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Issue No. 4 (May 1999) -- Mark Satin, Editor
A positive vision
Thomas Friedman’s fine book on globalization, featured in RAM #2, is full of constructive policy proposals on everything from achieving an ecologically “sustainable” globalization, to “democratizing education globally,” to guarding against “bad lenders.” What it lacks, though -- which David Korten’s anti-globalist book has in spades -- is an overriding positive vision to accompany its proposals.
This summer a remarkable book was published that offers just such a vision: Peter Schwartz, Peter Leyden and Joel Hyatt, The Long Boom: A Vision for the Coming Age of Prosperity (Perseus/HarperCollins, 336 pp., $26). Not incidentally, Friedman went over the manuscript.
The authors are themselves part of the new global culture they’re talking about -- Schwartz is chairman of the Global Business Network, a collection of forward-thinking CEOs and policy analysts from around the world (www.gbn.org); Leyden is the former managing editor of Wired; Hyatt teaches at Stanford Business School.
I met Schwartz once, 20 years ago, in my New Age political organizing days. I hitched to Palo Alto to recruit him, and was thrilled to discover that -- unlike many of the other “New Age gurus” I’d been meeting -- this one had intellectual substance. All his writings till now have been proprietary (for clients only) or for professional futurists. In The Long Boom the world finally gets a chance to take his measure.
It’s not inevitable
The authors are convinced that global economic integration -- begun under Reagan and Thatcher, and aided and abetted by the new networked computer technologies -- is powering economic growth to such an extent that it could reach a 4-6% rate worldwide over the next 20 years. That’s what they mean by the “long boom.”
But there’s nothing inevitable about it. According to the authors, the biggest question before us today is do we want a high-growth global economy, or do we want a slower growth rate (as do virtually all environmentalists, and most liberals).
The authors are passionately in favor of high-growth, but not for the conventional Gotta-Get-Mine reasons.
They want it because they’re convinced that -- given the realities of the world we live in -- only rapid growth will elicit the economic resources and political pressures needed to resurrect basket-case countries, adopt ecologically benign technologies (already doable; the authors cite the Lovinses, RAM #3), and let women get out from under worldwide.
So the economic vision is high-growth, and the U.S. is unapologetically called upon to lead the way. And the cultural vision is that of a unified “global civilization,” to which all nations and peoples would contribute their special strengths.
Underlying that vision is a confident, can-do attitude -- an attitude that’s as alien to traditional Baby Boomer activism as suits and ties -- an attitude that says, Hey, all things considered, the world is moving in the right direction! If we run into trouble, then “move full speed ahead -- forward through the transition, not backward.”
There’s also a politics, which the authors introduce as the “New American Ideology” but which they later explain is simply arising first here. It’s a politics that’s economically and socially libertarian, but also believes that “good government can provide services that the market simply cannot provide. [Long Boomers] understand that referees are needed in the marketplace. . . . Long Boomers are even fine about paying taxes -- they just want to be sure the money is going to be well spent.”
Finally, there’s a meta-politics, which is summed up in ten “guiding principles” (none dare call them the New Ten Commandments) -- Go Global, Open Up, Let Go, Grow More, Always Adapt, Keep Learning, Value Innovation, Get Connected, Be Inclusive, and (of course) Stay Confident.
Making it vital
All of this comes alive in the authors’ presentation. Not only is the book clearly and simply written (if Friedman is Newsweek, this is Reader’s Digest), but it runs on three parallel tracks.
Mostly there’s the exposition. But there are also six long letters -- spaced 10 or more years apart -- from a guy who suffers through a lot of the stresses and enjoys a lot of the exhilaration of the Long Boom years. There are also eight documentaries in the voice of “your host,” Salma Aboulahoud, looking back with pride on “The Making of the Long Boom” from the year 2050.
These techniques not only help you feel out the Long Boom, they allow the authors to introduce shadow-sides and policy proposals that might otherwise be a drag on the text. I especially liked Salma’s description of the “Islamic backlash” from the early 21st century -- the horrific techwar the big Persian Gulf states directed against Western corporations and regional secular governments is right from the National War College’s playbook (see p. 5 above). And I was moved by Salma’s account of the global “E-Commerce Tax,” a painless little tax that generates $300 billion a year by 2009, and every penny goes to fund investments in the poorest nations.
The most galvanizing section, though -- and, I suspect, the section dearest to the authors’ hearts -- is the one on the New Global Middle Class. Our key task, they claim, is to build that class up from maybe one billion people today into a global super-majority, as it is in the U.S.
It’s not just that more people should prosper, they say. It’s that when you’re middle-class you do a lot of things right: you place an extremely high value on education, you want an increasing amount of personal and political freedom, you value moderation in all things. . . .
The authors call the global middle class the “plane people,” because they seem to be flying from country to country all the time (600 million international tourists a year now -- 1.6 billion projected by 2020). And guess what? “The plane people, the new middle class, are becoming one.” They’re getting their news from CNN and the New York Times web site; they’re buying similar products and wearing similar clothes. “They seem to have just as much in common with [their fellow international passengers] as they do with their compatriots back home. . . .”
Sounding for the first and last time in this book like the old Sixties idealists they are, the authors declare this “a beautiful development.”
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