“What Happened for…” – Part 1: “The Long Boom” 40 years later
First in a Series
The Long Boom: A History of the World’s Future, 1980-2020, by Peter Schwartz, Peter Leyden, and Joel Hyatt (Basic Books, 2000)
We are now at the end of The Long Boom. This one of the first books that we presented for a book synopsis. Several clients found it to be useful, and so, we went several places to talk about it. Today, we will talk about this book, and how much of what the authors predicted actually came true. This is the first part of a series, called “What Happened for….”
Peter Schwartz is co-founder and Chairman of the Global Business Network. Author of the international bestseller, The Art of the Long View, he lives in Berkeley, California. Peter Schwartz is an American futurist, innovator, author, and co-founder of the Global Business Network, a corporate strategy firm, specializing in future-think and scenario planning. As of October 2011, he has served as Senior Vice President Strategic Planning for Salesforce.com.
Peter Leyden, former managing editor of Wired magazine and special correspondent in Asia for Newsweek, has written and spoken about technology, economics and politics since the mid-1980s. He lives in Berkeley, California. He is the founder of Reinvent, a company that drives conversations with leading innovators about how to build a better future, and creates events and media to spread their ideas. He’s also a frequent keynote speaker on new technologies and future trends, working through Keppler Speakers.
What we thought in 1999
“Imagine this world as the authors imagine it, viewed in hindsight from 2050: We humans have fixed the damage we had done to the environment, without denting anyone’s standard of living. Cars now run on hydrogen fuel cells refilled twice a year. Machines the size of molecules and 120-year life spans are realities for today’s George and Jane Jetsons, and nothing is out of the realm of possibility not cold fusion energy, not anti-gravity devices, not cooperation with alien life forms. This is a mind-boggling book. These authors see the present moment as a watershed in human history. Emerging technologies and new modes of deploying human capital, they argue, are in the process of bringing about an unprecedented leap in the progress of civilization. If we can all get it right, the result will be good times throughout the planet we currently inhabit and beyond. There will be bumps in the road the overthrow of Saudi Arabia’s government by Islamic fundamentalists will cause another oil shock in the economy, for instance. But an evolving civilization, in which all peoples are bound together by common interests and increasingly shared prosperity, will be able to work through such rough patches, in the view of Schwartz, Leyden, and Hyatt.” (BookPage, Review by Thomas Wood, October 1999)
“A book for anyone seeking an uplifting view of the future. The authors argue that the world is halfway through a “long boom” of 40 years that started in 1980. The second half could be more vigorous than the first, achieving robust global growth rates ranging from a plausible four to an imaginative six percent a year. Billed not as a prediction but as a desirable vision, the book identifies the technological and economic possibilities and warns of the political obstacles that need to be overcome. It argues that innovation is proceeding apace, especially in computation, communication, biotechnology, and even nanotechnology — controlled processes taking place at the atomic level. Meanwhile, the mobilization of technology, particularly fuel cells, can avoid the environmental costs of more rapid growth. In turn, economic growth can lift millions into an emerging international middle class, creating a new global identity that coexists comfortably with traditional cultures. Writing from the perspective of historians in 2050, the authors project a big picture stripped of the momentary tribulations that dominate daily life and preoccupy contemporary writers.” (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2000)
What we now know
The U.S. is officially in its longest expansion, breaking the record of 120 months of economic growth from March 1991 to March 2001, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Starting in June of 2009, this record-setting run saw GDP growing cumulatively by 25%, far slower than previous expansions.
While the unemployment rate has dropped to 3.6% in May, the lowest since 1969, job growth has been relatively slower than during other postwar recoveries. (CNBC, July 2, 2019)
“Nearly every country confronting the coronavirus pandemic sees a recession in its future. A staggering 3.3 million unemployment claims were filed last week in the United States alone. Economists are predicting that the damage to the global economy could last months if not years, despite bailout packages and massive stimulus efforts like the $2 trillion intervention approved by Congress this week….The coronavirus, though, is a force unto its own, and it is overwhelming even the strongest and most privileged of countries. Australia, along with many other parts of the world, has come to a virtual halt, shuttering its borders and restricting domestic travel….Every day brings another round of huge layoffs. On Thursday, Flight Center, a major travel agency, fired 6,000 people. Two of Australia’s largest retailers also said they would close for at least four weeks, leaving 15,000 more people out of work — on top of tens of thousands more from smaller businesses, many of whom have never been unemployed….Before the coronavirus, about 700,000 Australians were receiving unemployment benefits, known as job-seeker payments. Over the next few months, some economists say, that number could jump to 1.7 million — and the country’s social safety net is already buckling under the load. ( New York Times, March 27, 2020)
What this means
Forty years have passed. Did the boom last? How did the world change? If so, it is for the better?
Under any definition, this was clearly a boom. The Clinton years were the greatest and profound in the era. Yet, in spite of the successes, the White House was only able to hold on for eight years. After Gore was defeated, Bush was elected, and the country turned to ignite support against terrorists. Citizens were outraged with revenge, and the country adopted defensive strategies.
There were setbacks We lost our leading status in science, medicine, and technology to Japan. The price of oil rocketed to new heights, with fees over four dollars a gallon. We have not taken care of the environment. Global warming is stronger than ever, and while people give lip service about it, is not that very high in the priorities that politicians talk and campaign about. The crisis in health care shows no progress. America still has the world’s greatest health care that very few people can use.
We learned to fight against threats to cybersecurity. We found ways to limit illegal immigration in a humane way. We found worked around efforts to undermine our political enemies. Expenses against the budget became out of control, especially during the coronavirus, where businesses closed, and many people were out of work. But until recently, we had very low employment, and as I write this today, as an example, Texas has 450,000 new jobs, just waiting to filled.
Yet, America stayed strong. The creative mind has never been stronger. The GDP has shown we are productive. When we are safe to work again, there is no reason that think that we will not have good recovery,
Perhaps a look of the world shows that it has been a great division between those “have,” and those that “do not” – for many things. It is not just America. Looking back 40 years, that is the biggest difference in the world. We have more babies, but are less able to bring them in a world that they can be proud of, and prosper. Like much of the boom, we find that “less” is not always better than “more.”
I invite comments on this post. I am interested in your reactions.
In my view the US and the World are better in most respects. Some expectations have not been met and may have been too idealistic and unrealistic. In most things, we have exceeded my expectations. I am grateful to have lived to see things I never could have dreamed of for myself, my family, the US and most people around the world. My disappointment is that that our values as Americans have declined and our polarization has increased. We do not seem to be the UNITED STATES of America that I am proud of and fought for, but a divided nation, not agreeing on basic values of right and wrong. As a grandfather of ten, I agree with Karl, that while they may have much progress economically and technologically ahead for them, I fear for them culturally. Also that they will have more in some ways than my generation in a material sense, they will not have the benefits of the strong “Can Do” and “American Way” that I have known. I am grateful and feel privileged to live in the best country in the world and so are my grandchildren! I am also grateful for the privilege of having known Karl and Randy and the books and learning they have shared with me and others!