In This Review

Energy, Economic Growth, and Geopolitical Futures: Eight Long-Range Scenarios
Energy, Economic Growth, and Geopolitical Futures: Eight Long-Range Scenarios
By Evan Hillebrand and Stacy Closson
The MIT Press, 2015, 248 pp
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No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends
No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends
By Richard Dobbs, James Manyika, and Jonathan Woetzel
PublicAffairs, 2015, 288 pp
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These two books consider the future—and how difficult it is to forecast. Hillebrand and Closson’s insightful book sketches eight possible scenarios for what the world might look like in 2050. To impose discipline on the exercise, the authors examine the potential combinations of three distinct dichotomies: high and low economic growth, high and low oil prices, and harmony or disharmony in the global political order. They assume the continuity of the existing, state-dominated global political system but imagine how that system might respond to new threats and take advantage of new possibilities. Not surprisingly, China and the United States play major roles in all eight scenarios, as do technological innovation and energy policy. Some scenarios are more plausible than others. The most likely to take shape in the real world, the authors argue, are two that feature high economic growth and global disharmony: one in which oil prices are high and the other in which they are low. In both situations, the United States and its allies would be challenged by an assertive China but would retain the upper hand, the Middle East would continue to be troublesome, and India would thrive.

In their stimulating book, Dobbs, Manyika, and Woetzel identify four sources of disruption that have created intense discontinuities with past trends by quickening the pace of global change: economic growth and urbanization in developing countries, which have created large middle-class markets; the aging of many populations; rapid technological advances, which have radically altered global labor markets; and unprecedented levels of global connectedness brought about by the free movement of goods, capital, people, and information. This book examines the numerous implications these disruptive forces will have on the future of the global economy and human life. It concludes optimistically, arguing that they create at least as many opportunities as problems, favoring people and groups that are agile and think nonlinearly.