Dhaka, Bangladesh
The world in 2020: May be better than we expect

The world in 2020: May be better than we expect

By Yen Makabenta

I have spent the early days of the New Year doing research, in my library and on the internet, on the new decade, and what it perhaps portends for our lives, our nation and the world. Like others, I have long had a fascination with futurology, the study or prediction of the future of mankind. My first surprising find was an essay by the sociologist Daniel Bell, who headed the Commission on the year 2000 of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The commission was composed of 40 "experts on the future," nearly all of whom were of social or natural scientists. Professor Bell titled his essay 'The Year 2000." He opened it with with a brilliant quote from St. Augustine, who wrote: "Time is a three-fold present: the present as we experience it, the past as memory, and the future as a present expectation." My second find was a stunner: I found nestled in one of my library shelves a book that bore the title, "The World in 2020: Power, Culture and Prosperity," by Hamish McRae (Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1996). You can imagine my delight in finding the book right in my library. I started reading the 300-page volume almost immediately, and I am now almost finished reading the whole thing McRae is an award-winning journalist and an associate editor of the Independent newspaper in London. Writing in the1990s, well before the arrival of 2020, McRae has written an astonishing and most enlightening book. One reviewer gave it the ultimate endorsement: "If you read one book by a futurist this summer, make it this one." Another critic said: "The World in 2020 radically changed the way I view this country and our economic prospects." McRae noted that exercises in futurology normally take either of two approaches: 1) scenario building, where different possibilities are outlined and the reader is left to choose between them; and 2) an opinionated view about the future which readers are obliged to accept - the future will be wonderful or it will be dreadful, and all the evidence is piled to support the author's view. In his futuristic book, McRae tries to find a middle way, first by looking at the world as it is now; then, by examining the various forces for change and trying to judge how these forces will alter the world over the next generation and, finally, by drawing attention to some choices the industrial world in particular has to make. Three developed countries and next developed The author focused his attention principally on the present developed countries and those which are likely to become developed within the next 30 years (counting from 1994). This meant focus on the three main economic regions of North America, Europe and East Asia. He said he had to treat in a relatively sketchy manner the other regions like Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. "These areas," he explains, "are of course extremely important in human, social and political terms, but they are not yet (with the exception of the Middle East's oil fields) particularly important as economic producers." What makes countries grow McRae opens 2020 with a part one entitled "What Makes Countries Grow." He contends in this section: "The success or failure of any country over the next 30 years hinges on growth. By the next generation, some countries are likely to have improved substantially both their standard of living and their quality of life; some will have muddled along, becoming a little richer but feeling distressed that they have in relative terms slipped back, and some seem destined to fail with all the misery that falling living standards inflict on their people. "To judge sensibly which countries will flourish and which will fail, it is necessary to explain the present and the recent past: why some countries have managed to outpace others, not just in improving their living standards, but in increasing their power and influence in the world. This involves examining the competitive position these countries start from now and making judgments on the efficiency of their societies as a whole. "It is important to assess the very different approaches to social organization evident in North America, Europe and East Asia." McRae puts much emphasis on efficiency not to claim that efficiency or the the growth that it delivers is the only thing that matters. That would be absurd. He believes that if economic growth is to increase human well-being, it must also take into account social and environmental concerns. Growing richer is not just a matter of improving living standards, buying consumer durables, or spending more on education and health. Growth is also power, for it changes the world political order. Motors of growth The old motors of growth - land, capital and natural resources - no longer matter. Land matters little because the rise in agricultural yields made it possible to produce more food in the industrial world than it needs. Capital no longer matters because it is at a price, almost infinitely available. And natural resources in recent times have fueled economic growth in only a tiny handful of countries, mostly in the Middle East. These quantitative assets which traditionally made countries rich, are being replaced by a series of qualitative features, which boil down to the quality, organization, motivation and self-discipline of the people who live there. The level of human skills has become more important in manufacturing, in private sector services, and in the public sector. The motors of growth will be efficiency in service industries - the 70 percent which is not agriculture or industry. More disciplined society McRae also notes that countries that wish to grow richer will find it easier to grow if they are able to maintain a more disciplined society. There is little doubt that order has become a more important element in the competitive mix than it used to be. The key to economic success in the future will be to find a way of balancing group responsibility and individual creativity. Being efficient at different types of economic activity is a necessary condition for prosperity and influence in the world. Growth is insufficient. Enduring prosperity requires societies which are stable, ordered and honest. What might go right It is probable, says McRae, that most countries will be far better governed than any previous period of history. Indeed, if countries were weighted by population, this may lately be true. While the quality of governance in most Western democracies may not seem noticeably higher than it was in the 1950s, this is not where progress is being made. The good governments may not be better; but there are far fewer dreadful ones. Better governments worldwide will produce better results for the world as a whole. As countries are becoming better governed, their people are becoming better educated too. There are more adults with some form of education than at any other time in history. Next, the triumph of the market system over central planning means that the old economy will be far better than at any time before. World growth will no longer be dragged down by communism's misallocation of resources. The world also has far better technology and communications than ever before. These interact. If something happens in one place, this is quickly replicated in other places. Technology is advancing all the while; each year, each day advances are being made somewhere in the world which will ultimately make the lives of people materially better. Finally, the world is healthier. Most people live longer, are better off and generally have better health than at any previous stage in human history. McRae caps it all with this: "I believe general progress will continue, "We know what economic system works best. "We know which forms of government are, over the medium term, most likely to work best. "The dominant nations of the world know that by cooperating they can improve opportunities for all if they are not so arrogant as to assume that they always know best."

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