Megachange? Megamistake!

Ian Christie and Andrew Curry write:

Reading the Economist’s book Megachange:The World in 2050, edited by Dan Franklin and John Andrews, brings an increasingly heavy heart. If you’ve missed it, it is a collection of twenty essays by assorted contributors, and I suppose one can’t fault them for their ambition, since the Franklin-Andrews duo, as editors of the Economist’s annual World In … prognosis series, normally look just the one year ahead. But the lens they turn on 2050 is a surprisingly narrow one.

In case you’re wondering if you need to spend the thirteen pounds ($20) on the hardback, here’s a quick ten-point guide:

  1. Capitalism is supremely innovative, efficient, adaptive, empowering and enriching.
  2. It always has been and therefore always will be.
  3. Inequalities are good, or at least inevitable.
  4. Liberated wealth creators will always generate new value and everyone will benefit as it trickles down.
  5. Global environmental risks don’t exist.
  6. Or if they do, they are exaggerated.
  7. Or if they aren’t, we can adapt anyway.
  8. At any rate, we can be confident that they don’t matter to the upward sweep of capitalism and technical ingenuity.
  9. More tax cuts, privatisation and de-regulation are essential.
  10. I teach you the Super-Man (Nietzsche).

It’s not just us. Will Self was unimpressed too. .

But it’s one of the sad facts about futures work that there’s always a ready market, not to mention lucrative speaking opportunities, for those who say that everything’s going to turn out fine: think of Peter Schwartz’s ill-advised ‘Long Boom’ scenarios in 1999, or George Friedman’s more recent Next 100 Years. And think, in sharp contrast, of the way in which The Limits to Growth scenarios were pilloried for being pessimistic and unrealistic when they were published in 1972. Look again with the benefit of 30 years hindsight (opens pdf) and their model turns out to have been almost completely on the money in terms of industrial production and environmental harm since then. And that should make us afraid, because their particular ‘business as usual model leads to industrial collapse sometime in the 2020s.

Of course, this view of the possible future is notable for its absence in the pages of Megachange. But by discounting the alternatives, such mega-myopia reduces our chances of preparing for some of the more dismal futures which could lie ahead – or even taking action now to try to avert them.

If you feel your book collection needs a work on futures with the term ‘Mega’ in the title, you’d be a lot better off with Stephen Schnaars’s Megamistakes, a thoughtful, provocative and sobering analysis of all the ways we can get long range socio-economic forecasting badly wrong. Schnaars has plenty of warnings for the likes of the contributors to Megachange – including, ‘Avoid Technological Wonder’.

Ian Christie used to work at The Henley Centre. He is now Research Fellow, Centre for Environmental Strategy, at the University of Surrey.

1 Comment

  1. Goos Eilander

    A very well written blog on this book by Ian: having been in the business of trends for the last 30 years myself, I had great troubles finding the content of Megachange 2050 credible. It just can’t be.

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