both the domestic and the global scale. Some have made great careers for themselves, but a lot of blood has also been shed, and this will continue to be the case in the future.
An important consulting firm in the energy sector recently forecast that 2005 would mark the peak of petroleum extraction; every sign on earth and in the heavens indicates that this was utter nonsense. However, there are people who will commission such nonsense, because “prognoses” of this kind are perfect for inducing fever on the market and driving up prices. At the other end of the scale, you can find experts who claim that the peak will never arrive, so that even if we cannot go on increasing output and consumption forever, we can at least hold them at the present level. These too are lies.
(p.361) Everything that we know indicates that “peak oil,” the point after which the level of extraction can only fall, will come in this century. Serious experts disagree over exactly when this will happen. They mention the years from 2020 to 2040 most frequently, and that’s practically tomorrow. On the basis of a range of expert forecasts, an authoritative report prepared by the U.S. General Accounting Office, which many regard as independent, suggests that the peak could come in any given year from now until 2040.16
The uncertainty about when comes from the fact that it is hard to judge the reliability of the data. Experts in the field warn that the private interests of producers and distributors may distort estimates about the size of present and future oil fields. There are political pressures, and knowledge in the field of petroleum geology is far from complete. Unexpectedly, or so it would appear, optimistic news keeps coming in about vast new deposits in Ghana or Brazil. There are many unknowns. The way that political disturbances can complicate things is seen these days in Iraq, the Niger Delta, Sudan, and thereabouts. Tomorrow problems will crop up in some other place.
It is plain to us that the question of when extraction begins to fall will depend on the coincidence of several circumstances. We also know what those circumstances will be—namely, the physical and political accessibility of the deposits and the profitability of extraction, the speed of the transformation to technology that is not based on petroleum and its byproducts, and the scope of technical progress in energy conservation. We should not be under any illusions that the progress we have been making in this field is sufficient. Over the last third of a century, the consumption of petroleum per unit of income generated in the wealthy G-7 countries has fallen by 55 percent, but the level of income on a world scale is rising so rapidly that we would have to reduce energy consumption per unit by a factor of more than 10 in order to solve the problem, and that is not going to happen.
The specter of a cataclysm is haunting the world—the specter of the catastrophic warming of the earth. This would seem to be the only thing that could force a political reevaluation and greater interest in the search for alternative ways of meeting humanity’s energy needs. This is the point at which the wealthy United States learns from still-poor Brazil that it is possible to rely on biofuels on a mass scale. Things look rosy because the sources of biofuel—corn, sugar cane, and rapeseed—are renewable. Once again, our good old Polish beetroots come into play, (p.362) the very ones that helped end the abomination of slavery. However, soaring demand for these crops means instant price pressure on the food products made from them. Once again, things can flip around, and the price of food could outstrip that of fuel in the future; it wouldn’t be the first time. This is the way things happen, because many things happen at the same time.
Less promising are specific, ecologically friendly sources of energy, such as water, wind, and solar, which is potentially the largest. By the nature of things, the supply of these apparently cheap sources of energy does not occur where the greatest demand is. Mountain rivers, tides, and strong winds seldom appear next to large urban agglomerations or industrial centers. The cloudless blue sky and strong sunshine are attributes of the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, or the Bay of Bengal, where the need for heat energy is vestigial in comparison to the Baltic, Hudson Bay, or the Sea of Japan. To find widespread use, energy from these sources would have to be cheap enough to offset the cost of transport. Wind energy shows that radical progress is possible. The cost of generating a kilowatt-hour fell from $2.00 in 1970 to between $0.05 and $0.08 at present. By comparison, energy from burning coal costs between $0.02 and $0.04. We’re close to the point where wind power will pay, as long as the wind blows.
This will happen in California before it happens in the Central European lowlands. There, and everywhere, we are going to have to grit our teeth and go nuclear. This is the only option that can be available everywhere on a mass scale, with fuel resources assured for several more centuries. It will be safe enough. For a long time now, it has been cheap and clean, and safer than the dirty energy from burning coal and some kinds of petroleum.
The only drawback to atomic energy is the irrational fear of it. This is a perfect example of dissonance among technology, culture, and politics. It will take decades to solve this problem. Is humanity ready? Absolutely not! Smoothing over this supercrisis in the energy sector will require many long years of complex, costly, and difficult work on numerous fronts. Afterward, people will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.
Afterward? When will that be? Before the crisis of peak oil, which we will not be prepared for, or after? Peak oil will mean a gigantic recession caused by structural shortages of energy. This will lead not only to a drastic regression in the human standard of living, but also to (p.363) wars, because it will escalate far beyond threats and skirmishes. Reasonable anticipation could prevent all this.
If we want humanity to close the stable door before the horse has bolted, we should undertake all possible means, in terms of technology and public education, to neutralize conservative politicians and combat the special interest groups and their media mouthpieces. We have to start now, during the present generation. Peak oil will not come until 2040, or even 2070, but there is much less time to undertake the action that will avert the economic and political shocks.
With the most optimistic assumptions about the adaptive ability of the world economy, and its specific societies and industries, effective adjustment to the anticipated collapse of oil production will take a minimum of twenty years. I think it will take even longer. To be realistic, it will be at least forty years. What about the fact that we were already being warned forty years ago that we were reaching an energy-based limit to growth? Those warnings were not wrong, only the time frame. This time we are not wrong, because the first forty years have passed, and the next forty will pass quickly, and our planetary stocks are being run down the whole time. Moreover, at the end of those eighty years there will be more than three times as many people on earth. Documented reserves in the middle twenty-first century will not be any larger, even counting in the estimates for the Sahara, the Arctic, and the Antarctic.
Sometimes analyses and forecasts extrapolate on the basis of models that are simple, or even too simple. This is a mistake. The American Energy Information Association forecasts in its annual report, which assumes the continuation of present policy, that world energy use will grow by 57 percent to 2030. If the price of petroleum remains stable, then coal will again become the most widely used source of energy. The results for environmental warming and the condition of the atmosphere would be lamentable.
To transform attitudes about the environment and the consumption of resources at this stage in our history, we will need the appropriate economic mechanisms. Although changes in mentality and the social approach to these issues should not be downplayed, we need more than the right intentions.
The subject of the role of the state and public sector, on the one hand, and capital and the private sector, on the other, will keep coming back in new permutations. We are already being told that private business can solve this problem best. Business knows how to pollute the (p.364) environment and make money while doing so, but the best way to overcome the difficulties is through public-private partnership.
However, little can be accomplished without getting business on board. A clean environment and rational, rather than pillage-based, management of nonrenewable resources must simply be made to pay. It will do so to an ever-increasing degree. Competition in the context of growing ecological consciousness will produce positive results. The newest airliner from the international Boeing Company, the 787, with its beautiful name, Dreamliner, is advertised not as the fastest or most comfortable passenger jet, but the most environmentally friendly, because it pays to advertise it this way. That’s the heart of the matter. How can we make it pay? And for whom should it pay? For everyone?
As on the issues of development or the struggle against poverty, neoliberalism will promise much but deliver little. Partly out of fear of regulation and partly in the hope of high profits, it is already making promises. Profits are the most important thing. For things to work out in social terms, there must be action from above, through policy that creates institutions and imposes market regulations that force private capital to behave in an environmentally friendly way, and from below, taking advantage of the eternal love of profits. Once, companies in England were brought under a simple regulation that required them to draw water from rivers downstream from the sites of their factories. This quickly induced them to clean their waste water before discharging it, because otherwise the water would have been contaminated with their own pollutants, slightly diluted, when they drew it from the river. A simple procedure like banning the use of car horns in built-up areas saves us many decibels. Of course, this only works where institutions and culture are strong, so that rules are respected. We also know countries and places where people toss litter out the car window and never take their hand off the horn for long.
It is doubtful that anyone will come up with a better solution than imposing a tariff on those who emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This will have to be done internationally, because the instrument must be applied on a global scale. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the special U.N. expert group, a fee of $20 to $50 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions, levied from 2020 to 2030 on, should bring about a stabilization at the level of 550 parts per million, or p.p.m., which is the measure of gas concentration, by the end of the century. This is regarded as a safe level.
(p.365) A $50 fee in the United States, the world’s largest polluter, would raise the price of gasoline by about 15 percent, and of electricity by about 35 percent. This is not much, considering that other factors have caused much greater price rises, and above all in view of the good it could do. Progress is greater, and more visible, in Europe, but Europe alone cannot save the planet. Even getting the United States to join Europe in the campaign would not be enough, but it would be an essential factor in inducing the largest future polluters, China and India, to sign on. Only when all these powers act together can things start to change for the better.
The IPCC estimates that stabilizing carbon dioxide at 550 p.p.m. would reduce the rate of growth in the average global temperature by 0.1 percent per year. In other words, if we had begun applying this instrument in the twentieth century, then the average temperature of the surface of the earth would have increased by only 89.5 percent of its actual rise—that is, by some 0.66° Celsius (1.19° Fahrenheit), rather than the actual figure of 0.74° C (1.33° F)—plus or minus 18 percent, as the IPCC estimates. Over the long run, such fractions of a degree will have critical significance for the fate of the earth and humanity.
On the subject of global warming, there is not even consensus among reliable, honest experts. If the IPCC experts state that “it is extremely likely” that the rise in the earth’s temperature is the result of human activity, there are those who immediately point out that the IPCC did not say “for certain.” Perhaps it is simply a weather anomaly or, as other experts suggest, mere transient warming, the sort of thing that happens from time to time, and man is only having an incremental effect on a global phenomenon that arose on its own and will go away on its own.
Perhaps there is something to this view. After all, we are now in a long phase known as the “minor warming period,” which followed the “little ice age” that began around the middle of the thirteenth century. That period ended about 1780, when it was possible for the last time to walk on the ice from the eastern shore of Chukotka to the western shore of Alaska. (The land bridge between Asia and America existed until about 30,000 or 40,000 years ago.) Since then, we have been in the minor warming period. It will last until around 2300, or even into the second half of the twenty-fourth century. Then it will get colder again, although it will probably remain warmer than it is now, since the starting point will be warmer, and the temperature will fall until (p.366) the end of the millennium. In the fourth millennium, in turn, we will enter another minor warming period. A thousand years from now, people may well be talking about a similar problem, except that mankind’s theoretical knowledge and practical capacity for influencing the temperature of the earth will be taken for granted by then.
Even if this is the case—if human activity is not responsible for the warming of the earth and all the dire consequences—it is nevertheless correct to reach the practical conclusion that we must do something to cool down the climate. Bringing about this specific public good is one of the most significant and difficult tasks facing humanity in the twenty-first century, and afterward. It is a global problem sui generis.
In pragmatic terms, it does not matter what the cause is. The effects are what count, and it is becoming harder and harder to live with them. How much harder we do not know. The problem is even more complex because, regardless of overall warming, the frequency of heat waves in various parts of the world has doubled since 1880. We feel this every summer in an increasing number of places. In the summer of 2007, about a thousand people died because of the extreme heat waves in Central Europe.
There are various definitions of a heat wave. For example, the definition used in the United States is three successive days when the temperature exceeds 90°F (32.2°C). Other countries have definitions based on their own typical weather—or rather, average weather, for who can say what is typical? The World Meteorological Organization defines a heat wave as five successive days when the temperature exceeds the normal maximum temperature by 5°C. The local average for the years 1961–1990 is taken as average, which corresponds to the subjective feelings of many people: things were normal then, but they’re not normal now.
Heat waves occur in places where they used to be unknown. I once visited Moscow in May, normally the most pleasant month, except that there was a heat wave and the thermometer stood at 36.7°C (98.1°F), the normal human body temperature, but too hot for Moscow. The heat wave made the news around the world, but the same temperature would have been normal in Djibouti. When I was in Djibouti not long afterward, the thermometer reached 47°C (116.6°F), which was no news at all, but I was drinking five liters of water per day.
The IPCC forecasts an increase in the average temperature by 0.3°C (0.54°F) from 2004 to 2014. This is a concrete indicator, and it is a big (p.367) jump for a decade. In turn, the forecast for the end of the century envisions a rise in temperature somewhere within a wide range from 1.8° (3.24°F) to 4.0°C (7.2°F). These figures could have quite different effects on the world in 2100, and on policy today. If the temperature rises by only 1.8°C (3.2°F), then it will be a matter of life, rather than death. If the average temperature is as high as 18.5°C (65.3°F)—the record 14.5°C (58.1°F) of 1998 plus 4°C (39.2°F)—then life will be impossible in many places.
In some places, there will be more and more devastating heat waves and droughts, and in others there will be destructive rains and floods. It will be either too hot or too dry. Or there won’t be anything, because the shores of the world’s oceans will rise. If this is the case, then we must act now, and take a range of steps that the voters will not like. And politicians don’t like it when the voters don’t like something. It’s better to put things off until the next generation than to lose the next election. That’s the unfortunate thing about democracy: There’s always a next election.
This is what makes it worthwhile to fight for a universal tariff, on a global scale, to stabilize the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide at a safe level. If it is going to be 1.8°C (3.24°F) warmer within three generations without that tariff, then a reduction in the rate of increase in the global average temperature by 0.1 percent a year, as mentioned earlier, would reduce the additional warming to about 1.5°C (2.7°F), which would probably be bearable. However, if it is going to be 4.0°C (7.2°F) warmer, then reducing the increase to 3.0°C (5.4°F) will not save us. We should start sooner, go further, act more radically, and do more.
In the fight for the natural environment, we must achieve an epochal consensus of states, acting in the general interest, and private capital, which cares more about its shareholders than its stakeholders. The hard part is to make it all happen now, on a scale that is international and, at times, thoroughly global.
It might be unfair to characterize private capital as being completely uninterested in the side effects of its actions, especially those with negative social consequences. However, it would also be naïve in the extreme to trust capital to take steps to protect the environment out of its own free will. That would be like leaving the wolves in charge of the sheep. However, you can tame a wolf and, slowly, turn it into an acceptable sheepdog. We could accomplish something similar with private capital, and much more quickly. With the right policy, institutionalization, (p.368) and culture, there is a chance to harness private capital to the general good in the future. Then the wolf would be sated and the sheep safe.
