Forward to the Future


The 2025 Report, by Norman Macrae, New York: Macmillan, 258 pp., $15.95

Don't let Norman Macrae's title scare you off. The 2025 Report is nothing like the Global 2000 Study Report of a few years back—a "scientific" tome filled with numerical projections and gloom-and-doom analysis. Instead, this new book by an editor of The Economist is a nontechnical, upbeat report done in the tradition of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. It's a description of the world in 2025, with a brief history of how we got from now to then. Much of the "history" is presented in brief "biographies" of people who helped shape the world of 2025.

What will the world be like in 2025? Basically, it will be peaceful, wealthy, healthy, and less governed than today.

Peace arrived because the Russian menace "disappeared." A group of upper- and middle-level Soviet managers, after gaining the moral support of the United States, staged what amounted to a coup. They then abolished government controls and established a free market in the same way Ludwig Erhard did in Germany in 1948—by announcing it before opponents could react. The new decentralized Russian confederation and the United States collaborated to prevent any Third World dictators from starting nuclear wars.

The world became wealthy by restoring free markets, domestically and internationally. A new lending institution, Centrobank, was set up to lend to individuals instead of to governments. It denied loans unless free markets were allowed in agriculture. Thus the food problems of the Third World disappeared. US per capita income reached $48,000 in 1985 dollars. Other countries grew wealthier, although not yet that wealthy.

People became healthy through the actions of multinational health maintenance organizations (HMOs). These groups were paid for keeping people well instead of curing them when they got sick.

Governments declined in power because people could "telecommute" to work. With computers in their homes linked to their employers, people could live where the government was most tolerable, regardless of where they "worked." The book is even presented as though it were delivered over a computer conferencing network from the author's purported home in Tahiti. Once people could escape, governments had to become more efficient and less intrusive. They took to contracting out some services. Los Angeles even hired a Japanese multinational to administer it, and other cities took similar actions.

I think I'd like to live in the world Macrae describes, although I'm not as optimistic as he is that we'll get there. But there are some apparent inconsistencies in his world of 2025. It's described as being a much freer world than ours. Natural hard drugs, however, have been replaced by synthetics. You can't buy them except by credit card, and your HMO can forbid sale to you. But that would create a black market for drugs to bypass the credit card system. Likewise, guns may be owned freely, but each gun has a "tracker" in it. That would create a black market in untrackable guns.

These inconsistencies on Macrae's part are instructive, though. They show that it's hard to create a scenario in which people are free to do what they want but are also restricted from doing "harmful" things. If they're really free, they'll get around the restrictions. If they can't get around them, then they're not really free.

The inconsistencies are minor, however. Overall, the book is not only stimulating but funny. It's easy to read. It's enjoyable. Don't miss it.

Joseph Martino is a senior research scientist in the Technology Forecasting Group, University of Dayton Research Institute. He is associate editor of the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change and a frequent contributor to REASON.