October 1998

Knight Kiplinger

A leading business journalist looks into his crystal ball
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For Knight Kiplinger, the future has arrived. Ask the renowned financial journalist what the next decade holds, and he speaks of paths that run deep into the 21st Century. These are routes he already walks. Indeed, so do we all. Yet, where most travelers watch their footing, Kiplinger leaps ahead, embracing a vision of our biological, social, economic, and technological destinations.

It is these destinations that Kiplinger writes about in his latest book, World Boom Ahead: Why Business and Consumers Will Prosper.

Consider the author's prognostications: the Asian economic crisis will spread, dampening growth worldwide before the Asian region surfaces as the star economy of the 21st Century. Genetic changes in human sperm and eggs will allow selected traits to be passed to succeeding generations. Geneticists will create super-producing livestock. Biotechnology will boost the world's food supply. People will live longer, be better educated, and enjoy a better standard of living.

Yet anticipating the future is tricky. Few understand that better than Kiplinger, who is editor of The Kiplinger Letter, the nation's leading business forecasting publication, and publisher of the widely read Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Since many events World Boom predicts already show signs of emerging, Kiplinger gives recognition to the present day when he talks about the years ahead. He speaks, therefore, of the paths we all tread.

"My family and I have been visiting colleges at their web sites," said Kiplinger when asked about the shape of the next century, "My son is a high school senior. And we can take virtual walking tours of college campuses." Kiplinger also buys theater tickets for plays in London on the Internet. He buys books on-line. The Internet embedded in the flow of technology is one path to the future.

Other paths may seem ominous. Kiplinger tells, for example, how more sophisticated electronic sensors will be omnipresent. These tiny cameras and microphones will fit on a computer chip and will provide security in homes, offices and stores. But they also will raise new issues of privacy, especially when they are used to monitor and measure such things as worker performance. And our increased reliance on technology overall will render us more vulnerable to cybersabotage or cyberterrorism.

"These are the wild cards of the future that nobody can predict," said Kiplinger from his office on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. "Evil people have more tools at their command today to work their will than ever before." Even so, World Boom offers a vision of the future in which the human condition in the main will be buoyed, not buried, by technology.

World Boom, on bookstore shelves starting this fall, is the latest Kiplinger map to the future. In the late 1980s, Kiplinger and his father, Austin Kiplinger, co-wrote America in the Global '90s. It accurately predicted a resurgent America in the 1990s.

"Typically near the end of the decade, we have a tradition of lengthening our telephoto lens and writing in greater depth about the big, long-term trends that will make world-changing differences in the lives of future Americans and future world citizens," said the author.

As in the earlier book, World Boom offers optimism in the face of a period of economic uncertainty. So its forecast of global growth in the next century looks contrarian, said Kiplinger.

"It will be an easy book to pick apart," he surmised. "But the forecaster's solace is that nobody can say your forecast is wrong right now. They can say, 'No, the outcome will be very different.' Or, 'He's all wet on this point. That's not going to happen.' I can say, 'Well, you might be right. Only time will tell.'"

Loretta Kalb is a writer in California.

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