A far-reaching examination of our institutions and issues, from the economy to government to ecology, and the challenge of overcoming problems as fast as we can create them.
Homer-Dixon (Political Science/Univ. of Toronto) demonstrates that our economy is as unpredictable as our weather, and he warns that a handful of elite technocrats can make or break national economies: he describes a financial trader, for example, who lost a quarter of a million dollars when his computer froze for 15 seconds. The “ingenuity gap” of our information-driven world spins out of control with increasing complexity: market ingenuity may produce smarter cars, but Homer-Dixon wonders if we can keep up with the ravages of environmental damage. Technological explosion allows us to connect global markets and lend a semblance of democracy to millions over the Internet, but the flip side of the same phenomenon, warns the author, is how easily a few well-placed propagandists or terrorists can hold a majority hostage with counter-reforms or remote-control explosives. The speed of societal shifts keeps Homer-Dixon’s “ingenuity gaps” a constant, as social scientists are glacial before taking on severe problems like income disparity. A chapter is devoted to our species’ evolved ability to think and innovate, while the author goes on to debate the wisdom of economic optimism’s “remarkable ability to adapt to resource scarcity.” Using metaphors effectively and to the point, the author traces the descent of the Egyptian pyramid motif to financial towers and the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. He gleans ideas from an impressive array of thinkers, with 60 pages of notes attesting to the fact that he is no isolated, anti-progress party pooper.
An important, readable work that asks the driver to observe the speed limits, turn off the cell phone, and put both hands on the wheel.