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Megatraumas : AMERICA AT THE YEAR 2000 by Gov. Richard D. Lamm (Houghton Mifflin: $16.95; 245 pp.) and TOWARD THE YEAR 2000: WORLD BUSINESS LEADERS SPEAK OUT ON THE FUTURE, edited by Ruth Karen (Morrow: $18.95; 341 pp.)

December 29, 1985|Lionel Olmer | Olmer, a Washington lawyer and former corporate businessman, was under secretary of commerce for International Trade in 1981-1985. and

Readers looking for reassurance that life in the 21st Century will be pretty much a continuum of the present will find no comfort in either of these books. Both begin with a bleak assessment of the near future for the United States and the world. According to Gov. Richard Lamm, "The United States is a nation in liquidation . . . heading into an era of multiple traumas," while the business leaders believe that "the world is drifting toward financial chaos and an economic collapse more serious than the Great Depression of the 1930s."

Virtually all similarity between the two books, however, ends with this pessimistic appraisal of society's prospects, for Lamm and the business leaders are clearly at odds over solutions. The businessmen express a limitless faith in private enterprise, competition and the virtues of less government regulations and intervention in corporate affairs. Lamm, on the other hand, hopes that government will end "favoritism towards private enterprise" and once again begin to assert its proper role in defining problems and their solutions.

Lamm's book is by far the more interesting and readable, not least because it begins with a fictional story about the first woman President ("Susan Hesperus") taking office at the turn of the 21st Century. "Toward the Year 2000," however, offers few new insights because it recaps 33 interviews with "world business leaders" which were conducted in 1983 and merely reports what a larger group of international businessmen already believe should be done to solve the world's economic problems.

Lamm's book opens with the second term of "President Hesperus" in January, 2001. Part II proposes another scenario, in which Hesperus never makes it to office: "Martin Morgenstern," a senator from Maine, fills the bill for eight years, setting the United States on the right track by inspiring sacrifice beyond all previous measure. Part III, with President Elizabeth Dole at the helm, hypothesizes the beginning of a new U.S.-U.S.S.R detente arising after a multi-megaton nuclear war between India and Pakistan kills hundreds of millions of people. Sobered by the tragedy, the Soviets begin reallocating resources toward peaceful aims and are soon followed by the United States.

Part I, "The Facts of Life in AD 2000," offers a scenario so ominous that it reads like a Steven Spielberg script.

Lamm doesn't point to unrealistic problems, but neither the statistics he showers on the reader, nor the possibility of several "traumas" striking at one time, could "break down" our society so that within the next 15 years civil liberties are suspended and martial law is imposed in the United States, 10 Cubas emerge in Latin America (including the People's Republic of Mexico) and Americans abandon several major U.S. cities, which then fall under the control of gangs. And there's plenty more.

The book, thus, is not to be taken too seriously. We are--and will remain--a strong nation domestically and internationally. We know it and the rest of the world knows it. Our national commitment to care for the aged and to provide equal opportunity in the workplace has no parallel among the Asian nations singled out by the author. The freedom to excel in our educational system is the envy of Japan. U.S. science and technology remains dominant; it is our lead that the rest of the world follows and it's one of the few sectors in which we persistently run a trade surplus, even with Japan.

As the governor notes near the end of his book, predicting trends is hazardous because the dynamics of world affairs are always changing. Most Americans believe they'll be better off in the year 2001, and with good reason. "Megatraumas" will not, as Lamm hopes, alter his image as "Governor Gloom."

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