Voices From The Past

Nov. 18, 2004
Articles about the future make for interesting reading, but perhaps even more fascinating are articles from the past predicting how things will be in what is now the present.

Ronald Khol, Editor

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Voices from the past

Here are excerpts from past articles predicting what life will be like in the early part of the 21st century.

1980. U.S. News & World Report. America is choosing between a reindustrialized society and one emphasizing quality of life. If we opt for quality of life, we will gradually lose our economic strength until we become a "siesta society" in which there is less drive and less productivity. But difficult adjustments will be required for reindustrialization. Programs such as Social Security will have to be thinned out, and the age at which people retire will have to be delayed. Psychological adaptations will also be required. There will have to be a stronger motivation to work, which has been weakened in society. Reindustrialization will bring intensified social conflict as various segments of society have to learn to live with a smaller piece of the pie. In a reindustrializing America, there will be more demand for less-skilled labor and less demand for highly professional people. We will need more coal miners, not more graduate students. In the longer run, we will probably want everybody to get two years of college to correct failure of the high schools to educate people properly. But beyond that, we will need a smaller proportion of the young-adult population in four-year colleges. At present, we are sending an absurd number of young adults to college –— about 50% –— compared to a few percent in Western Europe.

1976. How Our Lives Will Change in the next 25 Years. U.S. News & World Report. The real competition will be for good jobs and rapid advancement. The single biggest problem in the future will be that of absorbing the worker —— especially the educated worker —— in the job market. Baby-boomer adults will discover they cannot achieve their expectations for a life style similar to the prosperity in which they grew up. The baby-boomers got sidetracked from their ideals by Vietnam and Watergate. If they return to those ideals when the going gets rough at the end of the century, we could see the development of a welfare state along the lines of Western European countries.

1994. The San Francisco Examiner. The future will be grim. Everything people complain about now will get worse including crime, homelessness, dysfunctional families, and the average person's standard of living. Through the 1970s, the economic bubble grew, spurred by government-promoted consumer debt and spending. The U.S. has been living in a cocoon —— a high-consumption society supported by ever more borrowing and spending.

1980. The Futurist. By the 1990s, a new social mood will emerge. People will be cautious and willing to settle for less. Women, in all probability, will lower their skirts, tighten their morals, and become more willing to assume the "traditional" female roles. The relationship between the sexes changes around 2000 when an economic slide begins. Romance comes back to the forefront as women dress modestly, tighten their morals, and become more respectful of a meal ticket.

1980. What's In Store in the next 20 years. U.S. News & World Report.
Despite greater material output, the world's people will be poorer in many ways than they are today. Such a world may also be vulnerable to a revival of religious fanaticism.

1997. America in the 21st Century. Newsweek Magazine. Something will ultimately test us. Entitlements could collapse, a derivatives deal may bring down the markets, and some rogue nation might fire a missile at Manhattan. Americans are never comfortable for long without a crusade, and one is sure to be thrust upon us. How we do will be the first big story of the millennium.

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