False prophets

Paul Kennedy
The Next City
June 21, 1999


Professor of the past gets Asia’s future wrong

Yale professor of history Paul Kennedy has often made predictions about the world’s future. In 1987, he foretells the United States’ decline and Japan’s continued ascension and eventual domination, which struck a chord with Americans insecure about their ability to compete with Japan.

“Just how powerful, economically, will Japan be in the early twenty-first century? Barring large-scale war, or ecological disaster, or a return to a 1930s-style world slump and protectionism, the consensus answer seems to be: much more powerful. In computers, robotics, telecommunications, automobiles, trucks, and ships, and possibly also in biotechnology and even in aerospace, Japan will be either the leading or the second nation. In finance, it may by then be in a class of its own.”

“The Japanese economy is still likely to expand about 1.5 to 2 percent a year faster than the other large economies (except, of course, China) over the next several decades.”

“For the foreseeable future, . . . Japan’s trajectory continues to rise upward.”

From The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, Paul Kennedy, 1987
and now

Despite the lack of a large-scale war, ecological disaster, or a repeat of the Great Depression, Japan ?alone among G7 nations ?has suffered a deep decline. In more recent work, Kennedy continues to gaze into his crystal ball, making equally prescient proclamations for Indonesia.

“Indonesia’s authoritarian regime has engineered dramatic economic growth, now expected to be about 7 percent annually for the rest of the decade.”

“A reasonable scenario for Indonesia would be the election of a government that shares power more broadly, with greater respect for human rights and press freedoms.”

From “Pivotal States and U.S. Strategy,” by Robert Chase, Emily Hill, and Paul Kennedy, Foreign Affairs, January/February 1996

“Chaos in a pivotal state such as Indonesia would generate transboundary mayhem in the form of severed trade links, increased migration, communal violence, pollution, disease, and so on.”

“Americans should remain equally wary that movement away from an authoritarian yet stable and prosperous regime toward a democratic model may not necessarily enhance U.S. interests, even for the long term. As [John] Bresnan points out with respect to Indonesia, the former Suharto regime, with all its limitations, 慼as acted in ways that are consistent with U.S. interests across a wide range of regional and global issues prior to the recent economic crisis. It is not clear that a more pluralist or populist government in Indonesia would be certain or even likely to improve on this performance.'”

From The Pivotal States: A New Framework for U.S. Policy in the Developing World, Robert Chase, Emily Hill, and Paul Kennedy, editors, 1999

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