Strategies for society's future. Current affairs book briefs THE following article inaugurates a new, regular Book Review feature, reporting on recent publications that illuminate important trends and public issues. These books are well written and addressed to concerned citizens, but often overlooked because publishers often cannot afford to give them widespread promotion and distribution. From the several hundred current-affairs titles published annually in the United States alone, we will attempt to select those books and reports of particular interest.
State of the World 1985: A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society, Lester R. Brown et al. New York: W. W. Norton. 301 pp. $18.95 cloth, $8.95 paper. This is the second in a series of annual reports that promises the world and delivers a fair chunk -- but by no means all -- of it. It deals foremost with the notion of population-induced climate change, as most tragically evident now in Africa. Other sections focus on reducing hunger, managing water supplies, world fisheries, protecting forests, energy efficiency, stopping population growth, and ``responsible'' policy for the future. Future 21: Directions for America in the 21st Century, edited by Paul M. Weyrich and Connaught Marshner. Greenwich, Conn.: Devin-Adair (6 North Water Steeet). 248 pp. $16.95.
This collection of provocative and well-written essays includes pieces by leading conservatives such as Lewis E. Lehrman (proposing an international gold standard), Patrick J. Buchanan (advocating a new America First nationalism), Lt. Gen. Daniel O. Graham (outlining his high-frontier project which has led to the Great Star Wars debate), Rep. Newt Gingrich (extolling the development of space as a key to the conservative opportunity society), and Burton Yale Pines of the Heritage Foundation (suggesting that the US consider withdrawing from the United Nations and asking it to vacate its Manhattan headquarters).
Other essays concern a total strategy to confront the communists, a conservative educational agenda, the promotion of a high-tech society to fortify conservative values currently evident in judicial activism, and state and national voter initiatives. It offers a completely different view of ``the world'' from that of the Worldwatch Institute, above. Revitalizing Western Economies, by Russell L. Ackoff, Paul Broholm, and Roberta Snow. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (433 California Street). 208 pp. $17.95.
Here, systems thinkers from the Wharton School criticize various proposals for revitalizing the US economy which they see as attempts to resurrect economic conditions of the 1960s while ignoring the key problem of unemployment. The service area is where jobs must be made, they contend, and this can be done by debureaucratizing and demonopolizing both public and private sectors. The Uneasy Eighties: The Transition to an Information Society, by Arthur J. Cordell. Ottawa: Science Council of Canada (100 Metcalfe Street). 150 pp. $8.40. (Bilingual summary available free.)
This book offers one of the best and most accessible of recent explanations of the ongoing megachange to a so-called information society, whose advent should bring about widely divergent changes in the kinds and range of goods and services available. It should also require a major reorientation of workers, institutions, and production technologies. Management of information will be more efficient, but there will also be serious threats to personal and corporate privacy, the authors predict. New understandings will have to be developed regarding productivity, growth, innovation, value, and wealth. The Information Technology Revolution, edited by Tom Forester. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 696 pp. $30 cloth, $14.95 paper.
Forester's broad and evenhanded anthology convincingly reinforces the argument that massive change is afoot. It is a sequel to Forester's earlier collection, ``The Microelectronic Revolution'' (1980), consisting of 48 contributions. Topics include artificial intelligence, the telecommunications explosion, videotex, computers in homes and schools, the office of the future, microcomputers in medicine, the future quantity and quality of work, and smart weapons. Forester concludes that the future shape of society is still, to some extent, negotiable. American Arms Supermarket, Michael T. Klare. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. 312 pp. $24.50 cloth, $10.95 paper.
The Five Colleges (Amherst, Mass.) professor of peace and world security examines US arms programs over the past 20 years, and how they actually performed in a number of key countries and regions. The United States is the world's leading supplier of arms and military services, and arms transfers are an increasingly important instrument of US foreign policy. The impact, however, has been to alter irrevocably the world political-military environment, transforming many once-powerless third-world nations into major military contenders. The arms trade is rapidly slipping out of control, the author says, as sales rise and the number of clients proliferate. A more prudent policy framework is proposed. The Trouble With America, by Michael Crozier. Foreword by David Riesman. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press. 156 pp. $16.95.
These insights from the de Tocqueville of our times are astute. Crozier, a Parisian who had taught at Harvard, Berkeley, and Michigan, revisited the US in 1980 and found faded dreams and empty rhetoric, demoralizad young people, a trend to a public-relations dictatorship, ``unquestionably underinformed and misinformed'' citizens, a drift to trivia and spectacular immediacy, and too much emphasis on action at the expense of thought.
He insists that the US has no other course than to invest in knowledge and understanding, and the institutions that make this possible.
Michael Marien has his PhD in interdisciplinary social science and is the founding editor of Future Survey, the monthly of the World Future Society in Bethesda, Md.