Spending on the environment and nature resembles spending on armaments and war. It is similar in that the effect on the economy of public (state) appropriations for the military and wars is analogous to that of appropriations for environmental protection. In the short term, a billion yuan for air filters can give the same effect as an identical expenditure on a squadron of new fighter planes. A billion dollars for the utilization of industrial waste sets in motion a chain of effective demand within the American economy that is the same as spending the same billion dollars on another aircraft carrier. A billion rubles spent on cleaning up contaminated rivers in the industrialized European part of Russia yields the same amount of production, employment, and return budget revenue as an identical sum pumped into the military radar tracking system.
In the longer term, apart from the immediate effect of stimulating production and employment through the creation of additional aggregate demand, there are also beneficial structural effects, including scientific-technical progress with all its advantages. It is understandable that this enormous conversion of production requires many years and enormous political determination. The postsocialist countries demonstrated what is possible in this field by converting their armaments sectors to peacetime production over the course of more than a decade. Such conversion requires, above all, a change in the value system and the assurance of world peace by means other than saber rattling.
If only the United States had spent as much on combating the greenhouse effect as it spent on the occupation of Iraq, we could all feel a bit more secure. If other countries shifted resources from arms and the upkeep of their militaries to the purchase of equipment for environmental protection and the employment of qualified specialists, economic performance in those countries and in the countries that supplied environmental equipment would improve, and the climate, in both the literal and figurative sense, would be far more conducive to development.
It should also be more pleasant for capital to make profits on something that can be praised in public, like the Boeing 787, than to go on lying about the benefits of arms production. Then the production of the Dreamliner and other pro-ecological goods and services would be just as profitable as the building of the B-2 Spirit strategic bomber was (p.369) for Boeing’s competitor, Northrop Grumman, or services that consist of sending young soldiers off to die.
All of this is too little. We need a revolution—another tax revolution. Leaving aside the venerable idea of tax breaks for income derived from environmentally friendly production, businesses and households by the turn of the next century will pay less and less on income tax (and even less on property), and more and more on their contribution to energy use and pollution. Countries as a whole, and regional groupings, will pay taxes of this kind into a joint planetary treasury, a global ecological budget into which no one will want to pay but from which everyone will want to benefit. We will have accurate ways of determining, on an ongoing basis, who is performing deleterious activity, and this will be the basis for levying the taxes. Along with changes in public consciousness, this will lead to a comprehensive metamorphosis of the means of production and patterns of consumption, resulting in the desired transformation of the relationship between humankind and Mother Earth.
The appreciation of the seriousness of the situation has been increasing rapidly of late, and not only as a result of active political campaigns organized by groups that are aware of the scale of the threat. Science fiction books and TV programs, and horror and catastrophe films make an impact too and are sometimes more effective than cold scientific arguments at forcing politicians to act. People react to the books and movies that scare them, and politicians react to the fear in the electorate. Apparently, irrational foreboding can sometimes do more than rational arguments. Over the last four years, the number of Americans who see cause for “great concern” has jumped from 28 to 41 percent. Amazingly enough, almost half of registered Republicans, under the influence of neoliberal economics, state that everything is fine with the environment. Only 9 percent of Democrats feel this way, so viewing and reading habits obviously differ. It’s a good thing that the Democrats will govern the United States from 2009 to 2017 and, with luck, even longer.
None of this—more effective policies at the national level, better trans-national coordination, cultural changes, and, above all, more perfect economic and financial mechanisms and more effective administration—can give us additional resources to a degree that would permit the world as a whole to consume energy and raw materials on the same scale as North America or Western Europe, either in the foreseeable future or (p.370) at any subsequent point. That would require the resources of two additional earths. In the long term, however, we can imagine progress in the form of conservation and a new technological revolution involving nanotechnology, materials engineering, and biotechnology, that might give us the equivalent of one additional earth. The power of the human intellect is not unlimited, but its limits are distant and still unexplored.
The seventh compass point on our horizon is population. According to the newest U.N. demographic forecasts, in the blink of an eye—in 2050—there will be 9.3 billion of us. Some of us will still be alive then, but we will be in the minority. There will be thirty times as many people as there were a thousand years ago, but it won’t be the end of the world. On my first birthday, there were 2.5 billion of us; when I finished writing this book, there were 6.6 billion. When I reach the end of my earthly journey, there will be almost 3 billion more.
There’s a lot of meaning in these billions. Multidirectional demographic changes are a big problem for the future. Aside from the constantly rising overall total, the picture also includes
• The extreme differentiation of natural growth.
• The overpopulation of certain regions.
• The aging of the population.
• Great migrations.
Each year, almost 80 million people come into the world—the equivalent of the population of Germany, Turkey, or Egypt. The population increases at different rates in different places. It is rising fastest in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Middle East, and in Southeast Asia; it is somewhat slower in Latin America; and slowest of all in Europe and North America. At present, 80 percent of humanity lives in less-developed countries; at mid-century, it will be 90 percent.
The changes are fundamental. In 1900, three times as many people lived in Europe as in Africa (408 and 133 million, respectively). This will be reversed in 2050, with 1.766 billion in Africa and 628 million in Europe. Another 100 years down the line, the ratio will be nearly 5:1 (2.308 billion and 517 million, respectively), despite the fact that, in the meantime, far more Africans will have moved to Europe than the reverse. The total share of the “Old World” and the “New World” in (p.371) the world population will fall from 28.5 percent in 1950 (21.7 percent in Europe and 6.8 percent in North America) to 9.4 percent in 2150 (5.3 and 4.1 percent, respectively).
The United Nations forecasts that the human population will hit 7 billion as early as 2013. Then we will have to wait another fourteen years to reach 8 billion. We achieved 6 billion in 1999. There will be 8 billion in 2027. We will reach 9 billion around 2050, depending on the forecast. Some say it will happen in 2046, and others only in 2054, if it makes any difference. Afterward, things will be completely different.
The population should grow only one tenth as rapidly as at present in the second half of the twenty-first century and throughout the twenty-second. There will be stagnation, with growth of only 6 to 7 million per year. According to these prognoses, we will need 150 years to add another billion people. There should be slightly more than 10 billion of us in 2200, and then the number of people will stabilize. Fifteen years ago, the United Nations was predicting stabilization after 2200 at about 11.6 billion, but a few things happened in the meantime. Many more things will happen before then, and many of them will happen at the same time.
The overall rate of population growth is decreasing. This is good news. There are more and more of us, but the world population is growing more slowly. The average annual rate of growth has declined from a very high 2.2 percent in the 1960s to 1.2 percent in 2005. This is excellent, because, at a rate of 2.2 percent, the population would double every thirty-two years. But it is also very bad news, because it will double every fifty-eight years at a rate of 1.2 percent. The earth cannot bear it. It is therefore imperative to lower this rate even more. Furthermore, the reduction must vary significantly from one place to another. This is another unprecedented challenge for the twenty-first and succeeding centuries.
The tendency reversed in that special year, 1989. Until then the absolute annual population growth had been increasing constantly (to 87.7 million). Afterward, it began falling somewhat and has stood at around 77 million since 2007. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the absolute rise in global population will hold more or less steady until about 2015, oscillating between 76 and 78 million annually. Then it will decrease systematically, to about 46 million per year at mid-century.
If this average resulted from a regional breakdown that was advantageous in social and economic terms, then we could take heart. However, (p.372) this is not the case. There are places where the population is increasing terrifyingly quickly, and others where it is beginning to decline in absolute terms. These divergent tendencies are functions of several variables, above all birth rate, infant mortality, and life expectancy. These demographic processes, in turn, are functions of living conditions and expectations of change in the future. They all show enormous disparities. Furthermore, migration must be taken into account. Things will go on in a similar way in the future.
The distressing fact is that the most children are being born in the least-developed countries, where it is hardest to feed, house, and educate them. This is very bad news. It is socially and culturally conditioned. The economic consequences are lamentable. The lack of development shows in low incomes, and shortages of food and basic health care. Some of these children die in infancy and others before their fifth birthday. Those who survive are fated to a miserable existence.
Four of the countries with the highest birth rates—Afghanistan, Somalia, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo—are also among the ten poorest in the world, with annual per capita incomes below $800 by purchasing power. Somalia and three more of the poorest countries—Mali, Niger, and Angola—are also among the bottom ten in terms of infant mortality. Angola and Sierra Leone have the worst infant mortality rates in the world, at 184.4 and 158.3 deaths per thousand live births, respectively. In Mali and Niger, women give birth to an average of 7.4 children. The figure in Afghanistan is 6.6, and in Yemen it is 6.5. On average, at least one child dies in each of these families. Five of the ten countries with the highest birth rates are, as a direct result, also among the ten countries with the highest population growth according to the U.N. estimates for 2005–2010: Burundi (3.9 percent), Afghanistan (3.85), Niger (3.49), Congo (3.22), and Mali (3.02). The highest rate of population growth, a record-breaking 4.5 percent, has recently been achieved in Liberia. Other countries and territories high on this list include Western Sahara, East Timor, Eritrea, and Palestine. It is striking how many of these countries have recently been involved in armed conflict and are reacting in some degree to those nightmarish times.
When you travel around these countries, you can feel the prevailing social climate, and see with your own eyes that, if the vicious circle is not broken—poverty contributing to the excessive growth of the population, which in turn perpetuates the misery that can provoke armed (p.373) conflicts, which are additionally spurred by ethnic divisions—then there is no chance of breaking free of structural stagnation and entering on the road of development. Not so long ago, China was poverty-stricken. If that country had not adopted draconian birth-control measures (women give birth to an average of 1.75 children and the rate of population growth is 0.58 percent), it would be the most populous vale of misery in the world today, rather then the greatest success story in development policy.
At the other extreme, we have countries where women give birth to barely a single child on the average, or only slightly more. The most drastic cases, which have no global significance in relative terms, are Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, with birth rates of 1.12, 1.07, and 0.98, respectively. The larger countries near the bottom of this list include Japan (1.23), Ukraine (1.24), Russia (1.39), and Germany (1.40). There is an international list of 222 countries and territories, on which the bottom ninety-six have birth rates below 2.1—the so-called replacement rate, which sustains the current population (not counting migration).
By coincidence, the United States opens the lower division of this list in 126th place, with a birth rate of 2.09. Poland comes in 206th, very near the bottom, with a rate of 1.26, just below Italy, Spain, South Korea, and Lithuania, and just above Slovenia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is striking that, of the twenty countries with negative rates of population growth, sixteen are European postsocialist countries, including Russia, Georgia, and Armenia. The other four are Germany and Japan, where the rate is still falling, and the statistically marginal Dominican Republic and Guyana. Thus, although there will be more and more people, there will be increasing numbers of people (too many) in some countries but decreasing numbers (too few) in others. It is clear that this demographic imbalance cannot help but intensify the already powerful migration movement.
It is estimated that more countries will dip below the population replacement threshold by 2050. All twenty-seven countries of the European Union are already there. When the foundations of the present Union were laid in 1957, all these countries had birth rates above 2.1. Now the rate ranges from 1.86 in Ireland to 1.21 in Lithuania. In this context, prognoses call for a decline in the population of Europe from the present level of 730 million—but there is no agreement as to how low it will go.
(p.374) Some predict a decline of barely 1 percent, or about 7 million people, whereas others, who significantly include the U.N. experts, say that it will be no less than 10 percent, or more than 70 million people. In this variant, Europeans would not constitute 11 percent of humanity as they do today, but a mere 7 percent, because the population on other continents will be growing rapidly. Only in North America will it remain below the world average, yet the population of the United States itself will rise by 100 million from the present figure of 302 million (which does not include more than 10 million illegal immigrants, whose deportation is favored by a third of the legal residents). However, things might turn out differently, in view of the reconquista and increasing waves of immigration from South and Central America to California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. Some of these immigrants have at least some Native American blood, but this time it will be impossible either to exterminate them or confine them to reservations.
In any case, all demographic forecasts evoke numerous doubts and reservations, even more than strictly economic forecasts. Every forecast starts with assumptions. The margin of uncertainty increases as the time frame lengthens, and demographic forecasts are long-term by nature. All sorts of things can happen in the meantime that are now unforeseeable, or even unimaginable. We know from experience that forecasting is a very risky business. Demographic forecasts are on especially shaky ground in terms of predicting rates of birth and death in less-developed countries, as well as the net results of great migrations.
When we see forecasts that the population of Russia will decrease from the current level of 140 million to 104 million in 2050, we must ask if this is possible or if we are looking at some sort of distortion. If it is the latter, as we suspect, then the question is whether it is intentional. It seems wrong to extrapolate over future decades the trends from recent years, when Russia experienced an acute demographic crisis that was, in part, a side effect of the abortive attempt to transform the system according to the neoliberal model and in part the result of environmental contamination and an unhealthy life-style.
The logic of development processes suggests a rise, rather than a fall, in the population of Russia over the next two generations. People will immigrate to Russia, rather than emigrate. This scenario anticipates an improvement in the Russian political and economic situation, even as the opposite stereotype is being promoted in the West: a country that still does not have a functioning market economy or full-blown democracy (p.375) but that does have a xenophobic population. Nevertheless, about 50,000 people moved back to Russia from Israel in the years 2001–2003. The returns continue. The remedy for a demographic crisis is not immigration, but tangible development and optimistic sentiment about the future. These things are connected.
We do not know whether Russia will repeat the progress that it made in the nineteenth century, but the signs are there. In the lives of two generations, from 1860 to the “real” end of the nineteenth century in 1914, Russia rose to the rank of the world’s sixth-largest industrial power. In 2007, Russia’s overall output surpassed that of Italy. In 2008, it passed France. In 2009, it is catching up with Britain. Once again, Russia would be the sixth-largest economy in the world, with the difference that this time, in addition to the United States, Germany, and Japan, the countries ahead of it in the pecking order would be not France and the United Kingdom, but China and India.
While some societies expand numerically, others will shrink. The population of Sudan is predicted to rise from 39.4 million at present to 73 million in 2050, while that of Poland falls from 38.5 to barely 30.3 million (the same as in 1962). Thus, a ratio of 1:1 will change to 5:2. The number of Pakistanis is set to rise from 164.7 to 292.2 million, whereas the number of Japanese will fall from 127 million today to 102.5 million. Thus the ratio of 13:10 will more than double, to 28:10. There are now 20.4 million Australians, and in two generations there will be 28 million. Across the Indian Ocean, poor Mozambique now has the same population as wealthy Australia, but it will have 39.1 million people in 2050. The ratio will swell from 1:1 to 7:5.
