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Development: Polemic and Perspectives

Kaushik Basu

By Herman Kahn
Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1980, pp. xv 519, Rs. 125.00

VOLUME V NUMBER 2 September/October 1980

THIS is a book about the immediate past and the distant future of mankind. It looks at the recent development ex­perience of the world, particularly Taiwan and South Korea, and goes on to make predictions and give advice. But that is not all, for this is a book of disconcert­ing diversity. If you are an economist wondering about the causes of inflation you may turn to pages 294-325. If you are a mother worried about your child's upbringing,  just glance through pages 474-479. And I could go on and on. There is nevertheless a pattern and in particular one great divide. The first three chapters are polemical, specious and plain boring. However from the fourth chapter the style and the tone changes, the tempo picks up and the book becomes quite interesting. Kahn begins by describing what he and his colleagues at the Hudson Institute call The Great Transition, which is a period spanning the last and the next two hundred years. The next two hundred years will neither bring about an utopia, nor be dismal. Poverty will persist (at least during the next cen­tury) but most people will be better off than now. All this of course assuming that there is no ‘major nuclear war or other disaster’.  As one reads on it be­comes clear that not only does Mr Herman Kahn make predictions on a variety of matters but on many matters he also makes a variety of predictions. (This reminds me of an uncle of mine, who had built up a considerable reputation as an astrologer by showing cus­tomers a letter from Kennedy congratulating him for correctly predicting Kennedy's election victory. Legend has it that he managed this only by sending a similar letter to Nixon regarding the same election.) High-flown expressions, like ‘the Basic long-term Multifold Trend of Western Culture’, are thought­lessly used and predictions on serious matters are plucked out of thin air with little reasoning. For instance, we are told that 200 years from now the world population is likely to be 10 billion and the gross world product 200 trillion dollars. The latter, the author adds, is measured in 1978 prices, thereby allaying fears that it is in 'current' prices, which would imply a prediction of inflation over the next two hundred years! For some time there will be high growth rates of GNP in the advanced capitalist nations (ACNs) but ...

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