The Other Side of the Bridge
By Stewart Truelsen
When he was renominated in Chicago, President Clinton spoke of building a bridge to the 21st century. Many of the factors that will shape our lives in the early parts of the century are already in place. Bridge construction is well under way, but it may not be too late to alter the plans.
British journalist Hamish McRae crossed the bridge to the future in his book, The World in 2020, published by Harvard Business Press. In looking at the U.S., McRae identified some of the changes he thinks are necessary for economic prosperity.
Americans' need to save more money tops the list. That may be hard to do, however, because he also expects Americans to be highly taxed through at least the first decade of the next century. His admonition to save is interesting because it was just reported that credit card delinquency rates are at an all time high. Another change he recommends is a reduction in government regulation. McRae says government must start taking into account the costs of intervention and regulation and balance the gains against the costs.
A growing world population will put pressure on food, energy and water supplies. McRae believes the world can feed itself through 2020, but he is a lot less optimistic beyond that. Food production won't be evenly distributed. The U.S. will still be called upon to be a major supplier to the world.
The most serious resource problem in 2020, according to McRae, will be a shortage of fresh water. He doesn't suggest taking water away from agriculture, however. "Further increases in irrigation are vital for the world's food production," he says.
As we cross the bridge to the 21st century, McRae is predicting more problems with urban sprawl and the decline of inner cities. Much of the U.S., he says, will be made up of edge cities, semi-urban agglomerations inhabited largely by professionals in the workforce. Although the issue isn't addressed in this book, a continuation of urban sprawl for the next 25 years would seem to put more pressure on farms and farmland.
In the year 2020, American influence over the rest of the world will likely have declined from what it is today. McRae, an Englishman who doesn't seem to be gloating, says the American people will choose the extent to which this takes place. When it comes to issues like entitlement spending, drugs, education, family values and the like, Americans have choices to make.
As McRae says, "These choices will frequently involve some sacrifice of short-term gratification for long-term prosperity." The choices we make will finish construction on that bridge into the next century.
Stewart Truelsen is director of broadcast services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.