Here, there, and everywhere, populations will grow older, just like people, with the difference that populations do not pass away. This has cultural, social, political, economic, and financial consequences. They do not pass away, but some individuals move away by migrating from their country of birth. Then all the forecasts go out the window. It may well be that many of the people living in Australia in mid-century will be first- and second-generation descendants of people from East Africa, or that millions of Japanese will have Pakistani roots—and that the streets of Poland will be far more colorful than at present.
The wealthiest societies will age fastest. For example, about 30 percent of the population of Germany will be over sixty-five in 2030. In thirty years, there will be as many people in America over eighty-five as there are under five. This process can now be seen not just in the statistical (p.376) tables, but on the Florida beaches. Around Naples, the average age of the “gals” sunbathing is about seventy. Countries on the way up are also getting older, because increased longevity is one of the effects of economic development.
The average age of humanity rose only from 23.5 to 26.5 years in the second half of the twentieth century, but is forecast to jump to 37.8 in the first half of the twenty-first century. The number of people over sixty will rise from 10 percent to about 22 percent. Right now, about one fifth of the people in highly developed countries are over sixty. In 2050, it will be about one third. In the world as a whole, the average lifespan will rise by ten years, from sixty-six to seventy-six.
Averages always blur and oversimplify things. A given average can represent completely different situations and processes. Average longevity is something that must be approached with particular caution. The mortality of small children brings it down drastically. When a child in an African village is taken from its mother at the age of four and the mother goes on to live out the world average of sixty-six years, the two of them together have an average lifespan of thirty-five years. This accounts for the shocking statistics on longevity, or rather the brevity of life in poor countries, especially in Africa. The social and economic consequences of such an average are completely different in a situation where both mother and child live no more than thirty-five years. This too can happen, especially in the countries decimated by the plague of HIV-AIDS, such as Swaziland, where the average lifespan is 32.2, or Zambia, where it is 38.4.
What do you see when you travel around these countries? A multitude of children and young people, quite a few of the elderly, but very few in the prime of life—and this is precisely the part of the population that determines economic activity and, as a consequence, the standard of living. That standard is bound to decline when there are few capable of working and many who must be kept because they are not at work yet or are no longer at work. Paradoxically, this is a reason to have numerous progeny: As expensive as they are to raise, they can be put to work young as cheap labor. Later, if the parents manage to live those sixty-six years, they can always find someone from among the young folks to look after them.
These societies have an hourglass profile, wide at the top and bottom and narrow in the middle. Broadening the middle while narrowing the base is an important task for social policy in the fight against (p.377) poverty. The campaign against HIV-AIDS is also crucial, because the disease devastates the occupationally active part of society most of all. This must be changed in the future; otherwise, there will be vast areas of the earth where many are born, many die, but few work.
Europe too can expect significant changes in its age structure. Forecasts call for a serious dip in the college-age population. In some cases, such as Italy or Spain, it will be an outright collapse. Around 2045, the number of people between twenty and twenty-four is expected to fall by more than 40 percent in the former country and almost 50 percent in the latter. In France, the corresponding decline is estimated at more than 8 percent. What can be done? How should we react? Where will the army recruit? If there is less potential cannon fodder, perhaps there will be fewer senselessly destructive wars. However, it will be necessary to worry about human capital in the middle run and its replacement in the long run. Universities cannot be closed, and bringing in students from China and India will not solve the problem. Above all, this is the age group that most frequently marries and starts families. There might not be a lot of children being born now, but at least there are some. When there are no parents, where will the children come from? The stork won’t solve this problem, and neither will the invisible hand of the market.
It is not easy to influence the birth rate, but population policy must be applied. By its nature, it is long term and therefore requires special instruments. However, even when there is success at shaping the age structure of the population through the use of cultural and social-policy measures in the form of special budget allocations, family payments, free child care, universal schooling, and tax deductions, the effects appear only much later.
Migration can serve as a vent for growing tensions, especially on the labor market, where they have a negative impact on economic functioning and growth. The idea, of course, is not for older people to go away, but for younger ones to come in. The ethnic and cultural composition of the population changes as a result, but that is a separate matter, and another problem. There will be more and more changes of this type.
History has varied lessons for us. The direction of the migration of peoples does not change as dramatically as in literary fiction, and is not always a one-way street leading to America. Surprisingly enough, in the quarter century from 1899 to 1925, fully one third of the Polish immigrants to America returned home. The lack of adaptive capacity was (p.378) decisive; it was not easy adjusting to the demands of American industrial culture, with all its competition.
More recently, in another context, more Poles returned to their home-land than left it in 1996–1997, when average annual growth remained above 6 percent for several years. That was because they had a more optimistic vision of their future in Poland, and this is the decisive factor. People do not choose the direction of migration so much because of the present state of affairs wherever they are, as because of their outlook and expectations. These expectations are always a function of the present state to a degree, but they are also derivatives of the way people imagine the future at two different points on the map. Migration is a matter of both leaving somewhere and arriving somewhere.
We should be under no illusions: the twenty-first century will be a century of Great Migrations. About 200 million people are now living permanently outside the country of their birth, and this number will rise dramatically. There are regions where immigrants already comprise the majority of the inhabitants, even though they are denied citizenship and many elementary rights. This is the case in those Arab countries that attempt to enhance the prosperity of their citizens by exploiting both rich deposits of oil and gas, and a copious influx of cheap labor. Half of the fewer than 9 million residents of the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain are immigrants, mostly from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and, recently, Vietnam. There are also considerable numbers of educated specialists from Europe and North America. Immigrants make up about one third of the people in Bahrain and the majority in Qatar and Kuwait. Only 20 percent of the 4.5 million people in the United Arab Emirates are citizens. The elites in these countries boost their own standard of living by exploiting immigrant labor in a ruthless way that sometimes borders on slavery, but they are laboring under a delusion when they imagine that they will easily rid themselves of this mass of guest workers when they no longer need them. They won’t. The majority will stay, rotating in the meantime, just as millions of Africans and their descendants stayed in America after the abolition of slavery, or as Hindus settled permanently on Fiji. They came there to work the sugar plantations on quasi-voluntary indentures, usually amounting to five years, that bore a strong resemblance to feudal servitude. They should have gone home when they had worked off their indentures, but many decided to stay. Today we can see that about half the people on Fiji have Indian roots. (p.379) Many of the immigrants in the Middle East who are totally bereft of rights today will win citizenship and other privileges. Some of them, with good reason, already feel at home.
The time has come for one more epochal migration. It is plain that its main trails will continue to lead, as they already do, from poorer to richer countries. The process will only intensify. Attempting to stop it by force is a symptom of political folly. Selective policies that shut some people up in camps and deport them while inviting others to immigrate are proof of the cynicism of the affluent countries. The former people are usually unqualified, poor barbarians who should be kept outside the gates, whereas the latter are experts, educated somewhere else at the expense of another country’s taxpayers, who are supposed to balance the local labor market by adding supply.
In a single year, 2003, Britain granted more than 10,000 visas and work permits to qualified medical and nursing personnel from Africa, including 5,880 from South Africa, 2, 825 from Zimbabwe, 1,510 from Nigeria, and 850 from Ghana. Almost a third of the doctors practicing in Britain were educated in the countries they left behind. Forty-one percent of Tanzania’s university graduates have emigrated and are working in highly developed OECD countries. The figure for Angola is 57 percent, and for Fiji it is 62 percent. In Haiti, which is even poorer, the percentage is 79, and in Jamaica it is 81.
This is a typical brain drain, but it is something more; it smacks of apartheid. Whereas the needed personnel are practically begged to come in without a thought for the havoc wrought on the professional staffs in their home countries, others are cast aside even when they manage to set foot inside their destination. The countries that suffer this drain of qualified workforce should be compensated for their education no less generously than they must pay for the services they import. This is not a matter of personal migration, because such transfers of human capital have far-reaching internal consequences for the entire process of macroeconomic reproduction. It goes without saying that this has a multidirectional influence on the competitive capacity (and thus the development potential) of the countries that lose and gain sought-after, highly qualified workers.
Migration should not be viewed simply from the utilitarian and cultural point of view, and nor through the prism of its economic consequences. It is shameful that people are still denied the right to move about freely in times of such advanced globalization, when the world, (p.380) including its poorest areas, has been forced to accept the free transfer of goods and capital. When we rose up off of all fours and became bipeds, we achieved the first of the human rights: the Right to Movement. Migration is movement. In the twenty-first century, this right will increasingly come to the fore. It cannot continue to be suppressed under the flimsiest of pretexts. The time of barriers and roadblocks, walls and fences, and barriers and barbed wire should already be in the past, rather than returning to haunt us. Sermons about democracy and human rights become a mockery when people are denied the right to move around. This is what life and the world are for. There are those who treat passports and visas as a way of shackling people to the land, as a kind of contemporary feudal obligation or apartheid, except that now the village is global. Visas cannot be abolished like feudal labor obligations, but they should be radically limited in the future. In the long run, in the supranational and planetary dimension, this would be a great advance for development.
The response to the challenge that migration poses to the globalized economy must rest on complex, comprehensive action by the richer part of the world community. It must act as a catalyst for the economic development of the poorest part of that economy, on the one hand, and must create a broad cultural, institutional, and political framework for the absorption of streams of immigrants, on the other. The quicker the rich countries are ready to transfer a part of their GDP to the poor ones in a sensible way, the less GDP they will have to transfer within their own national budgets to finance the growing masses of legal and illegal newcomers from all over the globe.
The combination of low birth rates, extended longevity, and mass migration will put unprecedented, almost unbearable stress on health care, the retirement system, and social services. This will probably lead to mutinies, revolts, and revolutions. These upheavals will take one form in rich countries with better-developed social market economy institutions, and other forms in countries that have not yet become rich and that have placed insufficient emphasis on the imperative to create the appropriate financial and organizational underpinnings to meet these challenges. Norway will manage, but will Portugal? Japan has a chance to deal successfully with this syndrome, but what about France? It will be easier for Spain than for Poland, but both of these countries will have big problems—not as monstrous as those of Mexico or Indonesia, but bad enough to spark unrest.
(p.381) Relative peace, including control of human migration, can only be assured when the rate of population growth in low-income countries is substantially reduced. In purely formal terms, each reduction per mille—one tenth of 1 percent—in the rate of population growth (assuming that the absolute quantity of output remains unchanged) automatically yields a growth in output per capita of that same per mille. If the population of Brazil had risen by 0.51 percent instead of 1.01 percent, then—as long as nothing else changed—GDP per capita would have grown by 4.1 percent instead of 3.6 percent in 2007. This is a small change in a single year, but over the course of ten years it results in a per capita GDP that is 7 percent higher, and over two decades it yields 20 percent more. These are significant differences, of the kind that can determine qualitative improvements in development. Attempts to lower population growth are therefore no less significant than efforts to increase the overall level of economic growth. Both are crucial to improving the material situation of the population. How many of us there are has a lot to do with how we live.
As we keep surveying the horizon of the future, the eighth compass point that commands our attention is poverty, misery, and social inequality. The specialist literature on “inequality and the struggle against poverty” would already fill a huge library. The more economists write about inequality, you might say if you wanted to be nasty, the more of it there is. Of course, there is no such correlation. However, there is another connection: For more than a few experts, community organizers, journalists, and politicians, not to mention bureaucrats, writing about inequality and its consequences has become a good way of making a living. Research and consulting on poverty and inequality have become a cottage industry. When you take account of the aid money devoted to the issue, it is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Some authors have written in this context about the neocolonialism of international organizations in the field.17
A future statesman or stateswoman—and the earth will still produce some great ones—might well ask what to watch out for, how to diagnose the situation, and what therapy to apply to avoid the outbreak of the next Great Revolution. The answer should be: Aside from changes in the natural environment and demographic movements, beware of poverty, social inequality, and their consequences. No revolution has (p.382) ever broken out in the name of inequality. Nor would any reasonable person ever demand total equality, which is bound to be more unjust than some forms of inequality. The danger lies in the injustice of excessive inequality. That’s when it’s time to act—before it’s too late.
Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer who is neither an economist nor a sociologist but who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in literature, writes in Snow that, “It’s not enough to be oppressed, you must also be in the right! Most oppressed people are in the wrong to an almost ridiculous degree.”18 A Marxist would say that life, no matter how miserable, hasn’t yet managed to form their consciousness. It is a fact that many of the poor have allowed themselves to be misled or, if you prefer, to be made fools of. Many of them do not even know that they are oppressed. Today, however, news spreads fast, especially bad news. Before long, mumbo jumbo like TINA—”There Is No Alternative”—will be yesterday’s newspapers. The dilemma for the future is this: Should we reduce the ranks of the oppressed or wait for them to stop being fools and start developing their own revolutionary consciousness?
Classical economics, including its neoliberal variant, suggests possibilities for reducing income inequality. This should supposedly occur as a result of the free flow of capital (while human capital, it is understood, would remain subject to limitation). The theory assumes the full mobilization of the factors of production. This should lead to the allocation of capital where rates of return are highest. Its transfer to relatively less-developed countries would stimulate growth there. We know all too well that the theory has failed the test, not only because we observe an increase in capital transfers from some poorer countries to richer countries, but above all because the neoliberal assumption of convergence has not worked out in practice. Poorer countries were supposed to automatically develop more quickly than richer ones, but it simply hasn’t happened.
Even given the most extreme liberalization, the factors of production in themselves, without intervention, are mobile only to the degree that it pays. It turns out that a whole range of places where the hunger for capital is greatest are the very places where it doesn’t pay to invest. Without the appropriate intervention on a supranational or even global scale, we should therefore not expect any significant change. It is thus hardly surprising that, even when huge swathes of the world have been reshaped on the neoliberal model, there is not the slightest indication that the poor and the rich, the less developed and the more developed, (p.383) are drawing closer to each other. The difference between income (a flow) and wealth (a stock of assets) is greater than ever before.
