A recent book by Joel Kotkin that is receiving critical acclaim is entitled The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 (Penguin Press, 2010). You can read two reviews of the book below and decide if it sparks enough interest for you to read it. I have chosen not to do so, and of course, it will not be featured at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.
I enjoy being upbeat and optimistic. I like sunny forecasts. But, this is a genre of books that I find myself increasingly uninterested in. My major reason for doing so is that the future is difficult to predict, and very few who try to do so in writing ever get it right.
I guess I lost my enthusiasm for this type of book with The Long Boom: A Vision for the Coming Age of Prosperity by Peter Schwartz, Peter Layden, and Joel Hyatt (Basic Books, 2000). When I read and presented this book, I was pretty excited about its content. Ten years later, we can see that the impact better leads to a different title: the short boom. All the predictions were fun to read and energizing to visualize. But, much of what we read there just did not materialize.
Admittedly, books that predict the future are difficult to write. There is certainly a skill in examining trends and patterns, then using sign reasoning to leap forward to visualize another time and place. There are plenty of people who get energized by these titles. I just happen not to be one of them.
I remember the old phrase, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” Unfortunately, writing about it does not create it. It simply writes about it. They write. We buy. Then, we get let down.
I want to be clear. I am not criticizing Kotkin’s book. I haven’t read it. I don’t plan to. I can’t criticize a book that I haven’t read. All my best to him for his success with the book. I think that there will continue to be enough interested readers to keep it on the best-seller list for awhile.
You can make up your own mind about what you think of this genre of books.
After you read the reviews below, let’s talk about it.
From Publishers Weekly
Kotkin (The City) offers a well-researched—and very sunny—forecast for the American economy, arguing that despite its daunting current difficulties, the U.S. will emerge by midcentury as the most affluent, culturally rich, and successful nation in human history. Nourished by mass immigration and American society’s proven adaptability, the country will reign supreme over an industrialized world beset by old age, bitter ethnic conflicts, and erratically functioning economic institutions. Although decreasing social mobility will present a challenge, demographic resources will give the U.S. an edge over its European rivals, which will be constrained by shrinking work forces and rapidly proliferating social welfare commitments. Largely concerned with migration patterns within the U.S., the book also offers a nonpartisan view of America’s strengths, identifying both pro-immigration and strongly capitalist policies as sources of its continued prosperity. However, Kotkin tends to gloss over the looming and incontrovertible challenges facing the country and devotes limited space to the long-term consequences posed by the current recession, the rise of India and China, and the resulting competition over diminishing energy resources. Nevertheless, his confidence is well-supported and is a reassuring balm amid the political and economic turmoil of the moment. (Feb.)
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Assuming that America will increase to 400 million people in the next 40 years, Kotkin divines demographic consequences in this catalog of predictions. Optimistic in contrast to elite opinions on the Left and the Right that see America in decline, Kotkin’s views are not certitudes: the author regularly cautions that if certain things are not done, such as ensuring an economic environment of upward mobility, his vision of the future may not come to pass. Caveats dealt with, Kotkin essentially asks where the extra 100 million will live. Because some of them are already here—those born or who have immigrated since the early 1980s—Kotkin tends to extrapolate present trends. After a career-starting stint in the big city, family-raising aspirations send people to the suburbs and, increasingly in the Internet-connected world, to small towns and rural areas. Describing specific locales, Kotkin anticipates a revitalization of older suburbs and even a repopulation of the Great Plains. As sociological futurists engage with Kotkin’s outlook, the opportunity for critics lies in the author’s lesser attention to the environmental and political effects of population growth. –Gilbert Taylor