The Reagan Speech Preservation Society

Herman Kahn vs. the Club of Rome

Modified: Friday, 20 August 2021 07:21 by admin - Uncategorized
The following is a collection of the materials used in creating the ??? episode of the Citizen Reagan podcast about the Reagan's Radio Commentaries.





This is the Citizen Reagan podcast and I need to get in the habit of doing a few things with every episode, like asking you to rate and review the podcast with whatever services you use. Like asking you to share us with your friends, family, complete strangers and your worst enemies, I don't care really, just as long as you share it. Like telling you that you can find past episodes, transcripts, research and more on a wiki on my webspace. The address for the wiki is but if you just visit, I have a variety of other projects there. I sell digitally restored books, magazines and pamphlets. I have constructed an archive of old pulp short stories. I accept donations through Ko-fi, if you're willing help out. It’s all there on the website. Now, with that out of the way, let's get to Reagan.

In mid-1976, Ronald Reagan recorded an episode of his show about physicist and futurist Herman Kahn, his recently released book and a New York magazine article written about both. He would re-record it in November of 1977 for rebroadcast, though he never gave a reason why, as he sometimes did some of the others.

I was able to find a copy of that New York magazine, dated August 9, 1976 on Google Books. After we listen to Reagan's radio commentary, we'll talk about what it contains.
The headline on his magazine interview said, "Good News From Mr. Bad News" and that tells the story of how thinker Herman Kahn sees our future. I'll be right back.

The lot of the futurist is not an easy one. It has been physicist Herman Kahn's profession for many years, but when he was at the Rand Corporation in California studying the consequences of a possible thermonuclear war he made a lot of people uneasy. No wonder this was the sort of thing no one wanted to think about. A few years later in 1961, Kahn was a co-founder of the Hudson Institute in New York, a think tank that survived the sixties and today concentrates on developing a clear view of what's in store for mankind for many decades to come.

Today it's fair to say Herman Kahn is bullish on tomorrow. His latest book titled, "The Next Two Hundred Years" is full of hope for civilization and it is squarely at odds with the so-called “Limits to Growth” people. Kahn's wide-ranging mind covers everything from solving the world food crisis to the possible melting of the Arctic Ocean ice pack. He even has some hints for future investors in post-industrial America-stocks in hotels, communications, entertainment, spices and flavors, recreational equipment and real estate companies with holdings in the southwestern United States will flourish in those next 200 years according to Kahn.

We're going to be faced with some tough personal, social and political choices. Parents may be able to select the sex of each child. Hibernation may become possible for future dropouts. Genetic engineering may mean that parents can select traits for their children such as IQ level, height, physique and so forth. As Kahn says, "Can society tolerate a generation of children with IQs over 200?" By 1985, he says plastic surgery will be so sophisticated that it could completely alter appearances. "Can persons be allowed to assume the appearances of other persons?" he asks.

This is just a sampling of the dilemmas Kahn raises for the future American. He talks about the possible uses of many kinds of energy forms including nuclear fission, windmills, bioconversions, solar radiation, ocean thermal power, geothermal energy, fusion, flywheels and something called photovoltaic power. Step by step Kahn refutes those pessimists who insist that our resources are running out, that the world's population will outstrip those resources and the food supply. Kahn puts his rebuttal this way when he explains his theory of a growing pie in the world economy. "No one knows accurately what the earth holds or can produce or what new uses may be made of new or old materials."

The growing pie is a good metaphor for the currently localized increases in productivity, wealth and affluence will encourage similar increases almost everywhere. There's plenty to think about in the next 200 years, about a lifetime's worth I'd say.

This is Ronald Reagan.

Thanks for listening.

So, we've got movie reviews of a number of movies now playing around New York like All the President's Men, Logan's Run, Clockwork Orange, Murder By Death, The Exorcist, Silent Movie, among others. There's a lengthy article about Superstar Women and their Marriages.

Huh? Right, I know. Can't believe they panned Murder By Death...

But first, you know it's been a while since I highlighted one of my book restoration projects. Given the subject matter of this broadcast, it's a perfect time to talk about "The World in 2030 A.D." written by Frederick Edwin Smith, first Earl of Birkenhead. Written in 1930, it contains a number of essays about War, Industry, Everyday Life, Amenities, Air (flight), World Polity, Women and the Future (beyond 2030). Several of the predictions have already come true, some are well on their way. I believe the most intriguing thing is, quote, “A vast region in what is now the Sahara desert forms a natural basin, lying well below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. By cutting a canal from the Mediterranean to this area, a new inland sea must surely be created. Its shores, now barren, would rival Florida for fertile charm; its climate would realise all the paragraphs written of the coast of southern France by publicity experts.” Unlike my previous offerings, you cannot buy this book through Amazon, unless you’re listening outside the United States. Despite my evidence regarding the book’s public domain status in America, Amazon refused to allow its sale. Instead, it can be purchased through or, which offers a physical, print-on-demand book in addition to the ebook in both EPUB and MOBI formats.

Where should we begin? What or who are these "Limits to Growth" people that Reagan refers to? In the late 1960s and early 1970s, one of the concerns people had, along with global cooling, was overpopulation. In 1968, the book "The Population Bomb" was released. In 1972, an organization called "The Club of Rome" released its own computer model based determinations about the future scarcity of resources. Their report was called "The Limits to Growth." Reagan is likely referring to The Club of Rome and its supporters. Their predictions were so spot on that... well, I can mention that later. The article has a whole section for refuting their claims, so I'll talk about all of it at the same time.