The question is this: “Will it continue to grow?” If so, what are the limits to the differences in living standards between nations, and between the particular social groups within those nations? Or has the world already hit the wall, and is it imperative to put a halt to the growing inequality right now, and then go on to reverse the unfavorable tendencies?
Without getting into arguments about tenths of percentage points, it seems to be a reasonable conclusion that slowing the growth of the disparity of incomes, and speeding up development in poorer countries, as well as facing the challenge of excessive inequality in certain rich countries, would be in the best interests of humanity and the global economy. This applies to the GDP of whole countries and to the incomes of the populations of those countries. We know that this will take a change in values first of all, followed by strategies and policies that result from those values. We also know all too well that this will not necessarily happen. Greed and folly can easily get the upper hand over moderation and forethought.
There may not be sufficient moderation and forethought to produce development policy based on the new pragmatism. Policy, instead, may continue to be redolent of old dogmas and domination by special interests. If this is so, then we will face antagonistic tensions on a world scale before long. This means that the problems will be overcome in a tumultuous way, through revolts and conflicts, and uncontrolled migration and redistribution. This will bring growth to a halt in the richer countries, but in this case the limitation of growth will be a side effect of the disturbances, rather than a strategic measure to forestall them.
Many politicians and a few economists like to go around saying, “It can’t go on like this.” It can. Strategic inequalities, the kind that replicate themselves from one generation to another, are decisive, and will continue to be so, as is shown clearly by this whole interpretation of history and the contemporary world—up to a point, a point in time. There is no way at this moment to predict when that will occur, but it will not be on the scale of historic time. At the most, it will be on the time scale of a generation. The boundaries of human patience and social tolerance for this scale of inequality and the associated degree of social exclusion, including poverty and misery, will continue to be (p.384) tested. Whether they will be tested to the breaking point or whether common sense will step in while there is still time is something we will just have to wait to learn. We know—someone, somewhere knows—what should be done to make things better, but no one knows whether it will be done. Even worse: There are grounds for suspecting that it will not be done.
One swallow does not make a spring, they say. When swallows are singing all around, however, spring has arrived. President Lula da Silva of Brazil has spurned the whispers of the neoliberal prompters. If the things that Brazil has done under his presidency could be done in all the less-developed regions of the world, then we would be saved. For now, we can only wait and see where the Brazilian road leads. Are we looking at a structural trend or mere transient, limited change?
The Brazilian government is implementing a nonorthodox, pragmatic economic policy at significant variance with the Plano Real that preceded it. In the preceding decade, the Plano Real concentrated on combating inflation, and this was correct at the time. However, it was naïve to expect this in itself to improve the lot of the poor masses. Far from declining, the Gini coefficient soared to 0.596 in 2001. This was one of the factors that brought the leftist government of Lula da Silva to power in democratic elections.
Lula’s social policy, combined with fiscal discipline, brought the Gini coefficient down to 0.567 in 2005. During the president’s second term, it has continued to fall. This is happening because wise interventionism and economic policy are coordinating various determinants of development to guarantee that the lowest incomes grow faster than the highest. Over the four years from 2002 to 2006, the share of income obtained by the poor half of the population rose from 9.8 to 11.9 percent, while the share received by the highest decile on the income ladder fell from 49.5 to 45.8 percent. This is still a gigantic disproportion. It impedes balanced development and makes it more difficult to recoup lost time, but at least it represents the tangible reversal of the disastrous earlier tendencies. If the trend can be maintained, it will be a great success. The outlook for Brazil will be good.
Of particular significance is the successful Zero Hunger (Fome Zero) program, which provides direct budgetary subsidies to the poor. These are modest subsidies, amounting to 60 real ($31 by the exchange rate or $53 by PPP) for the poorest families, and 120 real to households with children under fifteen, on the condition that those children are in (p.385) school. All recipients must also receive vaccinations, which are documented in a special booklet. These are straightforward measures (although the logistics are far from simple, given the terrible state of the infrastructure and the service sector), but they can do a lot of good.
This costs money, but where does the money come from? The cost, in fact, is a tiny fraction of what many countries spend on armaments or wasteful, overgrown bureaucracies, so there are savings to be made. The international community could easily help as well. The additional payment to poor countries of a mere per mille—one tenth of 1 percent—of the GDP of the G-7 and European Union for such purposes would amount to about $33 billion, and this could change the face of the world. It would not necessarily make it a human face overnight, but at least it would be a more enlightened face, less distorted by the grimace of hunger. Applying the Brazilian standards could induce half a billion families around the world to send their children to school and vaccinate them against various diseases. Could there be a better prescription for development and the fight against poverty than a healthier and more educated younger generation?
Big numbers are impressive, but small numbers tell us more. What would this per mille mean to those who are expected to contribute it? In the United States, it would amount to $4.00 per month per person. In Poland, it would work out to about 2.50 zloty, or less than one dollar. It takes resolve, and people with the qualities of the president of Brazil. More specifically, it takes a theoretical concept, political will, and practical skill at solving developmental problems. This is the point where we can stop saying, “It can’t go on like this,” and start expecting that it won’t.
It is amazing how little gets done, despite
• The vast knowledge about development economics.
• The abundance of positive experience in the practical conquest of barriers to growth.
• The achievements to date in limiting the scale of poverty.
• The general level of wealth and capital accumulation in some parts of the world.
People must understand, want to do something, and have an authentic motivation to act. Some must be willing to stump up those four dollars or two and a half zloty, and others must be willing to organize (p.386) the transfer of the resulting millions and billions. The recipients must make an enormous effort to prevent the aid from being wasted. Solving problems requires the coordination of values, institutions, and policies. The skilful application of the coincidence theory of development can be invaluable, but at times, in small matters, all it takes is some common sense and elementary honesty. A lack of these things is the greatest hurdle in the fight against poverty and antidevelopmental inequalities.
Progress in education and research, and the creation of new bridgeheads for the information-based economy and society, have great significance in shaping the future. They represent the ninth compass point on our survey of the horizon. Expanding the scope of education and freeing it of restrictions will give billions of the earth’s inhabitants access to information and knowledge that are valuable in themselves and are also priceless instruments for economic progress. To an increasing degree, human economic activity will rely on knowledge, and this will change the way society functions.
Hegel and his follower Marx taught us that life determines consciousness, but the opposite is also true. The impact of consciousness, especially the cultural stratum, on the economy and its development, and thus on the material conditions of life, is far from trivial. There is a strong feedback mechanism that will make this cause-and-effect relationship even stronger in the future, because the role of knowledge in production processes is growing all the time. Science, research, and knowledge have been treated for decades as direct factors of production, and their importance is increasingly prominent. Knowledge is one of the crucial elements of consciousness. “I think, therefore I am.” It is also true to say, “I know, and therefore I can.”
Some theoretical approaches regard knowledge, alongside land (natural resources), capital, and labor, as deserving of separate treatment as one of the variables that determine output growth. This depends on how we conceive of capital. If we treat it in a nontraditional but up-to-date way, as including not only real and financial capital, but also human and social capital, then there is no justification for treating knowledge separately. It is better and methodologically clearer to regard knowledge in the broad sense as a separate determinant of output growth and socioeconomic development. It is a variable that ought to be taken into consideration as an independent category in multifactorial growth (p.387) models. This is the way the coincidence theory treats it. As for the future, we must understand that, even as it grows increasingly prominent, the role of knowledge as a crucial segment of human capital will become differentiated.
It is a good thing to maintain one’s distance to all the chatter about building a knowledge-based economy. Someone might ask the simple question, “What is the opposite of a knowledge-based economy—an ignorance-based economy?” No matter how little people know, at least they know something, right? There is no such thing as an ignorance-based economy. All business, like all civilization, is based at its deepest level on knowledge. The difference today is that there is more knowledge than ever before. Decent high school or college students today know more than some Nobel Prize winners of a century ago. They know, but they don’t necessarily understand, and there lies the difference. Not only will the store of knowledge keep growing in the future, and at an exponential rate, but the understanding of the essence of things will also be more widespread. At every level of the economy, from the micro level in companies to the macro level in national economies and the mega level on a global scale, the ability to make creative use of gigantic stores of knowledge to multiply material and spiritual values will be increasingly important.
The concept we are dealing with here is fuzzy by definition, and so it will remain. In a utilitarian vein, we might define a knowledge-based economy as one in which the arrangement of the factors of production is such that people who know more will contribute to growth to an increasing extent. There can be no doubt that the economy and the society through which it functions will get better and better at using knowledge to produce growth. That much we can say. Yet we will still have to sow and harvest, hunt and dig, load and carry, grind and mine, cut and sew, and so on. However, the army of people doing these things will be smaller, and the ranks of those who spend most of their time thinking will swell. To be sure, the saying “thinking has a future” is not new. Einstein added the adjective colossal, but even the ancients knew it. It had a future back then, and it will have even more of a future in the future.
We must be wary of special pressure from various corners of the academic community, who simply treat the idea of a knowledge-based economy as a pretext for advocating the improvement of their own material situation. I have nothing against higher salaries for professors. (p.388) However, the fact that they earn more, either directly or through grants, does not mean that we have more of a knowledge-based economy, unless their higher salaries automatically translate into greater stores of knowledge. There is no such simple relationship. For that to come about, a few other things will have to happen in culture, institutions, and policy.
The places where there is greater public funding for research are not necessarily the places where the economy will become more knowledge-intensive. However, this will surely happen where companies emphasize the use of knowledge to improve their competitiveness through innovative and inventive products, professional management, permanent career development for their employees, and the hard financing of research, and especially applied research. Basic research will continue to be financed publicly in large part, although the spread of the institution of public-private partnerships will become increasingly promising. Only the mightiest global companies, along with some particularly well-endowed foundations, will be able to fund private basic research.
Economically successful countries demonstrate clearly that a higher rate of development is achieved where the manufacturing sector demands technical and organizational innovation. Unfortunately, we cannot expect to see this in the countries that need rapid growth the most, that is, in the poor countries. A knowledge-based economy is a luxury that wealthy countries can afford, where companies have abundant capital, and where the state can afford to co-finance research and implementation, and has the will to do so.
Poorer countries, in turn, must work at gradually improving their educational and public-information systems. No one should encourage the illusion that they can leapfrog the stages of development and start producing things that it took richer countries a long time to begin making. Brazil can manufacture regional jets because it knows how to do so, and other countries are impressed. However, the things that these other countries should copy are not the jets, but rather programs like Fome Zero. A knowledge-based economy can be built where the structural problems of human capital have largely been solved through the elimination of illiteracy and the achievement of a critical level of technical civilization. The majority of countries still have a great deal of work to do in this regard.
Building a knowledge-based economy—or perhaps it is better to talk about an economy based to an increasing degree on knowledge— (p.389) requires the correct sequencing and gradation. In any given economy, there are sectors that play a leading role, and others that join in. Over time, an increasing proportion of business activity will create added value, to an increasing degree, through the use of human intellectual resources rather than the physical resources of the earth. Some of the countries in this world are leaders and others play catch-up. Over time, more and more of them will exhibit more and more signs of economic growth based on domestic human capital rather on than real capital. Financial capital will always be important, if for no other reason than the fact that it is required for investment in the cultivation of human capital. Knowledge costs money.
A knowledge-based economy is a little bit like a pond when someone throws a stone in. The initial energy input results in wider and wider rings of ripples. In the economy, knowledge applied in one place spreads throughout the immediate vicinity, and then to new companies, industries, and sectors. As long as the initial impulse was strong enough, the ripples keep coming—like other countries and regions joining in, thanks to the dissemination of knowledge, and especially research and implementation.
What does this mean from the point of view of the wealth of nations? The countries at the peak of the world pyramid will make the largest contribution to the knowledge economy through inventions. Below them is the more numerous group of countries at a medium level of development, which will mostly contribute innovation. Finally, there is the largest group, consisting of relatively poor countries that seek to improve their situation through imitation, most of all. This “3I” model—invention, innovation, and imitation—will drive the whole world economy forward. It will enhance overall effectiveness and may help less-developed countries to make up some of their arrears, although it need not necessarily do so.
Much will depend on institutional and financial solutions regarding licenses, patents, recipes, patterns, trademarks, and copyrights. If we look at a world map showing intellectual property rights, we see that they are even more concentrated than energy reserves. For a long time now, they have been more valuable. As early as 1938–1939, France received as much for a dress sewn by a leading designer as it paid for the import of 10 tons of coal and could exchange a liter of perfume for 2,000 liters of gasoline. Now it is not only a matter of technology, but also of trademarks, which can sometimes cost more than the materials (p.390) and labor that go into making the product. The owners of these rights, like the profits derived from them, tend to be gathered in the rich countries, not because of a caprice of nature, as in the case of raw materials, but thanks to the creativity of the human intellect.
If we could somehow draw up a map of talent, we would see that it is more evenly distributed around the world than raw materials or intellectual property. Yet talent alone, without knowledge and financial support, amounts to little. For understandable reasons, the rich countries are not necessarily eager to share their knowledge and skills with others. What rich counties really want is not only to be rich, but also to stay richer than everybody else. Maintaining their scientific and technical predominance is the surest way to do this. The rivalry in these areas will intensify over the coming decades and centuries. Clashes of interests that could result in conflicts have already arisen over technologies connected with the military complex, as well as a range of other products such as pharmaceuticals. This will lead to wars that are bloodless but genuine, and usually silent because intelligence agencies, rather than armies, will fight them.
On the one hand, as knowledge expands into new realms, the scope of the economic activity that can be called knowledge based will broaden in every country, including the most highly developed ones. On the other hand, the number of countries where this kind of activity takes place will also increase. The portion of the GDP attributable to the knowledge-based economy will grow rapidly all over the world, but it will grow most during the next few decades in the countries that are already highly developed. The GDP will weigh less there. It can be weighed, because part of it is embodied in various products that weigh something. Over the last two decades, the weight of the American GDP has declined by about 20 percent. We notice the same phenomenon, on a smaller scale, in less technologically advanced countries.
The development gap separating the rich countries, with their relatively “light” GDP, from the poor and less-developed countries may continue to grow, at least where its breadth is determined by the shortfall in education and the quality of human capital. In the longer perspective, when the foundation necessary for the rapid enhancement of that capital has been laid—the elimination of illiteracy, universal secondary education, adequate tertiary education, and a research-and-development base—it will be possible to go beyond dreaming of creating a knowledge-based economy to the point where one actually exists.
