1990s >> 1992 >> no-1052-april-1992

Book Review: Future trends

Megatrends 2000. By John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene. Pan. £5.99.


Capitalism needs to have some idea of future trends and developments, if only to keep the profits coming in by anticipating changed market conditions. While often tacitly aware of the unplannability of the system, the bosses and politicians would greatly appreciate a preview of what society will be like in 10 or 20 years’ time. It is in response to this need that the discipline of futurology, a pretentious mixture of sociology, politics and economics, has arisen. Naisbitt and Aburdene (described on the back cover as “the world’s leading social forecasters”) have made their contribution by trying to identify ten major trends of the 1990s.


The authors begin by acknowledging something that socialists have been saying for years: that there is a single world economy rather than lots of national economics trading with each other. Other than this, though, their views turn out to be a mixture of the obvious and the ignorant. It is not very surprising to be told that over the next decade the state capitalism of eastern Europe (which the authors, of course, misname “socialism”) will be replaced by a market economy, that Japan will become the major economic and cultural power, that there will be more women at the top of politics and business, or that the welfare state will contract. On the other hand, it is extremly surprising to learn that the 1990s will be “a period of economic prosperity”, when, in fact, the decade has opened with a recession.


In others ways, too, the lag between writing and publication has embarrassed the authors and shown the foolishness of predicting events under capitalism. Parts of the book read like a hymn to Margaret Thatcher, who has apparently changed the direction which Britain was travelling and “hit a chord with the British people”.


Further evidence that the authors know very little of past and present, to say nothing of the future, is easy to find. For instance, they claim that the cause of poverty is “failure to create families”. So single mothers can escape destitution by the simple expedient of finding a husband! This is a neat reversal of the old game of blaming poverty on the poor having too many children. We read, too, that economic prosperity will put an end to war, since “wealth is a great peacemaker”. But. as the Gulf War has shown, developed countries are quite prepared to go to war to defend their profits and wealth.


To be fair, Naisbitt and Aburdene do state that they have deliberately concentrated on positive trends, leaving others to stress the negative ones. But emphasizing the positive developments under capitalism means ignoring so much that the resultant picture is a complete travesty. Capitalism simply cannot function without the downside of wars, famines, slumps and oppression. To do away with these, whether by the year 2000 or not, requires Socialists, not social forecasters.


Paul Bennett