World: Back to the future once again.

World: Back to the future once again. - "Powershift - Knowledge, Wealth and Violence in the 21st Century" by Alvin Toffler (Bantam Press, 476 pages, £16.99).

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

"Powershift - Knowledge, Wealth and Violence in the 21st Century" by Alvin Toffler (Bantam Press, 476 pages, £16.99).

Review by Francis Kinsman.

I am not enjoying this. Alvin Toffler is an old hero of mine - a warrior in the cause of future thought - a role model to whom we mere mortal business people could possibly aspire, and about whose bank balance we could certainly dream. For years I have been excited by him, quoted him, relied on him. But now this marvellous old war horse has run out of puff, and it is sad to see it. Maybe it is a fact that trilogies never work: "Future Shock" was a brilliant exposition of new thinking; "The Third Wave" was a superb consolidation of it. Frankly, "Powershift" has little to add.

Verdi wrote his opera "Falstaff" at the age of 81. It is not within many of us to emulate such a feat in our anecdotage. Toffler has failed to do so in any event. He may recover, and amaze us all with some brilliantly wise insight about the emerging human/economic condition. "Powershift" is going to put him down more than a notch or two in the meantime.

Like many an American author, Toffler is completely intoxicated with his own jargon. He actually defines "powershift" as a new word, to be differentiated from "power-shift". One can see the publishers emerging from that smoke-filled room, slapping each other on the back: "Baby, we not only have a trilogy here, we have a thesaurus." But the substance of this particular endeavour is limited. It contains nothing that was not identifiable, and abundantly flagged, in the previous two volumes. In fairness, it has to be said that anyone who has not read those should go out and buy copies. They could save their pennies as far as this one is concerned.

Aficionados may enjoy the vile sub-editing, in a masochistic way. Bubble-gum sub-heads like "Material-ismo", "The Beer and Sausage Minuet", "Rusty Tracks and Hotel Love-Sounds" and "The Scent of Miss America" may grab the millions who have already bought into the previous Toffler output. Their appeal is unlikely to be universal, however. And while the sugar coating is the same, the adrenalin content is not. Toffler junkies should be prepared for an intellectual placebo.

Futurists have several curses upon them. The first of these is that, like Cassandra, they will be right but nobody will believe them. The second is that their long-term view may be clouded by immediate short-term factors. The third is that they may say things that seem absolutely correct at the time but which are made ludicrous by the unfolding of events. Toffler has no problem with the first. He is in some trouble with the second. And he may have to live a long time with the third.

Things have changed. There is a central theme about information as a means to power. But Machiavelli, whom one gathers is a favourite source of the author, gave us the lowdown on this a few centuries ago. Meanwhile, anyone who eulogises on the wit and wisdom of Michael Milken is in for a tumble. The man is in the sin-bin. This book, in other words, is an outdated celebration of pre-slump 1980s values. As this reviewer writes, it seems puffy and bloated.

The 1990s will be completely different from the implied Toffler scenario, as presented here. His essential point, that those who hold information hold power, is absolutely correct. What he fails to add is that nowadays information is as leaky as a fistful of sand. The more there is, the more democratic it will be. Events in Eastern Europe are surely proving that. Openness is becoming universal, and will continue to do so, whatever political resistance there may be.

(Francis Kinsman is author of "Millenium 2000" and other prophesies.)

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