(p.391) What new things will the future bring? Will it simply be a matter of perspiring less and thinking more? No, it will be much more than that. Knowledge is like all other resources: It is important not only to have it, but also to know what to do with it. Success will belong to the sectors, professional groups, countries, and regions that can create knowledge and that, more important, know how to use it. All the knowledge of English-speaking Nigerian and Kenyan computer programmers will lead nowhere as long as they keep working as hackers. All the professional skill of Iranian and North Korean physicists will be misapplied until it is harnessed by sensible policies that place scientific and technical progress at the service of development. All the knowledge put into creating the next American antimissile defense system and yet another Russian anti-anti-missile system will fail to improve international security, and will be detrimental to development, because it is a waste of rare capital. Knowing more is not enough to guarantee a knowledge-based economy. You must know how to use that knowledge. Policy should also rely more on knowledge.
The tendency to expand the scope of economic activity as a result of the eruption of knowledge, and especially of scientific knowledge, has been apparent since the late nineteenth century. We still talk about necessity being the mother of invention. In fact, this is changing, because inventions frequently create new necessities. If you take a good look around, from kitchen gadgets to banking services and from computers to talking cars, you see that we did not invent these things because we needed them, but that we need them (some of them, at least) because we invented them.
The “knowledge-based economy” is intensifying this phenomenon. In the non-knowledge-based economy, experiments came before theory. Intellectual progress consisted of creating a better instrument, tool, machine, formula, technology, or final product, but this was achieved through experiments, through trial and error. Now the theory comes before the application. First, we know why something works or happens, and only afterward does it happen.
It is hard for economists to refrain from asking whether this is also true of their own discipline. To an increasing degree it is, although not completely. This is for reasons that we presented at the beginning of this tale. If there is less ideology and more pragmatism, if economics is to be a science, then yes, it will be so. In the case of more and more problems, we will first know how (and therefore why) something happens, (p.392) and only later will it happen. It is one of the paradoxes of the present day, and perhaps of the future, that even in the age of the knowledge-based economy, economic policy is not necessarily or always based on knowledge and the findings of the science of economics. Until it is, we cannot really speak of a knowledge-based economy. Much work remains to be done.
In disciplines other than economics, there will be more scientific and technical progress. The nature, dynamics, and consequences of this progress comprise our tenth compass point as we survey the horizon of the future. What can we expect, and what should we fear? History offers a mixed lesson. We know full well that the human intellect has frequently served evil causes. Our first task for the future is to ensure that science and technology promote progress, rather than destruction. The fact that science has great potential for shaping a creative, developed, and peaceful future is no guarantee that it will be so. It could be, but not necessarily. If the triad of culture, institutions, and policy functions properly, it may well be so.
Will the twenty-first century provide us with an Eighth Great Invention, to follow standing erect, fire, the wheel, money, print, electricity, and the Internet? Or will we have to go on waiting? What will it be? Never before in history have we had so much advance knowledge. When Gutenberg printed his first Bible in 1454, he could never have dreamed that someday there would be millions of people reading the Bible by electric light. When Edison switched on the first light bulb in 1879, he could never have imagined that the Bible could be summoned up with one click through the wireless Internet. Only in the most recent instance, that of the World Wide Web, did anyone know what was coming. Even then, things were not clear from the outset. In 1989, when Tim Berners-Lee, today Sir Timothy, presented a proposal for a website at CERN, the particle physics laboratory outside Geneva, which I’ve mentioned already, his boss wrote “vague but exciting”. In 1994, there were about 10,000 websites. In 2007, there were more than 100 million. Before long, people will stop counting. They’ll simply be universal. It’s more exciting than its creators could have dreamed.
Do we know what the next epochal invention could be, or even have a general idea? In human history, only the first five Great Inventions were (p.393) possible without previously accumulating vast amounts of knowledge and laying the theoretical groundwork. All they required was curiosity, boldness, repeated trials, a spontaneous process, and a brilliant idea.
There are numerous signs that we know what’s coming. Things have changed and, since the late nineteenth century, it has been necessary for the theory to be in place and the information collected before a great invention could take place. Science conceives of something that is then created in the real world; the essence and mechanism of the invention is already completely understood, or nearly so. The theoretical concept and the scientific interpretation precede the actual technical step forward. Technology is a transmission belt between scientific ideas and cultural and economic practice. There is a lot going on, and the next big thing will come along sooner or later, and probably sooner. It will likely have to do with manipulating the beginnings and the course of life, including sickness and longevity. This will result from research progress in physics, chemistry, genetics, and biology, assisted by the computational and modeling power of computers. Yet again, the most interesting things will happen at the points of contact between the disciplines. Interdisciplinary studies have indeed a colossal future.
We know in retrospect that, in the twentieth century, it was physics that gave humanity two monumental accomplishments, although some say that we have a tendency to exaggerate when we evaluate the significance of new technology.19 The first of these accomplishments was an advanced ability to control the forces of nature. Some of them have been harnessed, although not always in a way that encourages us to sleep soundly at night. We have lived more than half a century in the shadow of the atomic mushroom cloud. The second accomplishment makes the twentieth century different from everything before and after—the ability to move people, merchandise, and information around with a completely new order of quantity, speed, distance, and comfort. These innovations, from the car and the airplane to the computer and the Internet, have changed the face of the world forever.
Today, looking ahead, we do not know, or rather, we are not sure that biology will play a similar role in the twenty-first century. Right now it looks similar to the situation with physics 100 years ago—not in terms of the specific problems to be solved or the particular innovations waiting around the corner, but rather in terms of the sense that (p.394) these advances must lead to a future that is as fascinating as it is mysterious. Physics was seen in exactly the same terms.
In 100 years we will know the answers. Furthermore, the things that are exciting and wrapped in the clouds of the unknown today will have become mundane. Great leaps forward can be seen only in context. If we trace the changes in cars over the last 100 years, we see that the alterations from one model year to the next were apparently minor. Yet if we compare a Model T Ford to the latest Toyota Prius, we are in two different worlds. Each has four road wheels and one steering wheel, but that’s about it. This is what a 100-year retrospective looks like. At first, the changes are so numerous and continual that not much seems to be happening, and it seems to be happening slowly. In fact, lots of things are changing, and they are changing fast. Take people—they look the same as they did 100 years ago, but now they are educated differently, they work and take time off differently, they receive different medical treatment, and they will die differently.
Which changes should we welcome, and which should we reject? There is much controversy in medicine, genetics, biology, and even physics. Genetic engineering and biotechnology will be crucial in the coming decades. This is not certain, but it is highly likely. The 1997 British experiment in cloning that produced the world’s most famous sheep, Dolly, was the symbolic opening of a new era. It had begun earlier, but that was the moment that launched us on a new trajectory into the future.
Simple procedures in genetic engineering have become routine. What was science fiction in the early 1990s is now part of the real world. The first patents have been taken out on artificial living organisms, or rather on living organisms created in a nonnatural way under laboratory conditions. The fact that this is possible—and I am talking about both the creation of the organism and the legal procedure bringing it under intellectual property rights—is still inconceivable to most people. Yet it will end up benefiting them, in ways that include the prolongation of their lives. Or so we hope.
The issues at stake here are not merely intellectual. More than ever before, they have an ethical dimension. They are impeded or blocked by formal policy instruments, administrative prohibitions, and public opinion brought to bear in an organized way by special pressure groups and a broad range of religious denominations and churches, seconded as always by the dutiful media. This is hardly the Inquisition or burning at the stake. Nevertheless, it resembles the irrational attempts to (p.395) block or deny things that we accept as obvious facts today, such as the movement of the heavenly bodies or human descent from apes. Copernicus’s heliocentric theory and Darwin’s theory of evolution only became accepted after a great deal of turmoil. Some inventors and discoverers had to endure torture before the truth became true. This is not something we should gloss over. The only tenable reaction is to keep debating the merits of the issue and weighing up the rational arguments and real threats at scholarly symposia and in the forum of public opinion.
On the one hand, given the lack of experience and proven regulatory mechanisms in such a new field as genetic engineering, some misgivings are inevitable. There is a lot to think about. DNA from one organism can be introduced into another. This breaks down the age-old boundaries between individuals, and even between species. Genetic modification, in itself, is nothing new in nature, yet many regard it as counter to nature or, if you prefer, in violation of divine law.
On the other hand, these blocking maneuvers are only temporary. If something can be created, it will be created. Someday, far in the future, all of this will seem normal, just as it now seems normal that man evolved rather than being created by God, or that the earth revolves around the sun rather than the opposite. I have no doubt of this, although it may not come to pass even in the times of our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Nor do I doubt that some potential or real advances will have to be kept under lock and key, just as humanity does at present with such products of the human intellect as the ABC weapons—atomic, biological, and chemical.
This is how it will be. We do not run the risk, as humankind did fifteen centuries ago, of forgetting many of the skills and achievements of the ancients and having to wait 1,000 years until some of them, like Chinese printing, could be reintroduced during the Renaissance. This fate does not threaten us for many reasons. Once, only a narrow circle of scholars, artists, and artisans knew such things; now huge numbers of people know them. Although the most advanced knowledge is concentrated in certain places around the world, there are a great many such bright points on the map, and there will be more and more of them.
Fukuyama writes that, “The ultimate question raised by biotechnology is, ‘What will happen to political rights once we are able to, in effect, breed some people with saddles on their backs, and others with boots and spurs?’”20 Yet isn’t this already the case? Some people are (p.396) born in sheds on the sands of the Kalahari in Botswana or in half-abandoned collective farms on the plains of Russia, while others are born into the families of educated bureaucrats in Gaborone or newly rich entrepreneurs in Moscow. Some people’s parents belong to the Paris financial establishment and other people’s parents are immigrants housed in a suburban banlieue. Isn’t it true that some children (a multitude of them) spend their childhoods in the misery of the slums of Mumbai, and others among that city’s business elite? The former are indeed born “with saddles on their backs” and the latter “in boots and spurs.”
The fact that we are already formed in this way when we enter the world for our longer or shorter lives is not the realization of some futurological prognosis bordering on science fiction. We are shaped from birth as a result of the prevailing economic relations, social structures, and political alignments. People will continue to be born with saddles or in spurs, not because of undesirable genetic manipulation, but because of a shortage of the desired economic and political manipulation.
New academic disciplines are emerging as a result of the high rate of scientific and technical progress and of the growing interdisciplinary trend. Progress in research and innovation will lead to further specialization, and some theoretical and applied subjects of particular importance to development will become autonomous. The megatrends at the intersection of nature, society, technology, and the economy mean that university websites will feature new departments, just as they have added ecology, biotechnology, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, space science, and molecular biology in our lifetimes. Global Studies will be a new, independent field focusing on the interdependence of ecology, culture, politics, and economics in the context of the world system. It could just as aptly be called Applied Planet Studies, or APS, because it is the science of our earth.
In some of the areas where great progress will be made, necessity remains the mother of invention, especially in relation to new energy sources and new energy-intensive technologies. Nonrenewable resources will run out and the energy crisis will grow more acute. Much will happen in materials engineering and nanotechnology, a discipline so new that many computer spell checkers still highlight its name as a mistake. New terminology will keep springing up to describe the progress in technology and organization.
Management is a word to bear in mind, because the management of flows and assets—human, real, financial, and informational—is (p.397) tremendously significant, especially in the countries that lag behind. They can make great strides in organizing the processes of production and distribution, and in managing personnel and companies. This is what was once referred to as noninvestment progress, which gave the misleading impression that the situation could be improved without putting anything into it. Nevertheless, these kinds of changes can enhance efficiency at less cost than creating new production capacity or implementing new technology.
When you wait hours or days for a rickety bus or truck in Benin or Eritrea, you find yourself bursting to improve the management of the transport system, which is a bottleneck to economic expansion, and you sometimes forget that the lack of management is itself a mode of management. People there still need to learn that time counts. In the most technically advanced societies, time counts for more than money, and the situation is reversed. Making use of the growing resources of free time, which can be spent—or wasted—on consumption, education, culture, entertainment, recreation, or sport, is a looming management challenge.
Many things will happen in electronics. Some innovations will enhance the quality of life, whereas others will be senseless gadgets. An MP3 player or iPod, or whatever their successors are called, with sufficient memory could store more music than anyone could listen to in a lifetime. Devices of a similar size will receive hundreds of TV channels, although no one can say what the purpose of this might be. In a quarter of a century, the computers in homes and offices will be able to match the performance of today’s supercomputers. This progress remains incomplete, however, because there is no prospect of moving sidewalks to deliver pupils to my old school.
The Internet will be everywhere, all over the planet and beyond. It is our eleventh compass point as we survey the horizon of the future. It is also the most perfect instrument ever invented for observing our planet, the things that happen, and why they happen, in both the figurative and, to an increasing degree, the literal sense.
The Internet will soon make it possible for us to see everyone, or at least to know where everyone is. It’s like Skype, where we can keep track of everyone who makes their profile visible. As I write these words, there are 21.4 million users. In thirty or forty years, it will only (p.398) take one mouse click to locate everyone, and to establish wireless contact with almost everyone. Of course, the world has been wireless throughout almost its entire history. You could contact anyone, as long as they were within shouting distance.
The computer revolution of the latter twentieth century has been referred to, with good reason, as the information age. Many still lack both the key and the door that it was supposed to open, but there is no doubt that this revolution has added greatly to the wealth of large parts of the globe. It centers on digitalization—the use of numerical codes for text, images, and sound—and the unprecedented ease of storing, processing, and using all kinds of information in education, science, technology, culture, and the economy.
The coming decades will see the wireless revolution, a continuation of the information revolution in a new phase. Wireless data transmission will make it possible to access digital information about almost everything at costs so low that, in marginal or growth-related terms, they will be practically insignificant.
There are parallels between the present and forecast introduction and dissemination of wireless technology and the wide application of electric motors in devices ranging from coffee grinders to sewing machines to elevators in the first half of the twentieth century, and of computers on a mass scale in devices ranging from radios to streetlights to aircraft in the second half of that century.21 The analogies are a guide. Knowing what has already happened tells us a lot about what will happen.
