A century is about events. A decade is about people. I wrote The Next 100 Years to explore the impersonal forces that shape history in the long run, but human beings don’t live in the long run. We live in the much shorter span in which our lives are shaped not so much by vast historical trends but by the specific decisions of specific individuals.
This book is about the short run of the next ten years: the specific realities to be faced, the specific decisions to be made, and the likely consequences of those decisions. Most people think that the longer the time frame, the more unpredictable the future. I take the opposite view. Individual actions are the hardest thing to predict. In the course of a century, so many individual decisions are made that no single one of them is ever critical. Each decision is lost in the torrent of judgments that make up a century. But in the shorter time frame of a decade, individual decisions made by individual people, particularly those with political power, can matter enormously. What I wrote in The Next 100 Years is the frame for understanding this decade. But it is only the frame.
Forecasting a century is the art of recognizing the impossible, then eliminating from consideration all the events that, at least logically, aren’t going to happen. The reason is, as Sherlock Holmes put it, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
It is always possible that a leader will do something unexpectedly foolish or brilliant, which is why forecasting is best left to the long run, the span over which individual decisions don’t carry so much weight. But having forecast for the long run, you can reel back your scenario and try to see how it plays out in, say, a decade. What makes this time frame interesting is that it is sufficiently long for the larger, impersonal forces to be at play but short enough for the individual decisions of individual leaders to skew outcomes that otherwise might seem inevitable. A decade is the point at which history and statesmanship meet, and a span in which policies still matter.
I am not normally someone who gets involved in policy debates— I’m more interested in what will happen than in what I want to see happen. But within the span of a decade, events that may not matter in the long run may still affect us personally and deeply. They also can have real meaning in defining which path we take into the future. This book is therefore both a forecast and a discussion of the policies that ought to be followed.
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