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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Future’
THE FUTURE: SIX DRIVERS OF GLOBAL CHANGE
By Al Gore
Random House, $30, 538 pages
As he approaches his 65th birthday this month, we find former Vice President Al Gore reduced to playing much the same role for the American left that Newt Gingrich serves for our nation's right, that of the intellectual court jester.
Both men are quick-smart and highly skilled at fashioning bright, new costumes to dress up the frayed prejudices of their clientele. However, where Mr. Gingrich can whip out 10 new-sounding ideas to the penny, there is a ponderous piety to Mr. Gore's sermons that gives them a sort of gravitas that Newt can never match.
This is a good reason for the average concerned citizen -- especially those who by instinct recoil from the current White House occupants -- to read this latest prolix doorstop of a book by Mr. Gore. For he is not only speaking to his intellectual fan base of policymakers and media vocalists, but also for them. If you want to know what folks like economics wonk Gene Sperling, new Treasury Secretary Jack Lew or Sen. Elizabeth Warren really think about our world, just listen to Al.
Mr. Gore's basic argument boils down to the assertion that "a new law of nature" has swept away all the old rules and realities that have governed human conduct since the dawn of time. To support his case, he misreads history and advances claims that are breathtakingly naive. Or they would be naive except they advance, by implication, the notion that only a strong government run by experts can provide the new rules to support his "new" natural law.
He identifies "six drivers of global change" that are forcing this abrupt upheaval in the rules of human conduct.
The first driver is the globalization of world trade relationships. To make this trend as volcanic as he would have us believe, Mr. Gore would have us ignore the fact that the trend actually got under way when the first prehistoric man discovered a tribe in the next valley that had goods for which he was willing to trade. Indeed, the first records we have are trade and currency exchanges that accompanied the flows along the spice and silk roads from the reaches of Asia to Northern Europe.
For Mr. Gore, however, this new acceleration of exchanges demands more government oversight to limit the outsourcing of jobs to less-expensive locales -- again ignoring the current trend where American firms are bringing production back home because transportation costs make U.S. producers more cost-efficient. He also frets that robots are taking on tasks that union workers once performed.
Mr. Gore no longer is quite so emphatic that he invented the Internet, in part because he worries that the expanded flow of information has become so accessible and so ubiquitous that power elites have lost the ability to shape public decisions the way they want them framed. What is so unsettling to Mr. Gore and his ilk is the acceleration of this historic shrinking of the world that has the effect of increasing the number of people who can make their opinions known to a global audience. He calls this opinion nexus "the Global Mind," and laments, "the Global Mind is not so easy to make up."
Out of these first two "drivers" -- globalization and the Internet -- comes the third revolutionary trend: the end of America's global domination as the most super of superpowers. Again, one is asked to suspend the historical fact that there never was a time when the United States ruled world affairs by fiat. Especially over the past 60 years, Washington has always had to haggle with usually fractious allies and was under perpetual challenge from the most potent of enemies -- the Soviet Union and Mao's China -- and vexations that ranged from Castro's Cuba to the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Mr. Gore and his clients are cheered by the early trend toward what he calls "Global Norms" that are fashioned (and often enforced) by super elites who run nongovernmental organizations. They impose their agendas on everything from climate control to limiting some of the more effective tactics used against that other iteration of nongovernmental organizations -- terrorist networks.
You get the idea by now. Government is too important to be left to the unwashed masses, especially to that suspect class of economic entrepreneurs. The three remaining "drivers" are variations on the theme that only a higher power -- ideally seated in Davos, Switzerland -- can keep us from burning down our fragile world around us.
The operative words repeated throughout these three "drivers" are the conflict between "sustainable" (good) and "unsustainable" (very bad). Mr. Gore is right enough that the threat of climate change is real; so too are the destabilizing prospects that might emerge from our scientific breakthroughs in molecular design; equally sobering is the growing scarcity of key raw materials -- from energy to metals to water and arable land.
However, the remedies offered by Mr. Gore and, by implication, favored by his main audience transcend naivete and lurch toward daffiness. In the same way as our president, he wants more money for "sustainable" energy projects that are unable to generate more energy than they consume in their construction. The other driving trends also need the benevolent hand of official experts to the exclusion of the very open debate and free choices these experts say they endorse.
Read this book. Don't say you weren't warned.
James Srodes is a former bureau chief for Forbes and Financial World magazines.
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