What will the consequences be? Most of them will be beneficial, some will be horrific, and all will come as a shock at first. In Poland, we once had a single telephone booth for a whole housing project. In addition, the wires were sometimes cut. Compare that to the universal prevalence of cell phones in every home today, and the fact that no one worries about wires (although there may be occasional problems with cellular coverage). In parts of the world many homes still do not contain even a cell phone, but new services, particularly in relation to personal finance, are springing up even where wireless communication is still a novelty. In Africa, cell phones help make up for the inadequacy of the banking system. Quasi-banking services are available by cell phone in South Africa and even in the Congo. Subscribers can key in short text messages that enable them to check their accounts, open new ones, make transfers, and pay some bills. In Kenya, only about 3 million people have (p.399) bank accounts, but a million use the wireless M-PESA payment system. In Botswana, 17 percent of the people who do not have bank accounts have cell phones. Wireless technology can play an increasing role in overcoming the limitations of the hard infrastructure and the unavailability of traditional services. This will have a positive impact on economic efficiency and living conditions.
The results of the coming “revolutions” will be diverse, depending on the usefulness of wireless data transmission in production, distribution, and consumption. Generally speaking, improvements in the quality of management will help to raise efficiency by making operations less material- and energy-intensive, while streamlining inventory management and optimizing the use of human resources. Sectors of the economy aspiring to the status of knowledge-based will make rapid progress. However, there will also be much to learn. Just as it is possible to flounder under piles of paper containing superfluous information, it will also be possible, and much easier, to find oneself swamped by unneeded words, figures, responses, and images in digital form. This theme will continue to appear in comedy films, and we will laugh in 2036 the way people laughed at Chaplin’s Modern Times in 1936, even if the director is not Chaplin. Great filmmakers will still come along every once in a while.
Some devices will communicate with each other constantly and exchange information to improve their functioning. We will not have to carry documents around, because they will go wherever we go. We will still have to walk to school, but the bookbag will be lighter, or transmitted wirelessly. As we shop, our refrigerator will inform us what we are out of, and the store shelves will place orders with the wholesalers, who in turn will inform the manufacturers on a running basis about which products are in demand. Doctors will know the answer to the question “How are you?” before we enter their offices, but whether patients will feel any better is another question entirely. Many people will furnish themselves with gadgets, now available only to the best-equipped armies, that allow them to monitor events and communicate in real time. No cats or dogs will ever get lost, because we will always know where they are.
It will also be difficult for people to get lost, and this will come as a relief to some and an annoyance to others. The explosion of wireless data transmission of all kinds will alter our approach to ethical quandaries. Intimacy, privacy, and the protection of personal information will (p.400) not be the same. Even today, when the police stop a drunk driver on the Helsinki-Turku highway, they can immediately find out not only how much alcohol he has in his blood, but also, through a wireless connection, how much he earns. A portable device uses these parameters to issue a ticket on the spot, reflecting both the gravity of the offense and the miscreant’s ability to pay. This places three familiar entities—the traffic code, the cop, and the ticket—in a new light. Now people decide in the presence of other people to furnish, process, and make use of information. What will happen when devices communicate with each other, omitting the human intermediary? Who will watch the watchers—other devices? We can see how much there is to do in terms of technology and logistics, and of institutions and politics.
Like fire, Google is a powerful instrument given to humanity free of charge. It is far more than a search engine. It combines satellite photography and satellite navigation systems to make it possible to locate every street and lane in larger cities, and to an increasing degree in hamlets and bergs as well. Before long, we will be able to check who is out in their backyard, in the same way that villagers used to check to see whose chimney had smoke coming out of it. Special programs use satellite imaging to track ice shelves and the effect of their dimensions on global warming. We can monitor refugee camps in Darfur, on the border of Chad and Sudan, which is important for bringing public and political pressure to bear on the international community to force the government in Khartoum to do something about the humanitarian crisis.
We already take for granted the useful applications that Google calls “gadgets.” New ones are being added all the time, and some of the names indicate how incredible they are. Not long ago, they would have been something out of a fairy tale. Once people scanned the horizon to see what the weather was going to be like. Now 3D Weather Globe informs us in real time about the current conditions, and even the forecast for the next few days. This is useful for frequent travelers. There is also a global clock that tells us where it is night, where the sun has risen, and where it hasn’t set yet. Sitting in front of the computer, we can glance to the left and see what the weather is like on the campus in Aarhus, and then glance right to check whether the sun has come up in New Zealand yet, and whether we should send that e-mail.
In the old days, people would go out onto the front porch to “have a look around.” Now more and more people do the same thing as they sit (p.401) in front of their computers and surf the net. This is no substitute for actually traveling and taking in the complexities of a place, but it is a far cry from running your finger over the map, which is all that most people could do in bygone centuries. Paradoxically, owing to nonlinear development, young people in some parts of the world where education is limited have seen a computer, but have never seen a map. It is hard to believe, but up to 25 percent of the people on earth still do not know what their planet looks like, because they have never seen either a map or a globe.
The really surprising thing is not the rate at which new applications appear on the Internet, but how quickly we take them for granted. It is still hard for many of us to imagine that while the students of the coming generation are sitting in the lecture hall, they will have all the world’s knowledge at their fingertips, thanks to wireless devices. Within a few decades, everyone will take that for granted. What was impossible on a mass scale even a few years ago is now run-of-the-mill, like watching movies on YouTube or downloading songs on iTunes. Innovations in both the official and the illegal sectors make it all possible. Now there are eMule or Morpheus, which let users download “anything that can be stolen”—music, movies, TV shows, computer programs, and games. The net has become the horn of plenty.
Through the Internet, committed nongovernmental and supragovernmental organizations will militate for specific political actions. This kind of pressure will escalate and come to hold an increasingly powerful position relative to governments. Not controlled by governments, parties, or capital, the world-wide net will call the tune for governments and companies on a planetary scale, the same way that countries reacted in the last century to the demands of rebellious populations. If Victor Hugo had published Les Misérables 200 years later, in 2062, it would surely contain descriptions of the Internet as well as the street barricades. Since Hugo won’t be around, someone else will have to write the book. Great writers will still come along every once in a while.
There will be a lot of books. The Internet will no more drive them off the market than television eliminated movies, or film superseded the theater. However, people will have less time to spend reading because they will be spending more time online, especially in the more highly developed countries, where the danger of being swamped by digital information will be greatest. There will be more and more words, but images will have more impact in relative terms. In societies (p.402) on the way up, including those just shaking off illiteracy as they overcome poverty, reading will flourish. The book will have a second birth, and the Web will be a help, rather than a hindrance.
The Internet has already changed the lives of millions, to the point where many cannot imagine existing without it. For better or for worse, some are so absorbed in the Web that they cannot see the world beyond it. Or rather, they see the world almost exclusively through the Web, which is like food or air to them. Or perhaps like a narcotic—although the Internet is not the worst thing a person can become addicted to.
Over the next few decades, the Internet may change the lives of billions, rather than mere millions. If the dream of the “$100 computer” comes true, then vast numbers, especially the young, will have access in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Students in schools and universities will go on-line, and others will follow. The most important thing is that the Internet will mean that there are more students, because it will be a powerful educational instrument in countries that will fully deserve the appellation “developing.”
If conservative political circles in rich lands and the ossified bureaucrats and experts in international organizations feel that additional aid to poor countries is a waste of money, there is one more way to prove them wrong. Supporting the development of the Internet in less-developed countries is a great challenge, but also a great opportunity. It would drive up demand for hardware and software, most of which originates in more-developed countries, and the sales would stimulate additional growth there. The project is worth one more per mille, a tenth of 1 percent, of the GDP of the advanced countries. That would make a total of $8.00 per month—not much at all, but it adds up to a lot.
Unfortunately, the Internet also remains a playground for hackers and other pranksters who use it in ill will. The aggression sometimes includes the theft of private data, or simply its blind destruction. A single intrusion can result in the larceny of a mother lode of data, as happened to the Monster.com job-search site. Every user is prey to constant attempts at hacking by way of malware distributed over the Web. At this very moment, I have received an e-mail with a malicious-looking attachment from one Johann Brookes, who for all I know may be sitting in Nairobi or Nizhny Novgorod, or even Warsaw. The subject line reads, “What’s happened last night.” What happened? I spent last (p.403) night writing about the Internet. Large-scale Internet crises do occur, and they threaten the functioning of information and shipping systems, companies, and even whole countries. This is a completely new aspect of security, which will become more important as our reliance on the Web grows. Mass attacks, capable of paralyzing the network, will grow more common, and protection against them will cost more. Some hard terrorism will turn into soft terrorism. Actually, it has happened already.
We will have to learn how to deal with this abuse, and we will have to pay the price. This is another example of what happens when knowledge is not rooted in the proper cultural, institutional, and political soil. You have to know something to create malware, put other users at risk, and establish yourself up as a hacker, gangster, or terrorist on the Web. Some experts sit up all night trying to figure out how to deal with the new threats, whereas others sit up writing new viruses or trojans. The Internet security company Sophos estimates that more than 8,000 new trojans are released into the wild every month. This is how knowledge and practical skills can serve undesirable ends. We are all going to have to learn new forms of online personal hygiene if we want to stay clean, safe, and healthy.
The Internet is wonderful, but it is hardly a wonder cure for all our ills in this world on the move. Lenin was wrong when he said that communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country. The enthusiasts of the “new economy” are just as wrong if they think that market liberalism plus the power of the Internet equal perfect capitalism—which is something that does not exist and never will.
Conflict and security, war and peace—these words could describe the whole history of humanity. There has never been a year without conflicts and battles somewhere that, at least from the individual or local point of view, constituted wars. There have also been long periods that were relatively more peaceful, when there was less fighting and more security. From this point of view, we—the overwhelming majority of us who came into this world in the middle of the twentieth century or later—have been lucky. What about the future? That is the final, twelfth compass point on our survey of the Twelve Great Issues for the Future.
We have managed, for these last sixty years and more, to avoid thermonuclear total war, even without the world government that Einstein (p.404) said, this time erroneously, we needed. More surprisingly, the outbreak of a nuclear conflict was regarded during the presidency of Ronald Reagan as more likely than the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, there was not a single serious scholarly work dealing with the economic consequences of the fall of the USSR, but Washington used taxpayer money to finance interdisciplinary research on the economic aftermath of nuclear war. As a result, we now have some fascinating works22 on the specific kind of economic development that begins from zero.
The fact that we have made it this far does not at all guarantee that our luck will hold. Nevertheless, the odds are close to negligible. People aren’t that stupid. However, if terrorists obtain atomic weapons, they will use them. People can be pretty stupid.
For the foreseeable future, this is the greatest threat, as long as there are terrorists and as long as there are ABC weapons, the weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons will exist forever, so the question is: “How long will terrorists be around?” Not forever, we may hope, but they will not leave us alone during our lifetimes, and quite possibly for a few generations yet to come. Before there are fewer terrorists, there will be more. There are already far more of them than there were in 2001, although no one knows how many.
I was in New York right after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. At the time, no one there realized what the long-term consequences of the attack on the World Trade Center would be. No one thought that the misguided American response to this enormous crime would lead to an intensification of the terrorist threat. Success in protecting the territory and citizens of the United States from this barbarity has not ensured the same safety at other points scattered around the world. If this is what the aggressors wanted, then they have been successful.
Aside from the fact that millions of people around the world have been terrified, the costs of operating a range of enterprises, delivering many services, and governing countries have risen. These costs are sometimes invisible, but they are staggering. Politicians and journalists, who sometimes act in their pursuit of sensation as if they were the unwilling spokespersons of the perpetrators, have done more than the terrorists themselves to keep whole societies in a state of fear. They threaten and blackmail people into irrational behavior. All of this has a negative impact on business, and thus another point on the probable terrorist agenda has been achieved.
(p.405) The response to terrorism must rely above all on comprehensive, globally coordinated, long-term action to remove the causes, rather than armed combat against the symptoms and effects. Action against the effects is also needed, but it cannot solve the problem, even if that action were far more adroit than it is in reality.
In 2005, on the anniversary of the attack on Atocha station, the international association called the Club de Madrid held a conference on Democracy for a Safer World. The king of Spain, Juan Carlos, headed the list of experts and heads of governments. Madeleine Albright, President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, told me that America’s reaction to the threat had unquestionably made world terrorism worse. Zbigniew Brzezinski elsewhere also claims this to be true. Both of them, indeed, served under Democratic presidents, whereas the “War on Terror” was declared by a Republican president. Nevertheless, most serious analysts and independent academic experts shared their views.
Some markedly partisan political scientists showed considerable obstinacy in campaigning to insert a passage in the declaration issued by this influential assembly to the effect that poverty is not a factor that encourages international terrorism. It took a concerted effort to prevent this explicit assertion from appearing at the very beginning of the economic section of the declaration. The incident tells us a great deal.
No one has come up with a better form of preventive action than balanced economic development on a global scale. If it did not weaken the resolve of the terrorists themselves, it would at least undercut their social support. Development shortfalls are surely some of the strongest inducements to international terrorism. Less injustice in sharing the spoils of growth, less social exclusion, liberalized migration and cultural absorption of ethnic minorities, and international relations founded on a basis of partnership all have great significance.
This may not be a totally effective antidote to the pathology of extreme religious fundamentalism and nationalism, but it would go a long way toward undermining the rigid social and political attitudes that encourage organized terrorism. Terrorism itself has gone international, and perhaps even global. It makes use of science and the Web. It cannot be defeated by force, because it is different in scale from the Baader-Meinhof Gang and Red Brigades of the past, or the dwindling power of the Sendero Luminoso, the IRA, and ETA. It must be fought using methods that require us to understand that poverty is (p.406) public enemy number one for humanity, including the wealthy. We should declare war on poverty around the world, in order to avoid another world war.
There is no doubt that the greatest institutional threat we have inherited from the previous century is the denationalization or privatization of war. The demon has slipped the leash of state control. Just as it is always a problem to get the genie back into the bottle, we are left wondering what to do about this most real of all our problems. It does not occur in highly developed countries with strong institutions and adult cultures. In those countries, the state keeps the army under control and finances it from tax receipts. It is increasingly rare for armies to take over and install undemocratic regimes, as they frequently did not long ago in the less-developed states of Africa and Latin America.
