In his youth, Schwartz was a student radical. His enthusiasm and idealism have metamorphosed into advocating certain key technologies and arguing the following: a) these technologies are responsible for the present and future success of the Long Boom, which we have been enjoying (and which is now a trifle shaky); and b) these key technologies can serve society well only if we apply them with the appropriate values. Together, it is argued, emerging technologies have the power to create global prosperity, save the environment, emancipate women, eradicate want. Even if we do not share the authors’ upbeat assessments, the fine details of their argument are full of gems and gold pieces. Only the cobra is missing.
The authors are inevitably most bullish about the Internet, which they call “The Great Enabler.” When PCs were joined together in a World Wide Web, a “new paradigm,” long emergent, took its most influential form. Schwartz has been an advocate of new paradigms since his early work at SRI International in the late 1970s. Indeed, scenario planning, with its coherent visions of alternative futures in place of the traditional forecast and attempts by corporations to predict and control specific outcomes, is one of the manifestations of the new paradigm.
The Internet is only one form of “benign technology” in which the authors have faith and which they see as leading to a positive aspect of globalization. They predict the fuel cell will, in less than a decade, halve automobile emissions and soon thereafter eliminate them altogether, when the hydrogen-gasoline fusion system gives way to the hydrogen cell. Automobiles will be much lighter and less noisy. Economics will shift to local manufacture in far smaller runs, and customized brands will proliferate.
The fuel cell, already in research laboratories in a dozen advanced economies, is not the only eco-friendly technology the authors acclaim. They have high hopes for nanotechnology. Its tiny engines promise an eco-friendly form of biological wealth and life creation. They have attracted the attention of the Japanese, whose love of miniaturization has deep roots. Indeed, one of the pleasures of this book is its readiness to utilize cultural diversity in a global system. In the authors’ vision, every country specializes in what it loves and makes it available to the world. Such technologies swim in a new ideological infrastructure suspended between left and right wings of the political spectrum and transcend both, through a kind of “ethic of originality” that stems from a common quest for a richer and more diverse globe.
If all this seems too utopian, too like the Age of Aquarius on which several Global Business Network members were weaned, some skepticism is in order. The authors do not consider the spread of lethal technologies or of technologies with predatory values attached to them, although the United States government sponsors these selectively.
The problem with their thesis is that it strengthens the notion that technology will somehow save us from earlier mistakes, from those technologies that spurred global warming and unsustainable economic development and condemned sizable sectors of our global citizenry to employment at very low wages. Nevertheless, very few books tackle the interdependence of values and technology as well as this one, even if values are too often regarded as dependent variables or “enablers” of high tech.
Economics fundamentally concerns choice and how people make decisions, so it’s not surprising that it should serve as a framework for balancing the promises and perils of globalism. A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization (2000) is an engaging book by two journalists for The Economist, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, and it is a primer on neoclassical economics as the only discipline of genuinely global application.