infinitii–Friedman predicted the radical change in America’s (and all other countries’) immigration policy to come at around 2030. I agree with this assessment; I think that’s a reasonable trend, especially in the industrialized countries where the native birthrates are falling. I can see this being a real problem for countries like Japan, which is very much averse to accepting immigrants. I also agree with Friedman about the imminent decline of Russia and China. They won’t go quietly, but I have to agree that I see internal issues pulling them apart.
Where I have some problems with the book is Friedman’s failure to go into why the EU apparently ceases to exist–he doesn’t even touch on it, but talks about Germany, Greece, Poland and Great Britain acting independently by the middle of the 21st century! He dismisses western Europe’s involvement in geopolitical affairs of the 21st century by saying, “They won’t have a taste for it.” Sure, the EU has its cohesion problems, but I can’t see them standing aside and letting the United States become a global hegemon without at least a word or two of protest. Also, Friedman tosses in climate change as something of an afterthought in the book’s epilogue. He says it’s really happening, caused by humans, but that the coming end of the population boom will cause a dropoff in the demand for hydrocarbons that will render climate change moot. However, while his own book suggests that population growth is going to drop off, he doesn’t suggest that populations themselves will drop drastically in the next fifty years. He also suggests that we’ll be heavily reliant on hydrocarbons for that time period. So it doesn’t add up: he accepts that use of hydrocarbons is right now causing climate change, but believes that forty or fifty more years of continued use of them won’t exacerbate the problem. If he dismissed climate change outright, his argument would hold up. But it sounds to me like he just doesn’t feel like addressing a reality that he’s acknowledging. I don’t mean to turn this into a climate change debate–even if you happen to be a climate change skeptic (I’m not,) Friedman admits that he isn’t one, but somehow believes that climate change is just going to stop.
I’ll have to check out the Fuller book. I’ve never read him before, but I’ve heard many good things.
BrainGlutton–Absolutely right. If someone had written in 1809 a book called The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the Nineteenth Century, how likely is it that the author could have predicted the impact that railroads would have on daily life? Electricity? Dynamite? Sure, the steam engine was known, and I have no doubt someone was at least talking about building something that would become the locomotive, but even if the author predicted the development of the locomotive, what are the odds he could have foreseen railroads linking distant cities, and providing intracity mass transit?
Which leads to another problem I have with this Friedman book. He calculates specific developments of future technology–space-based military platforms, military body armor, electricity transmitted to earth by microwaves from orbiting solar collection panels–and figures they’re inevitable. He admits that there are inevitably unintended consequences to new developments, technological or otherwise, but his real sin is a calculus that during wartime, technological advancements will predictably speed up. That might have been the case in the past, but while we can all stand to learn from history, we can also learn from the warning that every stockbroker is instructed to remind his or her clients of: past performance is no guarantee of future results.
This is what I find frustrating about reading predictions of the world to come after our time, and what I think I’d find delightful about predictions made a century ago. I’ve seen illustrations of docking facilities for transatlantic dirigible flights, and air-based superhighways for atomic-powered flying cars. There’s a certain delight in seeing how wildly wrong someone in the past might have predicted the future. Those predictions, be they right or wrong, provide a fascinating window into the way these people saw the world. I remember reading about a play that was performed in the early 1900s about the distant year 2000, after women had gotten the right to vote. A woman had gotten herself elected mayor of San Francisco, and her whole administration was threatened to fall apart because she had fallen in love with a prominent city council member who opposed women’s suffrage–or something like that. A cautionary tale, warning us of the folly of the weaker sex leading the stronger! I’m fascinated by things like that, too.
Another compelling book was an atlas I used to peruse at the Penn State library, when I used to work in its map room. The atlas was published by the German Information Office in New York in the late 1930s. Its purpose was to explain why Germany had been defeated in World War I, and why its current alliance with the Soviet Union rendered Germany undefeatable in any future conflicts. A fascinating read, and one that I’d love to get my hands on.