One of the most flourishing places in Central America today is Costa Rica. That country has abolished its army but does not feel insecure. One of the least flourishing countries in Southeast Asia is Burma, where a dictatorial military junta controls the state and the economy. Burma is not secure. Things are worst where the institution of the state itself is in disarray or collapse, as was the case in Afghanistan until recently, in Nepal for a time, and in Somalia all the time. Security requires a strong state and, above all, strong institutions. A lot of effort will have to be put into reinforcing the state and its institutions in numerous countries.
Quasi-local conflicts have not only a negative impact on regional security, but also the potential to spread like cancer through the entire world organism. Things can be kept under control when the countries involved are relatively small, but if the countries are larger, like Pakistan or Nigeria, then the consequences for world peace are more dire. We see interdependence, one of the prime traits of globalization, at work here. To avoid big wars, we must constantly prevent small ones.
What makes things more difficult is the fact that, against the background of the general neoliberal euphoria over trade liberalization, the armaments trade has been deregulated to an irrational degree. The dismantling of the state monopoly may be irrational, but it has been lucrative for the lobby concerned. The production of and trade in military equipment and ammunition have been privatized. The removal of the state institutions that supervised these matters is an impediment to coordinated international action. The illegal arms trade is flourishing, despite the fact that manufacturing tanks, antitank weapons, and machine (p.407) guns is not the same as counterfeiting and smuggling Gucci handbags, Nike shoes, or Lanvin ties.
Paradoxically, things are more dangerous when democracy is flourishing than when it was restricted. Instead of one state-run cold war, we have a plethora of privatized mini-wars. It will be all the harder to remedy this situation because there are more actors on the scene, the lines of conflict are less clear, and the issues are less transparent. It is no surprise that a militarily powerful Russia finds itself unable to deal with the Chechens, and the assembled might of NATO, with the superwealthy United States in the vanguard, cannot finish off the Taliban in grindingly poor Afghanistan.
The sooner we reverse the proportion between expenditures on armaments and war (including the numerous “peacekeeping missions,” of course), and appropriations to co-finance the development of the poor lands, the sooner the root causes of these smoldering or blazing armed conflicts will begin to disappear. This will not be easy, but it is possible. We can find the examples we need in Central America and Indochina.
Having no illusions is a good thing. The powerful military-industrial complex and the associated political lobby (not to mention, once again, the generously sponsored media) are not something dreamed up by pacifists and populists, but hard facts. This sector’s special interests are also hard. What would happen if peace broke out? If there were no threats and conflicts, there would be no demand and no sales, no income and no profits. We need to remain fully aware of the political economy of potential and real wars. For societies and humanity, they are a nightmare. For the death merchants, they are business. The nightmare is business. The conundrum cannot be fully removed in a generation or five generations or, in all probability, ever. Believing otherwise would be utopian. However, the harmfulness of the syndrome can be alleviated, and we must strive to do so in the decades and centuries to come.
Therefore, we have reasons to be afraid, but we should not go mad. Will we be taking off our shoes at airport checkpoints until the end of time? Type terror into Google and you get 87 million links. Type in peace and you get 189 million. Type in war and you get 532 million. It is interesting, and also a little sad, to see how many synonyms for war we have created in all our languages over the centuries, and how few for peace. It will be interesting to observe which of these two lexical families, war or (p.408) peace, expands the most during the coming century. I think that it will be peace, in the end. Economic development will play a crucial role. The dilemma of war and peace will remain indissolubly connected to the dilemma of stagnation and development.
All of this can be seen, clearly or as if through the fog, on the horizon of the future. The essence lies in the fact that, as we edge forward over time, we see something new, something different, each day. The face of this world on the move will keep changing. The way we live will also change, but not as rapidly as it has in our time. Haven’t we been lucky! The changes in life style over a mere two generations connected with the increase in longevity, the doubling of the population, urbanization, the ubiquity of air travel, the car, TV, the telephone, the computer, and above all the explosion of the Web, have been epochal. Never before has so much changed in such a short time, and it will probably never happen again—at least not on such a mass scale, so universally, and so powerfully felt day in and day out.
A hundred years from now, the political map of the world will look pretty much the way it looks today. The things that had to change have, for the most part, already changed. There won’t be any caliphate, the unitary Islamic state. That’s another pipe dream. Some countries will break up—Iraq soonest of all, followed by a few in Africa and South Asia. Others may shift their borders, mostly in Africa as a way of correcting the political legacy of colonialism and adjusting in a more sensible way to the dispersion of ethnic groups, rather than continuing to follow the old imperialist straight lines that carved up the land like pieces of a cake. Most of these corrections will be handled through negotiation and territorial compensation.
Few states will merge into new entities. It might happen in some parts of the Middle East, where the success story of the United Arab Emirates is a model, and perhaps among some of the African countries that feel themselves strongly bound together in cultural terms. There will be new federations, and the regional integration groups will be far stronger than at present, especially the Asian economic community and the South American alternative to North America’s NAFTA. Australia and New Zealand, looking back nostalgically on the times when they were, first, the remote antipodes and, later, pro-Western allies of the United States, will be drawn into the orbit of Asia, and more specifically (p.409) of China and Japan. Those two countries will continue their peaceful rivalry. The United States will still be a superpower, trying to keep up as China and Europe pull away.
Human migration will continue on a larger scale. Many Asians from the south and east of the continent will settle in the territories of the Russian Far East, in the Primorsky Krai (which, surprisingly, had several times the present population density 2,000 years ago) and above all Siberia, where life will become increasingly tolerable. When I asked the rector of the university in Birobijan, the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Russian Far East, whether English was popular in his foreign language department, he said that two different languages were particularly in demand: Hebrew among those who had made up their minds to leave, and Chinese among those who had made up their minds to stay.
Far from causing wars, migration, such as the great migration from Africa and the Middle East to Europe, will be a key way of avoiding them. Europeans will also be on the move, and in every conceivable direction. They will even be going to Siberia—voluntarily, for a change. Although it will still not be Paradis, millions will move to Africa, and especially the regions with attractive natural surroundings, just as today’s city dwellers move to the country because logistics have improved and their jobs no longer tie them to the inconveniences of urban life.
Culture will become more heterogeneous. As a result, there will be far more tolerance for the values of the people who are moving around the world in such numbers. Personal contact will foster this tolerance, and so will the media. Contacts will be a vehicle for cultural and economic progress, and a factor that blurs cultural traditions. We can already see this today, when many local cultures, often referred to as “folk,” are slowly receding into oblivion, or being cultivated by amateur groups and as tourist attractions. This is what has happened with the Highlanders in Scotland and the Gypsy caravans of Central Europe, with the Turkish villages and in Tibet. It will happen everywhere.
It will be brighter, especially at night. There will be much more light, although it won’t necessarily be the “Mehr licht!” that Goethe called for on his deathbed. Almost everywhere, electrification will be more intense than it is today in heavily populated areas. Evenings will last longer in places where they now end when the sun goes down. One of the things that strikes you most when you travel around today is the intensity of the electric lighting in North America, and its absence in (p.410) Africa. When your airplane is approaching LAX, everything is lit up. The urban agglomeration beneath you uses up several times as much electricity as the populous country of Ethiopia, where the descent to Bole airport takes place in nearly total darkness. There will be fewer and fewer places where you can admire total darkness even for a brief moment. The vast majority of people living in affluent countries have never experienced it, and they never will unless they happen to find themselves in the vastness of the Sahara, the Australian Outback, the Mongolian steppes, the Siberian tundra, or the middle of the Pacific, the places where there is not a single light bulb or a single campfire for 100 or more kilometers around, and where all the notebooks and satellite phones are turned off.
For several years, the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale has used scores from 1 to 9 to measure the degree to which artificial lighting and its reflections impinge upon the darkness.23 Copernicus and his contemporaries all over the world could wonder at a sky with a score of 1, as can the Barre family in Niger today. New Yorkers have a sky with a score of 9. On a clear night in Manhattan, you can see less than 1 percent of what the Wappinger Indians saw there almost 400 years ago, before they sold the island to the Dutch for 60 gulden. Aside from distant parts of Alaska, it is never darker than 2 anywhere in the United States. Even the most remote mountain meadows in Poland are 3 or brighter because of reflected urban light, the glow over small towns, or the glare from village homesteads.
A hundred years from now, 95 percent of humanity will never see what our forebears saw every day, or rather every night, and which some people are still lucky enough to see, even though they may not even be aware that it is possible not to see what “everybody can see.” While vast areas of the earth 100 years from now will not be as brightly illuminated as the United States is today, the great majority of the earth’s inhabited space will fall between 5 and 9 on the Bortle scale. Only rarely will it be 2 to 4, and expeditions to enclaves with a score of 1 will rank among the greatest of tourist attractions.
This is a matter not only of losing the chance to see something that is absolutely beautiful, but also of understanding the psychophysiological consequences of a state of affairs that upsets the natural biological rhythm of life. Turn out the lights in your room and see what you can see. It’s not dark, even when you’re asleep, and people sleep far better in total darkness.
(p.411) A hundred years from now, some species of animals and plants will have disappeared, and so will some ethnic groups and languages. Languages will vanish especially quickly. The linguists who say that we lose two languages a month and that the only ones left in the future will be English, Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic24 are exaggerating, perhaps deliberately, as a way of making people aware of the problem. However, it is a fact that some languages and dialects are now spoken only by a handful of people.
A favorite anecdote among travelers relates how the great German explorer Alexander von Humboldt was wandering through the South American jungle when he reached the village of Maypures on the banks of the Orinoco. He heard words from a language he did not recognize—it turned out that a parrot was chattering away. Humboldt asked the Indians what language that was, and they replied that it was Atures, but that only the bird spoke it. The last people from that ethnic group had died several years before Humboldt arrived in 1800.
Today only 1,500 Karo people live on the banks of the Omo in southwestern Ethiopia. The last words in the Kerek language will be uttered before long on the Bering Sea in Chukotka, because fewer than thirty of those who speak it are still alive. There are villages in Papua New Guinea where only a dozen or so of old people gossip around the fire in their mother tongue. The same is true in the highlands along the border between Laos and Vietnam, or in the jungles of Borneo. Three Aborigines who speak the Mati Ke language are said to be alive on the northern coast of Australia. Before long, like the last tree on Mauritius, the last member of another tribe will be gone, and there won’t be any parrot to come to the rescue.
Ludwik Zamenhof (1859–1917) envisioned a beautiful utopia in which everyone communicated in the simple, global language of Esperanto. That dream will never come true, but the effects of the divine retribution for the human intrusion into heaven are slowly being reversed. We built the Tower of Babel and had our tongues confounded, but the number of languages we speak is on the decline. At the same time, more and more people will speak English, although that language will never become the McLanguage that some people fear. It will grow even more dominant, however, especially because it has finally won the long war with French over the right to be the planetary lingua franca. Above all, it has become the language of business, and science and technology, including economics. Millions of people will (p.412) know their native language, but also regard English as their own, just as they can regard the world as their own.
There will be fewer languages but more words. The interpenetration of cultures, and above all the progress in science and technology, will enrich language. In the Renaissance it was mainly literature—poetry and drama—that gave birth to new words. (Shakespeare is credited with introducing more than 2,000 new words to English.) Now, this is the role of science. Thousands of words will come into use that can be found in no dictionary today. In economics, most of them will have to do with finance and management. These words do not exist yet because the phenomena and processes they will describe do not exist yet, or are not known.
The basic data and analyses will still be categorized by country, but more and more of them will refer to new profiles that cut across the traditional national breakdown. New measures of economic progress and social prosperity will emphasize nonmaterial values and the increasing worth of the natural environment.
Some countries will rank among the most highly developed even without growth in output or migration, because they have a clean environment, something that cannot be transferred like physical goods and some services. These countries will become wealthy without having to undergo environmentally destructive industrialization or create a knowledge-based economy that, in the present sense of the concept, is more than they can afford. Their asset will be their attractiveness to tourists. There are triads of these countries: Ecuador-Peru-Bolivia, Namibia-Botswana-Zambia, and Laos-Cambodia-Burma. Mongolia will also be wealthy. It will be the first country in history to become a national park in its entirety, or perhaps rather a park for all humanity.
Although the value of world output will be many times greater, it will weigh less and less in the literal sense. Similarly, our output today would weigh less, if it could be placed on some sort of cosmic scale, than the output of a few decades ago. One reason for this is the decreasing material-intensity of production and the growing share of services in GDP, but even more important is the fact that value comes from the knowledge built into products, rather than the material processed to make them. A 136-gram iPod is worth more than five tons of coal. A 2.5-kg. MacBook Pro costs as much as 25 tons of cement. The “heavier” the knowledge, the lighter the GWP (Gross World Product), and the higher the GNH (Gross National Happiness) and GWH (Gross World (p.413) Happiness), at least to the degree that these indexes reflect education and the level of cultural attainment.
There will be new common-currency zones. Now we have four of them basically—two in Africa, one in Europe, and one in America. A century from now, there may be more than a dozen, including a zone in Central and South America that uses the dollar. The American currency will be the world’s third choice. The main reserve currency will be the yuan, which will also circulate in several other Asian and African countries. The euro will be in second place. Not only will it last out the century, but it will circulate in more than fifty countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The global, our world currency, will still be on the drawing board because the world economy won’t yet be rational enough for it. That day may never come, for the same reason that Esperanto never really caught on.
The world economy will be far more integrated than at present, but it will still not make up a fully integrated organism on the model of the classical national economies. Nevertheless, more and more business will be done across borders that are so invisible that people are no more aware of crossing them than they are when they drive from Belgium into the Netherlands today. Yet there will still be borders marked with barbed wire and guard towers where armed sentries keep watch.
The world institutional order will be different, but still far from perfect. We will still complain about how it doesn’t meet “the challenges of the modern world.” However, the world will be more balanced from the point of view of political and economic forces, and the influence of countries or groups of countries on the course of events.
The far more functional entities that emerge after the liquidation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will be based on more democratic and pragmatic development economics, instead of using high-sounding slogans while serving the political interests of the wealthy states. The new headquarters will be in Asia, above all because that is where one of the centers of economic thinking, especially of the theories of growth and development regarded as the mainstream, will be. China will use part of its reserves as seed capital, and as an inducement for others to join the new organizations.
