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America in 2050

by Joel Kotkin

Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59420-244-5
Publisher: Penguin Press

Think you have trouble finding a parking space today? Wait until 2050, when the American population will have grown by another 100 million.

According to Forbes columnist Kotkin (The City: A Global History, 2005, etc.), that’s good news. Indeed, he writes, “because of America’s unique demographic trajectory among advanced countries, it should emerge by midcentury as the most affluent, culturally rich, and successful nation in human history.” There are several arguments and bits of data bundled in that opener. As the author notes, most of the world’s leading nations, particularly in Europe, are rapidly losing population and with it the prospect of future power and wealth. Russia’s population, for example, could be one-third the size of the United States by 2050, and 30 percent of China’s population will be over the age of 60 by then. Meanwhile, our future cultural richness will come from the fact that the greatest growth will be among groups that are now ethnic minorities, especially Hispanics and Asians. “Demographically at least,” writes Kotkin, “America may have more in common with Third World countries with the developed world.” The cultural shifts are likely to be dislocating to some, though the relentlessly optimistic author believes that the future will see a mix of traditional values and new ones leading to greater social tolerance. Whereas other nations are likely to decline precipitously, he adds, America will truly be in a position of economic dominance—though, admittedly, output might be high because no one will be able to afford to retire, given current trends. Less rosy is Kotkin’s picture of a future America in which the leading cultural centers are likely to be—and elsewhere, to look like—places such as Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Miami, “multipolar, auto-dependent, and geographically vast.” So much for reversing climate change, even if the author does see the rise of “greenurbia” in years to come.

A fascinating glimpse into a crystal ball, rich in implications that are alternately disturbing and exhilarating.