The Futurist Interviews Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Democrat, 10th District of Ohio
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 find these scenarios to be credible?
Kucinich: I would suggest that such reports are interesting but they’re not constructive, because they don’t allow for our ability to change the direction of events. If the United States does not take control of its economic destiny, and if the country keeps spending money on wars and allowing the accelerated creation of material wealth—either through the instrumentation of government of because of the theft of Wall Street—certainly the United States will be in a precarious position.
When it comes to the globe, we need to look at ourselves not as a nation apart from other nations but as a nation among nations. We need to come into resonance with the founding principles of this country and its first motto: E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one). We are one people, not just fifty states, but we're also one with a world that is increasingly interconnected. Why not rally around these ideas to save the world from scarcity, from drought, and from hunger? We need to do that now, not in 2025. These warnings that we get from economists, from environmentalists, from people who study global trends are warnings we should pay attention to not because they predict the future but because they give us a snapshot of what’s happening today. We can change the outcome.
THE FUTURIST: Getting more specific, what do you see as the most important trend that will shape U.S. policy over the course the next two decades?
Kucinich: The trend toward a more equitable distribution of wealth. In the last few decades, the United States has become a massive machine where all the instruments in government were aimed at accelerating the creation and accumulation of wealth. The last administration put in place more than a trillion dollars in tax cuts that went to the wealthiest 1% of the U.S. population. Our military spending is used to accelerate the accumulation wealth of the nation through war and huge amounts of defense spending. Our environmental policies deteriorated the quality of our air and water and appreciated the financial assets of companies who contaminated our environment. Our energy policies accelerated the accumulation of wealth by turning over our energy supply to the oil companies. These companies [were able to] determine the kinds of energy we had.
We've allowed insurance companies to run our health-care systems. One hundred million people in the United States are either underinsured or uninsured. Massive displacements are going on economically because people can’t afford health care.
You can look at every system of government over the last few decades and you can see how special interests have allowed the acceleration of the creation of wealth. We’re living with the culmination of lack of regulation. This lack resulted in fraud. We need to have a system that causes a more equitable distribution.
THE FUTURIST: Global collaboration seems to be one of your focal points. What sort of future opportunities do you imagine for the United States to collaborate with the developing world to improve the future?
Kucinich: We have an opportunity to stop looking at it as a world that needs to be developed. These distinctions need to be challenged. There’s a lot about the "developed" world that I don’t find particularly acceptable, such as the geography of nowhere. This is where everything looks alike, where local cultures are obliterated by concrete. This is an aspect of the so-called developed world. We need to come into rhythm with the natural world. We shouldn’t be talking about the developing world. We should be talking about the natural world.
THE FUTURIST: Do you envision a way to achieve this equilibrium you talk about and maintain the supply-side economic system?
Kucinich: We can’t sustain the system we have in place. We already know that. It’s predatory. It’s broken down—why should we revive it?
THE FUTURIST: Some might argue that supply-side economics over the last two decades has led to an increase in quality of life, especially parts of the world outside of the United States. On that note, one of the key issues the Global Trends report is how the shift to Western dietary habits in many parts of the world, particularly in Asia, is one of the primary drivers putting strain on freshwater, because as people switch to eating more meat they deplete groundwater. This speaks to a broader concern: How do you convince other people not to follow the growth path that the United States has established?
Kucinich: I think that most of the rest of the world sees that supply side economics is failure. If we want to restore our credibility with the people of other nations, we need to reject the canards of the past and start talking about human values that have proven to be sustainable. We need to set ourselves on a path where there’s a job for all, housing for all, education for all, health care for all, retirement security, clean water, clean air, a sustainable food supply, and peace.
This is not a pipe dream. All of this is achievable. We have it within our reach, but we have to change our institutions so that [those] institutions can respond and evolve with human potential.
THE FUTURIST: Which institutions in particular?
Kucinich: Every institution. Jefferson talked about the fact that institutions come from the mind of man and evolve with the mind of man. They have to change. They are our products. They didn’t make us, we made them.
THE FUTURIST: Why do you think it’s important for individuals to take their future seriously?
Kucinich: I think it’s important for individuals to live joyously. I think we need to live without fear of the future and enjoy the moment, live it to the utmost and live it with great heart and love and courage. That’s what I think we should do. If you do that, the future will take care of itself.
About the Interviewee
Dennis Kucinich is a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, currently representing the 10th District of Ohio. He was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2004 and 2008 elections. He is the recipient of the Gandhi Peace Award, an annual award bestowed by the Religious Society of Friends-affiliated organization Promoting Enduring Peace. Web site www.kucinich.house.gov.
This interview was conducted by Patrick Tucker, senior editor of THE FUTURIST and director of communications for the World Future Society.