World public opinion will count for much more, not that this will necessarily be to the liking of the national politicians who trumpet their love of democracy. However, the power of nongovernmental organizations and the technical capabilities of the wireless network will (p.414) simply make it easier to ask people what they think. It will no longer be possible to ignore this voice, the way today’s rulers do. We will still be a long way from a true planetary democracy on the principle of one person, one vote, because those votes will continue to be tabulated, at least informally, within the context of material status. On the global scale, we will be closer than ever to universal suffrage, but we won’t be there yet.
The world will re-enact the twentieth-century American longevity explosion, which took the country from life expectancies of 48.3 years for men and 46.3 for women in 1900 to 74.2 and 79.9, respectively, in 2000. The average planetary life expectancy will be about eighty years, and in the richer countries it will be more than ninety. Will personal and collective happiness keep up?
“May you live 100 years” will go from a conventional but sincere wish in some countries to a hard-headed short-term prognosis. There will be more retirees in the postproductive phase of their lives than children and young people in the preproductive phase. If three German women continue to give birth to four children between them, then that country, chosen here as an example, will be unable to sustain its level of population without relying on increased inward migration, especially from the Islamic countries, with their pro-procreation attitudes. This will have far-reaching consequences for models of consumer behavior, on the one hand, and public finances and the savings market, on the other. The Swiss may ban minarets from their Alpine landscapes because they regard them as unsightly, but they will be unable to vote down the higher Muslim birth rate. They will end up having to accept mosques with minarets disguised to look like church spires.
We will treat cancer with tablets and regard it the way we regard tuberculosis today—being diagnosed with TB was once a death sentence. AIDS will have the status that syphilis has today—syphilis once decimated whole populations. When we catch cold, the standard treatment will still involve aspirin and a week in bed. Medicine will be very expensive. A healthy lifestyle—preventive medicine, treatment, and all the varieties of active tourism, recreation, and sport, not to mention healthy food—will be one of the biggest items in domestic budgets in affluent countries.
Unfortunately, new diseases will appear, and they will be terrible. We cannot even imagine how or when they will attack us. Preparedness for outbreaks will cost as much as keeping the peace, but it will be worth paying for, because this is a matter of life and death.
(p.415) We will work four days a week, although those who wish will try to work seven. Getting to work will take twice as long as it does today. Fewer people will commute, because more will work at home. Good urban and suburban mass transit will be back in favor. There will be less leisure time on working days, but more in the week as a whole. Because leisure time is consumption time, it’s a good thing that people will have more money to spend. We will earn four times what we earn today. An average annual pay rise of 1.4 percent, in real terms, will do the trick, or 10 percent every seven years. It works out the same over 100 years.
We still won’t be able to satisfy our needs, which will outstrip income. A long-term development strategy should not only worry about creating conditions for a steadily rising level of output, but also take into account a realistic appraisal of consumer appetites. There comes a time when those appetites must stop escalating. The wealthy and even the middle class will count their money differently—evaluate it differently, in fact—once they learn to factor in the monetized value of free time. Today it is hard to get a reliable answer when you ask how much an hour of free time—free of work or commuting to work—is worth. In the future, everybody will know the answer.
In 100 years, we will react to the water bill the same way we react to soaring electricity bills today, because water will be more and more expensive. Climate tariffs will go from being symbolic to commercial and will constitute an important source of revenue for localities with green grass and clean water. The taxes that pay for public goods will be viewed correctly as expenses for essential services that the private sector cannot supply. An awareness of the necessity of such services will go hand in hand with greater acceptance of the way they are paid for—through taxes. Politicians and commentators will still see the fiscal system as profitable, at least for themselves.
An enormous part of our household budgets will continue to be wasted on covering the cost of advertising, which makes up part of the price of everything we buy. On the macroeconomic scale, there will be controversy over whether advertising should be treated as a cost of production or as part of what is produced. Perhaps a portion of this expenditure, as evidently wasteful, should be deducted from indexes of well-being, if not from GDP. We will also pay more for analyses prepared by companies that monitor advertising in order to help save consumers from being buried under the marketing avalanche. Like (p.416) advertising today, in some ways, consumer protection will be both a great line of work and a powerful political force. A hundred years from now, people will be amazed at the things that ad agencies used to get away with, just as we shake our heads over the fact that the faithful used to pay good money for indulgences in the Middle Ages.
Nationalism will not disappear from economic policy, although patriotism will contain relatively more cosmopolitanism than protectionism. “Motherland” will count for less among the social values, and “children’s land” for more. That is, the rising generation will count for more than nostalgia for the past. Investing in education will seem more important than providing social welfare for the elderly, who will have to look after themselves through the highly developed system of private insurance. The young, in turn, will save more for the whole of their long old age and less for their series of brief vacations. They will have more time to save, because the average retirement age in developed countries will be closer to seventy than to sixty. Nevertheless, retirement will last longer and be healthier, and therefore happier, than today.
The data in the statistical annuals and economics textbooks will be updated on demand, wirelessly, and it will no longer be necessary to get up from the armchair where one is reading to check definitions on the Internet, look something up in an atlas, or compare the statistics in the book with the latest original sources. Access to all information from every point on the face of the earth will be technically feasible.
As individuals and societies, people will have a qualitatively different approach to questions of pollution and environmental destruction. Everyone will agree with the need to clean up the environment, and there will be powerful, almost unanimous pressure for action. Attitudes to smokers changed rapidly in the course of a few decades, and polluters will be seen the same way in the future. We can already see things starting to happen, but the changes will be epochal before long. Today most of us would find it unthinkable to dump garbage in our backyards, up against the neighbor’s fence. Over time, individuals and more and more nations will regard it as equally inconceivable to contaminate the environment anywhere, in any way. This is a cultural change that will have far-reaching cultural and economic implications.
Bringing the climate under control to a certain extent will help ward off the danger of natural disasters, but the poorest regions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, will be even more vulnerable than at present to (p.417) shortages of water caused by meteorological anomalies. The effects of climate change that we are beginning to feel today will be coming under partial control. To the satisfaction of some, however, the changes wrought by warming will make it possible to exploit resources that were previously inaccessible. In particular, the dissolution of the north polar icecap will make it possible, and profitable, to extract resources from the Arctic Sea. The United States Geological Survey estimates that up to one fourth of the undiscovered energy reserves lie there.
Just to be safe, Russia carried out a bold, technically impeccable operation in which it deployed the two Mir deep submergence vehicles (mir means in Russian both “peace” and “the world”) to the bottom of the ocean, 4,200 meters beneath the North Pole, where members of the Russian team planted a titanium national flag, just as the Americans planted the Stars and Stripes on the moon in 1969. The difference is that no one will be bringing any raw materials back from the moon even 100 years from now, because there are not enough of them there to make economic sense, and above all because it will still be technically impossible.
It will take an hour and a half to fly from Moscow to San Francisco. Getting to the airport and going through security will take longer than the flight across two continents and the ocean that divides them: a five-to-six hour trip, with only ninety minutes spent in the air. Instead of credit cards or passports (which will still exist, and have more importance than ever), we will simply have to touch a finger to a screen or look deeply into one of the electronic eyes that follow us everywhere. People in uniform will frisk us, and specially trained dogs will sniff at us. There will be electronic dogs too. They might be better at sniffing, but not at anything else.
It will not be necessary to write text messages or e-mails. All we will have to do is say what we are thinking, and the message will reach its recipient, who will immediately hear or see us. At home, we will be able to watch every movie ever made and listen to concert performances of every conceivable musical work, merely by choosing from a list on the digital console. We won’t even have to touch anything if we don’t want to. Saying the title out loud will be enough. Say “Haydn’s The Creation, with John Eliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Soloists” and you will be listening to it. Say “Antonioni’s Il deserto rosso” and you will be watching it. Say “Pink Floyd’s The Wall” and you will be seeing and hearing it. The fee will be automatically deducted from (p.418) your online bank account, so you can cherish the illusion that it doesn’t cost anything.
All of this is only for some. The rest will live in poverty. Even if it looks, in some places, like today’s middle-class existence, it will still be poverty. Many people will continue to subsist in abject misery and only live half as long as the average in the richest countries, despite significant declines in infant and child mortality. They will have no safety net to protect them if they cannot find a job, fall ill, or grow old. Relatives and kindly neighbors will still bear the entire burden. Neither hunger, nor epidemics, nor illiteracy will go away. Great numbers of people will be unable to speak English or the regional lingua franca, always vital for business and especially trade, like Swahili in East Africa, Hausa in Nigeria and the adjacent countries, French in the Sahel, or Hindi in the Indian subcontinent. They will not even know how to read in their own language.
For great contingents of humanity, the standard and style of life will change not at all, or only to a minimal, imperceptible degree: simple, total reproduction. As it was, so it will be. Many people today stand in the same relationship to their own forebears of several generations ago. The physical and biological clocks are running, but the hands of the cultural and economic clocks remain immobile.
A significant portion of humanity will have neither the need nor the financial means to gain access to the information that exists. The need must be stimulated, and the means created. Therefore, the distance separating this segment of humanity from the most highly developed societies will be greater than at present, despite all the progress lying before us. The “$100 computer” exists, with its tremendous potential for qualitative change in the poorest countries, but it cannot overcome the lack of roads and power lines, or inadequate education and hygiene.
Although some slums will disappear, others will arise. Some metropolises will thrive and others decline. The face of this world will change, literally. Its more developed part, the “north,” will be more and more colorful. Many cities will look like Los Angeles, a megalopolis where “people of color” already account for over half the population. This ethnic blending will enhance the cultural landscape, and may well enrich the social fabric (although it could also lead to antagonism). This is the great unknown: How will all these people choose to function? Will it be like Odessa a century and a half ago, before the shock (p.419) and shame of the first pogrom, or like contemporary Western cities—certain incidents notwithstanding—such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen? Or will there be new fodder for the proponents of the “clash of civilizations”? The American model of cultural mixing seems most promising. Although there are also shadows looming over this model, as shown in recent disturbances in Los Angeles and some other cities, it still has an enormous amount to teach the rest of the world, including Europe. The greatest of these lessons is mutual understanding and tolerance, where minorities melt into the mainstream culture while enriching it with their own.
We will manage to dodge the Very Big War, which could kill 300 million people in a single day—equal to the entire human population a thousand years ago. Nevertheless, small wars will break out here and there every few years, on all continents, although things will be worst where there is poverty in terms of output and wealth in terms of resources. After all, some use must be found for the weapons that the rich countries produce; the best solution is to sell them, and test them from time to time, in the poor countries that will be able to afford this idiotic expenditure for the next century, and the centuries after that.
Even if all this comes true, who among us today cares what the world will be like in 100 years, since we won’t be here? A hundred years ago, who cared what the world would be like a century onward—in other words, today? Few, if any, cared. Yet everything happens so fast. The next “now” comes along faster than a frame in a film. This is the pulsating reality of our lives. Some among us remember grandparents born as much as 150 years ago. The grandchildren of the youngest among us will read these words 150 years from now. That’s three centuries! You only have to focus your vision and your thoughts in one direction and the other, and you start to see everything. It is like being on all fours again—such a stable posture, but so uninteresting—and then standing up straight and having a good look around the horizon. There really is a lot to see.
It’s always better to see than not to see. To understand more, rather than less. To imagine things accurately, rather than not at all. So many mistakes in the future can be avoided, just as our forebears could have saved us so much trouble. They weren’t up to it. They didn’t do it, and the price had to be paid. They didn’t think in a comprehensive, long-term way. They didn’t make comparisons. They didn’t move around (p.420) enough in time and space. If they had been better at doing that, we could have had it better. If we’re better at it, then they—those generations to come—will have it better, and will have less to complain about. It won’t matter if they don’t put up any monuments, but it will be nice if they don’t have any reasons to curse us.
And then, there will be less dung, and many more flowers.
(1.) National Intelligence Council, Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council’s 2020 Project. Based on Consultations with Nongovernmental Experts around the World (Washington, DC, Nov. 2004), www.foia.cia.gov.net
(2.) William Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002); The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (New York: Penguin, 2006).
(3.) Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)
(4.) Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker, “How Much Is a Seat on the Security Council Worth? Foreign Aid and Bribery at the United Nations,” Journal of Political Economy, 114, no. 3 (2006): 413–51
(5.) The members of ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations, are Burma (Myanmar), Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
(6.) All but one of the former Soviet Republics are in the loosely affiliated CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), with the exception of the three Baltic States—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—that have joined the E.U. Georgia left the grouping after the recent military conflict with Russia. The members of the CIS are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
(p.439) (7.) The member states of Mercosur are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The affiliated members of the associated free-trade zone are Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
(8.) The members of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, are Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
(9.) The Southern African Development Community has fifteen members: Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, The Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
(10.) The members of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinee, Guinee Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
(11.) In 2007, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka were joined as members of SAARC (The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) by Afghanistan.
(12.) The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG), usually referred to as the Gulf Cooperation Council, groups together Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
(13.) The member states of the E.U. are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Croatia and Turkey, negotiating their accession, have associated status.
(15.) Donelli H. Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jorgen Andrews, The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (London and Sterling, VA: Earthscan, 2004)
(16.) See General Accountability Office, U.S. Congress, Uncertainty About Future Oil Supply Makes It Important to Develop a Strategy for Addressing a Peak and Decline in oil Production (GAO-07–283), Feb. 2007.
(17.) Graham Hancock, Lords of Poverty (Nairobi: Camerapix Publishers International, 2004)
(18.) Orhan Pamuk, Snow (New York: Knopf, 2004), p. 240
(19.) David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900 (London: Profile Books, 2006)
(p.440) (20.) Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992). pp. 9–10
(21.) “A World of Connections: A Special Report on Telecoms,” The Economist, April 28, 2007
(22.) Economic Behavior in Adversity (Brighton, UK: Wheatsheaf Books, 1987)
(23.) In 2001, John E. Bortle, the retired fire chief of Westchester, New York, proposed a system for measuring the darkness of the night sky on a scale of 1 to 9, which has gained acceptance among amateur astronomers. Bortle is a columnist for Sky & Telescope magazine, www.shopatsky.com.
(24.) Mark Abley, Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages (Montreal: Vintage Canada, 2004)