The Futurist Interviews Newt Gingrich, former U.S. House Speaker

From the July-August 2009 issue of THE FUTURIST

In November 2008, the National Intelligence Council released a landmark study, Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World. The report lays out the possibility of a future very different from the reality to which most of the world is accustomed. Among the key possible futures:

1. U.S. influence and power will wane, and the United States will face constricted freedom of action in 2025. China and Russia will grow in influence. Wealth will also shift away from the United States toward Russia and China.

2. A broader conflict, possibly a nuclear war, could erupt between India and Pakistan. This could cause other nations to align themselves with existing nuclear powers for protection.

3. Rising world population, affluence, and shifts in Western dietary habits will increase global demand for food by 50% by 2030 (World Bank statistic). Some 1.4 billion people will lack access to safe drinking water.

As the report was published in November of 2008 in the midst of a historic financial crisis, some of these scenarios now seem not so much wild cards as prescient depictions of a near certain future. Others, in retrospect, seem further away. The once-indomitable engine of Chinese growth now seems significantly less robust. At 6% the country's GDP is scheduled to grow at half of last year's pace, but still much faster than the United States. The question becomes, which scenarios remain credible, which no-longer apply?

THE FUTURIST asked four experts—Newt Gingrich, former U.S. House speaker; Elaine C. Kamarck, a senior policy adviser for Democrat Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign; Peter Schiff, economics adviser to Republican Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign; and Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich—for their views on the report's key forecasts and what the future of the United States, Asia, and the global economy looks like now, in the wake of the global financial crisis.

THE FUTURIST: To what extent do you agree with the four key points outlined in the Global Trends 2025 report?

Newt Gingrich: The influence and power of the United States may decline but this will not be a decline in our economic, political, or military strength. Rather than the United States enjoying the role of the world's lone superpower, as we do today, the influence of other countries such as India and China will increase in relative terms. As the countries with the two largest populations, India and China will certainly have a voice in the next quarter century, and their current economic growth, along with the attendant increase in their military strength, will support that voice.

With respect to India and Pakistan, the United States can do much in the way of reducing tensions between them. What we are witnessing is a continuing ascendance in the strategic importance of both nations. The November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai have raised tensions between India and Pakistan considerably. The United States can continue to work with both nations to reduce these tensions, find common ground where possible, and forge a cooperative relationship between them.

THE FUTURIST: Are the events laid out in the report inevitable?

Gingrich: Nothing is inevitable. In my book, Implementing the Art of Transformation, I provide a point of reference for considering what the decades ahead may look like. There will be more growth in scientific knowledge in the next 25 years than occurred during the past one hundred years. We are exceeding, by four to seven times, the rate of change of the past twenty-five years. This means that, by even the most conservative estimate, in the next twenty-five years, we will experience the scale of change experienced between 1909 and 2009.

THE FUTURIST: How might the negative scenarios be averted?

Gingrich: Access to natural resources and energy may be the most important challenge the world faces in the next quarter century. We must develop a strategy for global energy abundance that maximizes both production and the efficiency with which energy is used. This sort of strategy would have a significant positive impact toward reducing or preventing future conflicts.

THE FUTURIST: How might the U.S. government, and how might U.S. citizens, cope with a state of diminished influence, a wealthier more powerful Asia, and intensified competition over resources?

Gingrich: Education will be the key issue that determines our continued strength and prosperity in a world where China and India have increased influence. If you read A Nation at Risk, published more than 25 years ago, it makes clear that the education of our children is a serious national security concern and that parents, administrators, teachers, lawmakers, and leaders of this nation need to view it as such and respond accordingly. Finding innovative ways to dramatically improve how our children learn—especially in math and science—will make the biggest difference for our future.

THE FUTURIST: What do you see as the worst case scenario, and the best case scenario, of the above events coming to pass?

Gingrich: Within the key points you provide, the worst-case scenario would be a belligerent China and a resurgent and belligerent Russia. Likewise, a complete breakdown in relations between India and Pakistan and a corresponding threat of nuclear war would be destabilizing to the entire world.
Obviously, the best-case scenario would be increased cooperation and stronger, closer relationships among the United States, China, Russia, India, as well as Pakistan. A common recognition of the future threats to our livelihood that the global community faces as our populations increase and our needs for greater amounts of energy increase is essential. This recognition by all today and cooperation in achieving solutions would do much in terms of growing the global economy, as well as enabling health and prosperity for all.

THE FUTURIST: Might decreased geopolitical influence, with increased power in China, actually be good for the United States in some way?

Gingrich: It depends. We have a choice with China: cooperation or competition. Certainly if we strengthen our relationship with China, an economically and militarily strong China would be within our national interests to maintain stability in the Western Pacific region.

THE FUTURIST: What is the report overlooking?

Gingrich: The report doesn’t look closely enough at the impact of a failed Mexico. A failed state on our southern border is a significant national security threat to the United States.

THE FUTURIST: What would you add to the above list of key points?
Newt Gingrich: Cyber-security. As we continue to integrate computers into every single aspect of our lives, we are creating a significant vulnerability to our very livelihood. What we need today is a cyber-think tank staffed by the generation today that lives and breathes in the electronic world. The institution would be set up much like the RAND Corporation was, with the exclusive purpose of ensuring the survivability of our networks and data.

THE FUTURIST: What’s the most important trend that will shape U.S. policy in the next two decades?

Gingrich: Increasing worldwide demand for energy with decreasing resources. We must take concrete steps today to become energy independent.

THE FUTURIST: What can we begin doing now to ease our transition into this new world?

Gingrich: We must make smart choices today that are an investment in our future. We need to fundamentally transform litigation, regulation, taxation, education, health, energy, infrastructure, and our national security apparatuses. The policies that we have in place today reflect the realities of the twentieth century. We can't compete globally with our current laws, systems, and obsolete bureaucracies that cannot operate at the speed of the twenty-first century; they don't have the flexibility or effectiveness required to manage the issues of the day. All of this seems to be a huge undertaking—and it is—but it can be done. It must be done.

About the Interviewee
Newt Gingrich served as the speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. He is the author of more than twenty books including, most recently, Real Change: From the World That Fails to the World That Works. He’s also the founder of the group American Solutions for Winning the Future. Web site www.americansolutions.com.

This Interview was conducted by Patrick Tucker, senior editor, THE FUTURIST magazine.