Al Gore, Futurist
Al Gore's new book is a partisan screed that pretends to be objective and thoughtful. Corporations, Wall Street money, and right wing Republicans are the villains. Problems created by the left are never mentioned or downplayed. For example the bankruptcy and impending bankruptcy of many states and municipalities because public employee unions wielded great political influence is completely ignored. The financial crash of 2008 is blamed on Wall Street while the role of the quasi-governmental corporations Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is totally ignored.
Gore is not a serious thinker but a politician and self-promoter pretending to be a serious thinker. He has successfully wielded the power of celebrity to make immense amounts of money; for an occasional meeting of the Apple board $30 million, for selling his failed TV network to the sinister Al Jazeera, $100 million.
Gore claims that technological progress is overwhelming us as never before. This is ahistorical. Such things as the printing press, railroads, automobiles and television were just as wrenching for society as current technological change.
Amusingly, Gore compares himself to Thomas Jefferson. To support his demonization of corporations he quotes Jefferson as wanting to "crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations" and a cover blurb, allegedly written by E.O. Wilson, explicitly compares Gore to Jefferson. Gore's book editor was Jon Meacham, the author of a Jefferson biography.
Gore makes a big deal out of robosourcing or manufacturing by using robots. This is hardly new. The screw machine, a mechanical robot still used today, was invented around 1870.
Gore characterizes the Internet as an extension of the human nervous system. He calls this the Global Mind. This is another "revolutionary" change that is not so different than previous communications revolutions such as printing or the telephone.
Gore dredges up the clichés of Limits to Growth and The Population Bomb, influential books that predicted disasters from running out of resources. He declares that measuring economic growth by gross national product (GDP) is absurd because it doesn't take into account environmental and distribution of income considerations. The advocates of various mega-projects, such as powering the electrical grid with windmills, frequently propose new national accounting rules to cover up the costly nature of their schemes.
Gore is best known as an advocate of global warming doom. It may be that global warming has become old hat, because if is downplayed in The Future. It also may be that the failure of the globe to warm for 16 years has caused Gore to look for new reasons to be alarmed and for new reasons to create government programs in response.
On the day Gore's book was released I attended a discussion between Gore and Charlie Rose at the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. The 92nd Street Y is a Jewish community center located in an affluent and heavily democratic area. The audience of nearly 1000 was obviously composed mostly of self-selected Gore fans. They frequently applauded Gore.
Gore told Charlie Rose that democracy and capitalism have been hacked, borrowing computer geek jargon for taken over illegitimately (by corporate influence).
The $55 ticket to the event included a copy of Gore's $30 book. This was the first stop on a long book tour with stops at many important venues and in many cases requiring expensive tickets that include a copy of the book. Gore is doing numerous television guest appearances.
The Future is a toxic mixture of democratic talking points, gee wiz futurism and predictions of environmental doom. It is obviously the product of a professional staff of ghostwriters and PR professionals overseen by Al Gore and dedicated to promoting the Al Gore brand.
Norman Rogers is a retired physicist and a Senior Policy Advisor at the Heartland Institute, a Chicago think tank. He often writes about global warming, a.k.a. climate change. He maintains a personal website.