In This Review

The Future of Capitalism: How Today's Economic Forces Will Shape Tomorrow's World
The Future of Capitalism: How Today's Economic Forces Will Shape Tomorrow's World
By Lester C. Thurow
William Morrow, 1996, 385 pp.

This is a book with a majestic sweep. It addresses the fate of capitalism as both a set of values and a framework for organizing the economy and society amid what Thurow calls the moving tectonic plates of the contemporary world: the shift in the emphasis of technology from physical power to brain power, the rapid aging of the population of rich countries, the emergence of global competition and diffusion of authority, and, paradoxically, the demise of communism as an adversary. A key problem, in the author's view, is that the "theology" of capitalism, despite its name, makes no systematic provision for, nor even takes a clear view of, the future. Who is to provide for education, infrastructure, and environmental protection? Over the last 40 years, many major U.S. public investments -- superhighways, graduate scholarships for scientists, the space program -- were motivated or justified by national security. But without national competition, ideologies, like firms, will grow conservative and resistant to change. The short-term horizons and self-preoccupation of an aging population also do not bode well for the future vitality of the system.

In the author's view, Western society now needs a long-run communalism to supplement its short-run individualism. Thurow, a professor of economics in MIT's Sloan School of Management, is sometimes glib and tendentious in his treatment of facts and trends, and he offers no solutions or clear forecasts beyond these irresistible pressures on the status quo. But his book contains a great deal of interesting material and thought-provoking argument.