The Next 200 Years

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

The Next 200 Years is a report of work at the Hudson Institute on long-range predictions of population growth, economic development, energy, raw materials, food, and environmental problems. The next two hundred years, in the view of Herman Kahn and his associates, will bring solutions to all of these issues. The current apocalyptic literature forecasting environmental crises looks to the immediate future and reflects an unjustified panic. The longer perspective of this book provides its authors with hope for the future. As such, this report of the Hudson Institute not only attempts to provide predictions for the future, but also takes issue with many current accounts of our present environmental crisis. Particular criticism is provided for Dennis Meadows’ book, The Limits to Growth and Barry Commoner’s The Closing Circle.

The thesis of the Hudson study is that200 years ago almost everywhere human beings were comparatively few, poor and at the mercy of the forces of nature, and 200 years from now, we expect, almost everywhere they will be numerous, rich and in control of the forces of nature.

In 1976, America’s bicentennial, America was midway between these alternatives. The authors anticipate that the future will permit almost all nations to develop large enterprises to solve their basic economic and social problems, and that industrial and technical improvement will make life’s necessities readily available to all. The study refers to these characteristics as manifestations of “super- and post-industrial societies.” Such a future will only be possible if economic growth continues. Prohibiting growth for the sake of the environment will leave the poor of the world forever in poverty and will result in an exacerbation of hostilities between the poor and the rich. The authors anticipate that economic growth if left alone will eventually slow to a low or no-growth rate.

Based on this perspective, population will continue to grow until it reaches a world level of about fifteen billion people. Population growth will not remain exponential as it presently is, although population increase will continue at a high rate for several generations before beginning to flatten out as a consequence of urbanization, affluence, improved health, birth control, and other factors.

The Kahn study identifies four basic interpretations of the future. The first is the neo-Malthusian that argues that in the future population will grow more rapidly than food supplies and result in starvation and catastrophe. The position of the guarded pessimist is somewhat more sanguine than that of the neo-Malthusian, but still is convinced of much famine and hardship for the future that will eventuate in disaster. The third position of the guarded optimist recognizes a future of hardship that will result in eventual success in bringing about a world of abundance. The “Technology-and-Growth enthusiast” anticipates the future with much optimism and expects success and abundance. The Kahn book maintains support of the third or fourth alternatives and contends that the future will be bright only if technology and industrial growth are permitted to continue uninhibited.

Because of the Hudson Institute assumption that the future will only be satisfactory through industrial and technological growth, all limited-growth or no-growth futures are rejected as are the works of those writers, such as Meadows and Commoner, who wish to place limits on industrial expansion. If growth is not curtailed, the Hudson study projects a future of abundance, a stable population in which most people “will do things for their own sake” and will dedicate their energies to game-playing and leisure activities, and in which the most important problem will be boredom. In short, the future of Kahn’s book is distinctly utopian. All this is possible, Kahn argues, only if the current atmosphere of self-defeat, doubt, and desire to limit growth do not interfere. These ideas are worked out in detail as the authors discuss a series of specific problems.

In considering population growth, the Hudson study argues that an analysis of population growth patterns in perspective leads to the conclusion that exponential population rates are slowing as a result of rising living standards. The authors believe that developing nations are achieving and will soon attain higher living standards. The rising living standards will result from the impact of the industrial nations on the developing nations. The Western nations have been creating higher living standards for developing nations through the use of the labor and natural resources of the developing nations, by exporting technology, by providing examples of institutions and techniques, and by providing foreign aid. In other words, all of the exploitative aspects of historic colonialism are viewed by Kahn and his associates as productive of assisting the developing nations to improve the lives of their people. If the West continues its pattern of growth, it will literally pull the rest of the world to abundance with it.

Advocates of the “limits to growth” philosophy believe that continued growth is dangerous, that available resources and energy will be used up, and that future growth should be prohibited or curtailed. The Hudson Institute report disagrees with this view, arguing that the population rate will decline, thereby reducing the growth of demand, and the growth rate will automatically slow—without establishing limits. Moreover, once necessities are provided for all people, the demand for luxuries will moderate as people will come to revere genuine value and cease to be self-serving and greedy. The conclusion is utopian.

The Hudson Institute study is equally utopian when it addresses itself to energy. The oil crisis, brought about by the Middle East Organization of Petroleum...

(The entire section is 2407 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

America. CXXXV, August 7, 1976, p. 61.

Best Sellers. XXXVI, September, 1976, p. 201.

Christian Science Monitor. LXVIII, July 13, 1976, p. 26.

Commentary. LXII, December, 1976, p. 85.

Critic. XXXV, Fall, 1976, p. 73.

New Yorker. LII, June 28, 1976, p. 91.