Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

The Next 100 Years-A Forecast for the 21st Century

Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

The Next 100 Years-A Forecast for the 21st Century

Article excerpt

George Friedman, The Next 100 Years-a Forecast for the 21st century. Doubleday, 2009.

Historians who predict events more than a year or two ahead are on a very slippery slope. Most prediction tends to be linear: going in a straight line from here to there. This is why the popular press gets it wrong when they predict economic trends or predict our next conflicts; they see things continuing forever in economics (which is never so) and alternately underestimate our enemies until we are hit - and then overestimate their capability. Malcolm Gladwell's book, Tipping Point, does much better with prediction because he demonstrates the cyclical nature of events - which pile up unnoticed until they are at a point that tips, and a change swings in.

George Friedman seems to employ this methodology as well. He heads Strategic Forecasts (a company that forecasts political, social, and economic trends) and has taken on a century-long forecast that I have found surprising and fascinating.

He explains his methodology: "I have no crystal ball. I do, however, have a method that has served me well, imperfect though it might be, in understanding the past and anticipating the future. Underneath the disorder of history, my task is to try to see the order ? and to anticipate what events, trends, and technology that order will bring forth." He knows that he will not get it all right, but expects his grandchildren to look at his book and find it "not half bad."

Friedman's method requires a keen knowledge of past history and an analytical grasp of what makes cultures tick. His description of the United States, for example, is that we are "headstrong, immature, and brilliant." We are like a giant adolescent, tromping on the neighbors' gardens. But we also have the good heartedness of youth - and unlike many around the world, do not maintain century-long grudges.

Every prediction he has made arises organically out of prior historic patterns. For example, any good 19th century analyst could (and did) see that Germany, Russia, and the United States would be the giants of the 20th century and that conflict would arise. …

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