The main article is laid out as an interview. Author Edward Jay Epstein asks a wide range of questions, including several specifically about New York, as one might suspect from New York magazine.

When asked about the predictions of the Limits to Growth models, Kahn is quite frank. It is badly formulated, exaggerated and sometimes flat out arithmetically wrong. Lumping in the problems of India with those of the United States, Kahn states, creates a fallacy of aggregation.

Where will food come from to feed the 15 billion people that Kahn predicts will inhabit the planet by the 22nd century? First off, Kahn, reports, only 25% of the world’s cultivatable land is being used. We could unlock large swaths of land like the Chilean-Peruvian coastal plain through desalination. Eradicating the tsetse fly and advances in soil research could allow sub-Saharan Africa to be viable. Multi-cropping could quadruple food production. New grains could double or triple production.

Alright, but oil, we know it's in short supply. Kahn, first, does not believe such a claim, but concedes that even if it were true, we have coal liquefaction, shale oil and tar sands we can tap. Cars will be more efficient and energy production will, but 1990, be 50% fossil fuels and 50% nuclear. (Well, 2 out of 3 isn't bad!) Then solar energy will begin to take hold.

The interviewer asks what is meant by solar energy. You and I today might think of solar panels, but that’s not what Kahn is talking about. Kahn mentions bioconversion, i.e. fast growing plants that can be burned. He mentions taking energy from the heated surface of the oceans. He also mentions, and this one is new to me, that a blackened Sahara Desert could produce heat and supply all the energy the world would need in the year 2176.

Let’s also take a moment for those investment tips. Reagan glosses over the categories without much detail. Why hotels and entertainment? Kahn feels our post-industrial America will leave people with more free time. Spices because our future synthetic food will require flavoring. Recreation equipment because we will be more focused on our physiques (Pelaton anyone?). For my favorite prediction, let me quote directly: "Communication: The marriage of the telephone and the computer will change the nature of the medium." What kind of prediction is this? Is this the Internet or smartphones or both? Either way, that’s a pretty amazing to consider he saw that coming.

What about the dilemmas going forward? Reagan mentioned hibernation, genetically high IQs, and advanced plastic surgery. One such topic he talks about which we are seeing now is in the area of computerized records and surveillance. Khan says, "The marriage of new generations of computers with highly sophisticated surveillance techniques (such as electronic monitoring of the whereabouts of all automobiles) could radically change the concept of privacy. Should the technology of surveillance be limited by law?" Maybe it's limited to you and me, but not to the government. Weather control and geomorphological projects may benefit one area of the globe, but run the risk of hurting others.

Global warming was not something Kahn worried about. Melting of the Arctic Ocean ice would be largely inconsequential because it is a floating mass. However, melting of the glaciers on Greenland could raise ocean levels, but it will happen over such a long period of time, humanity will adjust to it without much difficulty. The warming, however, would open large areas of agricultural land in Siberia and Canada. Mind control akin to Clockwork Orange will be available to remove unorthodox behaviors from society... but what exactly would be viewed as unorthodox?

In the discussion of The Limits to Growth, a number of assertions are made about our future:
  • First, the concept of the Fixed Pie. We (meaning the Limits to Growth people) have a reasonable idea of what is contained within the Earth and when we run low on some important resource, there will be problems. Kahn argues that we actually do not know accurately what we have and we cannot predict how future materials could be used as substitutes for anything that may be found to be in short supply.
  • Second, the Club of Rome people saw diminishing returns in the future. New processes for extracting those last bits of material we need will come at a greater cost, not just economically, but also in terms of pollution. Kahn sees new processes as being good for the environment, no one goes out of their way to pollute.
  • Third, rapid change and complexity are bad and will reduce efficiency. It would be better if we had more centralized decision making to quickly react. Kahn believes that price and market forces can handle the changes better.
  • Next, resources are dwindling, even space for our garbage. Kahn’s experience tells him the world can support 15 billion people with the processes in place in 1976. Technology will only make things better.
  • The world cannot sustain the unchecked growth of population and industry. Catastrophe is inevitable. Kahn calculates we have a long way to go before trouble appears. Population upwards of 30 billion and a World Gross Product of $300 trillion.
  • The Club of Rome does believe technological advancement can help stall problems, but cannot hold them off for long. Kahn says technology will create new, permanent plateaus, upgrading everyone’s lives and providing us with security for future calamity.
  • The gap between the poor and the wealthy is growing which will lead to a worldwide class war. Kahn sees a gap as permanent and inevitable, but the poor will become richer along with the wealthy, even if the gap grows.
  • The 21st century will see disaster on the level of the Black Death. Billions will die and billions more will suffer under authoritarians. Kahn sees the post-industrial world as one where there will be great prosperity, with a few bumps along the way.

So, how spot on were those predictions? Well, there were four areas they focused on, global industrial output, global food, global services and global population. Global industrial output per capita, according to their projections, would peak in 2008. Global Food per capita reaches a peak around 2020, as would Global Services per capita. Global population reaches a peak in 2030.

Anyone hear about any of those first three being an issue?? I sure haven't.

Oh, worth noting: The Club of Rome keeps releasing updated versions of the books, like "The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update" and "2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years." Not having read any of them, I can't say for certain, but I can't help but suspect that there are some goalposts getting moved.

The future is bright, especially if the freedoms to dream, to create, to fail, to benefit remain available to the majority of people. Let us all hope that these are freedoms that never disappear.

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